In our last blog post, we discussed the science behind why escaping into your phone over the holidays can actually be more draining than simply engaging in that awkward political conversation at the dinner table. Turns out, too much screen time becomes a drain on our brains and makes it even harder to connect with those around us.

But how do you resist that temptation? Especially when things feel tense at a family gathering or the thought of watching corgi butts wiggle sounds far more entertaining? We have some tips for how you can put the phone away, not be distracted, and be more engaged with your friends and loved ones this holiday season.

Put the Phone Away

woman putting her phone in her purse

It’s not rocket science, we know! But sometimes keeping things simple is the best way to approach them. Putting your phone in your pocket probably isn’t going to do the trick, as a simple vibration or ding of a text coming in will surely distract you and pull your brain away from the moment. Instead, try leaving your phone in a backpack or purse that you put away in another room. Is there a spot for coats? Hide your phone in your coat pocket, hang the coat up, and walk away.

Making sure your phone is at a distance might seem like such a simple thing to do, but it will really help. Not being able to hear it helps you forget about checking email and text messages. And it will make you more aware of the people you are talking to and spending time with. The trick is to make a plan to do this before you arrive at a party, so the bustle of hellos and hugs don’t distract you. Slip the phone into a pocket or backpack before you ring the doorbell.

Still Tempted? Lock it Up

phone locked up with chains

Perhaps it’s not cold where you are, so hiding your phone in the coatroom won’t work. Or it just may not be practical to try and hide your device while you’re at a gathering. If that’s the case, then you can opt for a phone lock box. You set a timer, place your phone inside, and then you can’t retrieve it until the time is up.

These lock boxes can be helpful for much more than just holiday parties—needing a break at home, wishing to focus on family or the family dinner, or even vacation. Whatever the need, if you know that you require more invasive techniques to step away from the phone this is a great option. And if you’re the party host and all the guests have arrived, consider using one for your own phone so you can relax and enjoy your company.

Making Stressful Moments Fun

two women conversing in armchairs

We know that putting away devices can lead to stress and anxiety for a variety of reasons (social anxiety, awkward conversations, etc.). But there are ways to equip yourself for those moments. Start by having a plan to engage people in conversational topics you’re interested in. You could bring (or memorize) some of the cards from How Do You See the World? that ask questions you are genuinely curious about. Questions such as “What lights you up about what you do?” or “If you won the lottery, what would you do?” are a great way to break the ice and get people talking in a fun, engaging way. And if you think the party would enjoy it, just bring the entire game! That’s sure to make the night fun.

Don’t be afraid to bring other games or activities to a party, too. Hosts will always welcome some engagement form their guests, as hosts are often overwhelmed by dishes, food, and all that a party entails. Grab your favorite games that accommodate four or more players (so that more guests can participate) or try bringing the supplies for your favorite craft activity. Whatever you choose, when people have something fun to engage with, the conversation usually follows suit.

Need some craft idea tips? Check out these great ideas from Crazy Little Projects. There’s something for everyone and every party.

The holiday season is here, and while the temptation may be to sink into the couch and bury your face in your phone during that awkward encounter with the aunt or uncle you disagree with politically, this actually does more harm than good. And the harm goes beyond the basic rudeness of the gesture; it’s actually damaging your brain’s ability to function and your emotional health.

This holiday season we have the science to help encourage you to put the phone away and have a happier time. And in our next blog post we will equip you with tips and tricks for how to not rely on your phone, because we know the temptation can be great.

Smartphones Affect All Generations

Man lies on couch using a smartphone to hide from his family

If you feel like everyone has a phone out these days, you’re not wrong. Nearly every American has a cellphone, according to the Pew Research Center, with 77% opting for a smartphone. And those smartphone users are moving more and more toward using their phones as their sole internet access point, too.

