The One Question That Will Help You Stay More Present

By Chris Chandler

photo: collage vintage via who what wear

Editor’s Note: As one of my favorite SoulCycle instructors on the planet (though I’m so lucky he’s based right here in Austin), Chris Chandler is one of those rare people who genuinely connects with everyone who crosses his path; no matter how busy things are, he stops what he’s doing and greets you with the kind of rapt attention and direct eye contact that conveys genuine interest. I asked Chris to share how he overcomes the struggle of constant technology that can get in the way of true human connection, and turns out, the struggle is real, even for him. Read on for the one question Chris asks himself to keep his tech distractions in check.

I, Chris Chandler, have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I love the fact that technology has advanced so far that one device can do so much for us and make life exponentially easier than years past. I am blown away by the power and influence we all have in the realm of social media. We have the incredible ability to let others in on the mundane and exciting parts of our everyday lives. We can share photos or videos, edit them, and connect with humans across the globe all from one little device.

On the other hand, because we can do pretty much everything from one screen, it’s quite alarming how quickly we’ve become attached — dare I say addicted — to our technology. I’m the first to admit that I find myself checking Instagram in the grocery store, in line at the coffee shop, or even at a stop light (I know, awful). Have I become so digitally connected that I’m blind to the possibilities of human connection right in front of my face?

photo via angel he

This was quite apparent to me today as I made the short stroll from my apartment to my local coffee shop to write this piece. I reached for my phone and mindlessly perused Instagram stories. Before I knew it, I was right in front of the entrance. I put my phone in my pocket and looked up to see an interesting ad on the door. It read, “Game of Phones Social Hour: Turn your phones in with a valid ID and receive $2 off your beer.”

I asked what the promotion was all about and the barista explained that they would see people walk in glued to their phones, sit down, and not acknowledge the people around them. We’ve become so connected to technology that we’ve forgotten to connect with actual human beings. They figured the “Game of Phones Social Hour” would be a good way for people to be present and engage with others. Beer and no phones, what could be better?

photo via collage vintage

The message was clear. Although we’ve made incredible advances in technology, we’ve taken steps backwards in our innate ability to connect with the people that cross our paths everyday. How many interactions was I blocking out with my incessant social media use? What would’ve happened if I put my phone down and looked up to see another person’s eyes? How much of the life in front of me have I missed out on because I was so distracted by whatever was happening on my phone? In my search to remain relevant and up-to-date on social media, had I been unable to do the same in real life?

photo via entertaining with bonni taylor

With all these thoughts swirling around, I came up with one question to help filter my phone use and cultivate my everyday human connection skills:

Is what I’m looking at on this screen more important than the possibility of human connection around me?

If the answer is no, I put my phone down, observe, and interact with those around me. If the answer is yes, I double-check myself to see if that yes is real. Sometimes there are matters that need immediate attention, but very rarely is a Snapchat, Facebook comment, or email more important than the person next to me.

photo via entertaining with meredith & aaron

Don’t get me wrong — social media is fun, creative, and helps us connect in exciting ways. But there’s a fine line between that and focusing on our digital personas more than the people in our everyday lives. In order for the connections in our lives to be lasting and true, we have to find a way to balance our real life and our screen life. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone, ask yourself the filter question.

Is what I’m looking at on this screen more important than the possibility of human connection around me?

If what you’re doing really is time sensitive, finish the task and put your phone away. Then look up and try to lock eyes with another human being. From there, allow the connection that follows to be organic. Say hi, smile, introduce yourself. Tell a story, ask them what they’re doing, talk about your childhood. Ask for help, ask them if they need help.

photo via the fresh exchange

You just experienced something raw, real, and rare. No amount of likes, emojis, texts, or photos will ever be able to encompass everything you welcomed your way by choosing connection over digital social curiosity. These everyday moments, no matter how menial, make up a life well lived and deepen our understanding of how to connect in profound ways beyond our screens. As our digital personas grow, we must remember to connect face-to-face, human-to-human, soul-to-soul. And hey, if we can all get $2 off a beer for it, don’t we all win? Cheers to more present human connections, my friends!