It’s not just Millennials, either, though people are often quick to suggest that. While Millennials lead in the adoption of technology, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have steadily increasing numbers when it comes to technology use. 85% of Gen Xers and 67% of Baby Boomers own a smartphone and more Gen Xers own a tablet computer than Millennials, with all groups using social media at increasing rates.

Earlier this year the Pew Research Center reported that 77% of Americans go online daily, which is not particularly shocking considering the use of email and social media, but 26% of those adults report that they go online “almost constantly.” If we are all online nearly every day, what does that do to our brains? And does it impede our ability to connect with people?

What Science Tells Us

Woman with smartphone affecting her brain

Your smartphone is a brain drain. According to researchers at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, the “mere presence” of your smartphone reduces your brain’s ability to function. Researchers found that people performed poorly if their phones were simply visible – they didn’t even need to receive an email or text to be distracted. As the researchers discovered, the more people depend on their smartphones on a daily basis, the more they suffer (cognitively) from the presence of the phone. And, conversely, the more people stand to benefit from the absence of the phone.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you to put the phone away, a researcher in Denmark discovered that taking a break from Facebook increases overall well-being, resulting in more positive emotions. For anyone with a family split by politics, this shouldn’t be a big surprise.

What Does It All Mean?

The research over the last few years continues to point to the fact that smartphones tax our brains and create brain and emotional drain. And while checking Instagram to watch cute dog videos might feel like a good idea when politics comes up around the dinner table, doing so will actually make it harder for you to engage in conversations you do enjoy. And checking those social media accounts will only make you feel more drained when you head home.

Instead of grabbing the phone, bring a few cards from How Do You See the World instead and pull them out at dinner or dessert. You can select questions that will get people thinking, engage their empathy, and distract from taxing or uncomfortable topics. Plus, the questions engage our brains in thoughtful, introspective, and creative processes. And when everyone shares their thoughts, you’ll feel more connected to your friends and family instead of feeling more distant.

Get Creative, Get Social, Make Connections

Your holiday party is happening soon, which means it’s time to get your creative juices flowing and bring people together to celebrate what the season is all about: connecting with the people you care about.

All those fun game nights and craft afternoons you attend the rest of the year are a great way to connect with people during the holiday season, too. Start your 2019 resolutions now by focusing on creating opportunities to spend quality time with people, rather than focusing exclusively on buying tons of gifts. We’ve got some easy ideas to get you started on bringing people together in new and interesting ways this holiday season.

Take Crafting to the Next Level

making holiday crafts

Adults and kids alike enjoy craft days, especially since it’s a license to get messy. Put on your painting jeans and get your friends and family together for a fun craft night that is holiday-themed.

The end of the year means people start thinking of all the to-do list items they neglected throughout the year. And so many of those are home décor/improvement projects. So have your friends and family bring over a home or craft project that’s been collecting dust in the corner and work together to finish them for the holiday. Sometimes all you need is help from friends to refinish that stool or finally mat and frame the piece of art that’s been in your closet.

If art is what people want, provide a stack of heavyweight blank cards and envelopes so people can make their own holiday cards. Some paints, brushes, markers, and of course glitter, are all you need to give a little inspiration.

Give Your Game Night a Holiday Twist

friends playing games together

Instead of breaking out the usual games, aim for games that are either holiday inspired or bring out the essence of the holiday season. Authentic Agility’s game How Do You See the World? is a great option since the purpose of the game is to better understand and get to know your friends and family. Pull some questions that people often think about as the new year approaches and ask your friends what they think. You never know what you might learn! And you may just have similar goals that you can work on together.

You can also play a game of Banangrams or Scrabble, but add a twist that whoever makes the most words that are holiday-themed wins the round. Or gather up ideas for a good game of charades, but make sure they are themed around your favorite holiday.

Turn Baking Into a Group Effort

baking holiday cookies

Plan a cookie decorating gathering, but have everyone attending be responsible for different items (cookie cutters, sprinkles, icing, baking ingredients). This way the group relies on each other and everyone feels like a participant in the party. Plus, it’s easier on the host. And don’t forget to encourage people to get a little inventive with cookie toppings. This party is perfect for every holiday, from Halloween to New Year’s Eve. If you need some ideas for things to bake, check out one of our favorite baking sites, Smitten Kitchen.

Whichever of these options you choose to take your holiday social planning to the next level, it’s a sure win this season to get people to relax, connect, and enjoy each other’s company.

For someone who has everything, receiving more stuff can seem like a burden rather than a gift. And even if you don't have everything, we can all identify with what it feels like to receive a gift that we have absolutely no use for, but that we feel obligated to keep because it came from someone we love. But pay attention to that last part of the sentence "it came from someone we love." That's the most important part of gift-giving, and it's something we often overlook in our frantic search for the perfect stuff during the holiday season.

With that in mind, we've curated a few ideas that help cultivate stronger, deeper relationships that get to the heart of what giving is all about. They not only represent the care we have for our friends and family, but the gifts themselves are designed to deepen our relationships with each other.

52 Reasons I Care About You

Notecard that says "you're awesome" to give to someone who has everything for Christmas
Photo by Gabriela Pinto.

Cut 52 strips of paper, or order some blank cards like these, and write 52 reasons you care about the person you're giving the gift to. Yes, this is a big time investment, but putting the thought behind it is a million times more valuable than anything you could buy for the person who has everything.

You make me laugh

You bake amazing cookies
You're incredible with kids
You're a loyal friend
You tell great stories
Your enthusiasm for football is contagious

Then, put the cards into a box--you could use a shoebox, order a simple box, or buy something more ornate if that's your style--and tell the recipient to draw one card every Monday for the next year. Mondays are tough days for most of us, and starting out their week by hearing why they're valued is an incredibly meaningful gift that lasts for an entire year. Even if someone else gifts them something similar, hearing from you why you in particular value them and your relationship with them is not something that can be replicated by anyone else.

Self-Care Package

Person sitting on a dock looking out over the water. A self-care gift package.
Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash.

A few weeks ago we posted about why self-care is so important. Self-care isn't selfishness; instead, it's a way to keep ourselves strong, healthy, and available to be present in our relationships. As the concept of self-care has become more mainstream, women have worked to embrace it. Men, however, still struggle with making time for self-care, but that doesn't mean they need it any less than women do.

Creating a self-care package for either a man who has everything or a woman who has everything should take into account the receiver's personality. We don't recommend buying a one-size-fits-all spa package and expecting all of your friends and family members to embrace it. Besides, what spa package would fit all?

Instead, imagine yourself in their shoes and create a day or series of events that would help them relax. One person might genuinely appreciate a spa day, involving a massage, a glass of champagne, and just some time to themselves to recharge. Another person's ideal self-care package could include a book on meditation, a National Parks Pass to encourage and empower them to get into nature to hike, and a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

If you're stumped on what kind of self-care package a man in your life would appreciate, there are some solid ideas here. Give him a coupon that will allow him to sleep in late, buy him a novel by his favorite author, or encourage him to take a vacation by offering to help keep things in order while he's gone.

Once you've decided on a few ideas, assemble them together in a self-care package. This could be in a box, a gift basket, or an envelope, depending on what you're giving.

A Distraction-Free Day with You

Father with his arm around his son. Father / son time as a gift.
Photo by Kay on Unsplash.

This is a precious gift that we too rarely give each other, one that we should be giving to our friends and family much more often than we do. Giving the person who has everything a coupon to spend a distraction-free day with you does require both of you to make a commitment. We recommend having some solid dates in mind when giving this coupon to someone, otherwise, it becomes a nice idea that never gets executed. Look at your calendar and offer up anywhere from six to ten dates that work for you, and when you give this gift ask the recipient to look at his or her calendar in order to get it scheduled right away.

Then, when the distraction-free day comes (it could be a whole day or just a few hours), commit to keeping your phone off. Lock it in your glove box, or better yet, leave it at home. Make a plan to go somewhere that doesn't have television screens; research shows that we are hard-wired to stare at light and movement, based on biological impulses. Your best friend isn't watching soccer at the bar because you're boring, he's staring at the screen because it's nearly impossible not to. This may require you to call ahead of time to find a restaurant or bar that is screen-free, if that's what you choose, or you could make a plan to go somewhere like a park or the beach.

Set the intention of getting to know this person better. You could bring along How Do You See the World? to ask each other important questions that run deeper than what we normally talk about. Or, before your date, think about what you'd like to learn about them or what you'd like to share with them. There is always more we can learn and share no matter how long we've known someone. Fight the urge to take selfies to document your distraction-free day together. Let this be a memory that only the two of you share.

A Shared Journal

A woman's hand writing in her journal. Having a journal with your friend.
Photo by Emma Larkins.

Before the days of social media and texting, most of us actually wrote more. We wrote letters, we wrote in journals. We spent time with our thoughts and ideas and processed our emotions on paper. While social media has enabled us to connect with people in some truly incredibly and valuable ways, there is still something to be said for the intimacy of hand-written letters.

Giving your parent, sibling, child, or friend who has everything a shared journal, and committing to writing in it with them, has the potential to transform your relationship in ways you can't even imagine yet. This is an especially powerful gift for introverts, or for people who like to take their time before they speak.

The benefits of starting a friendship journal are especially strong for long-distance friendships. While social media allows us to post our thoughts, feelings, and activities, a friendship journal is a focused way to share with just one person rather than all your followers. We shape how we communicate our thoughts depending on the specific audience in mind, and with an audience of one we'll open up in a very different way than we do with an audience of everyone.

You can choose a guided journal, like this one for mothers and daughters, or this one for boys and their parents. You can also make your own friend journal like this, or buy your own blank notebook and use questions from How Do You See the World? to create guidelines for the journal. For example, you could choose a handful of questions, and each one would be a "chapter" in your journal. You and your friend or family member each take a page or two to respond to the question. Be sure to leave some blank pages for you to communicate your other thoughts and feelings as they come.

If the recipient lives far away, then make sure to buy them postage to send the journal back and forth. If they're close, then you can make time to exchange it, or simply drop it off at their door once a month.

A Get To Know You Game: How Do You See the World?

Pieces of the game How Do You See the World - a get-to-know-you game.
How Do You See the World?

Authentic Agility's raison d'être is to facilitate important conversations in order to deepen relationships and help us see the world from new perspectives. It's surprising how our game impacts everyone who encounters it: we've watched a diversity of people play it, including strangers who have never met each other, and parents with their grown children, who have known each other for thirty years or more. No matter who is playing the game, discoveries are made and new perspectives are revealed.

Of course we're biased, but we truly believe that How Do You See the World? is the perfect gift for someone who has everything. They can play the game with old friends and family, and with new people who come into their lives. Each individual relationship we have in the world is a unique gift. This game allows everyone who plays it to tap into the potential our relationships have to make us more authentic, more agile, and more capable of compassion and transformation.

We're available on Amazon, and we're offering 20% off of purchases made between Black Friday and Giving Tuesday 2018 at this link. To read more about why Giving Tuesday is important to us, check out this page about why we care. And as always, we'd love to hear your thoughts. If you decide to give any of these gifts that we've discussed in this post, please share your creations with us on Facebook or tag us in your Instagram photos. #howdoyouseetheworld

The concept of Friendsgiving can be traced back to a long, long time ago, when finding the perfect filter and hashtag for your Instagram food pics wasn't even a nascent dream in Mark Zuckerberg's head. The year was 2007, when people using the brand new social network Twitter started tweeting about this new and exciting word: Friendsgiving. Now Friendsgiving is as ubiquitous as #hashtags, but we'd like to put our own spin on it. The Authentic Agility spin.

If you're planning to have your friends over for Thanksgiving this year, think beyond the turkey and football: here are some ideas to help you create a unique Friendsgiving. As always, our focus is on deepening relationships, challenging perspectives, and being empowered to create a life with purpose and meaning.

Can Food Help Us Connect?

Absolutely. If you're doing a potluck for Friendsgiving, here's an idea. Rather than just mindlessly spooning out a helping of your friend Joanna's green bean casserole, ask each friend to bring a dish that represents something about how they celebrated Thanksgiving growing up. Or, if any of your friends didn't grow up in the United States, ask them to bring a traditional dish from a holiday where they grew up.

Then, have them write on a notecard a paragraph about why they chose this dish. It could be a memory of that time Joe's grandma in Parsons, Kansas forgot to put sugar in the blackberry pie, and that memory was so vivid that he decided to make a blackberry pie (with sugar this time), to bring to Friendsgiving. Or maybe Amy chose to bring candied yams because she was never allowed to have it as a kid, and now that she's all grown up she feels kind of rebellious bringing it to Friendsgiving.

Have the notecards sitting in front of each dish, so that everyone can read the story while they fill their plates. This can be a fun way to get to know more about where your friends come from, what's important to them, and memories that shaped their lives.

A Friendsgiving Toast

Before you sit down to eat, have each person give a very short toast (a micro-toast, if you will) to something they're thankful for. Have a bottle of champagne or sparkling apple cider ready, and after each person says what he or she is thankful for, everyone will toast that thing. For example, if your BFF Sarah says "I'm thankful for my french bulldog, Cheezit," then everyone responds, "to Cheezit!" clinks their glasses, and takes a sip.

Some of your friends' answers might be ridiculous or silly, and some will be serious. This is good! It represents your friends' personalities and it will most likely end up being a nice balance of humor and sentimentality. Also, doing it as a toast may make it feel more lighthearted for those friends who still cling to bad memories of Great-Aunt Jeanie pinching their cheeks and asking them what they're thankful for every Thanksgiving. No cheek pinching allowed at Friendsgiving.

We're going for fun, honest sharing from the heart, celebrated by friends with a happy "cheers."

Giving Shape to the Meal

cards from how do you see the world game on table

If you haven't yet purchased our first game How Do You See the World?, you still have time to order it on Amazon before Thanksgiving. While we don't recommend playing the game formally during your meal, set out a few cards around the table to encourage your friends to ask deeper questions while they eat.

We saw how fun this can be recently at a luncheon in New York City when we asked the Authentic Agility question "Describe a transformational time in your life." Between bites of salad, one person discussed how taking care of her mother when she was sick transformed her life. Another said that the birth of his second child transformed his life.

Many of us could identify with these stories, and it was a fun way to give shape to the meal. This also allows your guests to talk to each other on a more individual basis, rather than having the entire group focus on one person at a time.

To Watch Football or Not to Watch Football. That is the Question.

friends watching American football together

As we've mentioned before, one of our goals is to get people off their phones and away from their screens, but football on Thanksgiving is one of those (newer) traditions that people love. Watching sports with your friends can actually be good for you, much better for you than zoning out scrolling through your Facebook feed while there are real people around you, wanting to connect.

With that said, if you want to watch football with your friends on Friendsgiving, you absolutely should. But you could try to break up the commercial time with something fun and interesting that helps you get to know your friends even better. Since football is a high energy sport, choose questions from the Aspirations category of How Do You See the World? rather than Reflections questions.

Since every sports game is an aspirational experience, asking your friends about their aspirations is a way to keep the energy high during commercial breaks. You could even just have one friend answer one question during each commercial break so that there's plenty of time to grab more drinks or another slice of pumpkin pie.

Friendsgiving is an incredible opportunity to deepen your relationship with some of your favorite people. Bonding over food, drinks, memories, traditions, and aspirations helps us solidify our connections to the people we love. Here's to Friendsgiving! *clink*

How taking care of yourself helps you be present for others

One of Authentic Agility's goals is to help people connect with one another in new, authentic, and eye-opening ways. Our games empower you to ask your friends, families, partners, and even strangers questions that you wouldn't normally think to ask, and they give you the opportunity to express yourself in new ways. Being present and open with others is a crucial step in forming deeper and more meaningful relationships, but an equally important practice to develop is the art of being good to ourselves. Self-care helps make your relationships stronger, more solid, and healthier.

Self-Care and Preventing Burnout

woman looking at the view of the mountains

Self-care is more than a buzzword! So many of us lead lives that are absolutely packed with work and responsibilities that our idea of self-care is, at most, drinking a glass of wine at the end of the night or zoning out to Netflix. But that is simply not enough. The idea of self-care has been around for decades, regularly mentioned in medical journals discussing how caregivers like nurses, doctors, and psychologists must develop positive habits to take care of themselves in order to prevent burnout.

While caregivers have been aware of the concept of self-care for quite a while, the rest of us are just recently beginning to understand how our busy, constantly connected lives can cause us to develop unhealthy habits and detach from the things that truly matter. While a glass of wine and Netflix can feel good, they're not going to sustain you in the long run. Here are some ideas for true self-care and preventing burnout:

Develop an exercise routine

woman running up a set of stairs

Yes, the ever-dreaded exercise routine. Dreaded, that is, until you get in a groove, then it becomes something that you crave. You don't need to become a yoga master or a marathon runner to develop an exercise routine. Even committing to twenty minutes five days a week of brisk walking with your dog, a game of frisbee with your kids, a hike in the woods, a bike ride, or any combination of fun activities that get your heart rate up can be incredibly impactful on your mental and physical health.

We often associate exercise with the outcome of weight loss, an exercise routine shouldn't be implemented only for the purpose of losing weight or improving your physical appearance; think of it as a commitment to your mental health, to helping you deal with the world better, to being a better parent, partner, son or daughter, friend, and co-worker. If you lose weight, great. If not, the benefits of exercise are still significant and have been proven over and over and over again.

Make time for your friends and family

three female friends conversing at a dinner party

Sounds easy, right? Sure, you go to your daughter's soccer games and take your son to trumpet lessons. And yes, you'll meet up with friends for happy hour once a month or invite people over to watch the game, but what if you tried to transform these irregular and informal events into an intentional and ongoing commitment? Can you do family dinner five days a week? If not, how about family breakfast?

Here's an immensely important tip: no matter who you're spending quality time with, put away or turn off all devices, including phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions. Your kids might protest, especially if they're teenagers, and your friends might at first be annoyed at your request, but over time the effect this will have on your relationships is immeasurable. Why is this self-care, you might ask? Because science says so. Being in front of a screen too much can damage your brain and can negatively impact your emotional health.

Learn a contemplative practice

woman meditating in the mountains

Prayer, meditation, yoga, self-reflection. The brilliant people at On Being have a fantastic visual they've published on how to think about contemplative practices, and it expands into physical activity like dance, walking, singing, and more. No matter what religious tradition you belong (or don't belong) to, almost all include a contemplative practice of some sort. The Abrahamic traditions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--all stress the importance of prayer. Buddhist and Hindu traditions teach meditation and chanting. Prayer and meditation have been proven to improve emotional health, brain health, and general well being, and even just five or ten minutes a day can help relieve stress.

In addition to prayer and meditation, self-reflection is a type of contemplative practice that supports self-care and personal growth. Authentic Agility's How Do You See the World? is a game that you can play alone to get to know yourself better and to work on self-acceptance. Taking time to ask yourself difficult questions can improve your day-to-day relationship with yourself, and it can also lead to revelations about yourself that may completely change your life for the better.

What's your plan for self-care?

We'd love to hear it. Get in touch with us on Facebook and share your self-care routines!

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