Whenever someone first encounters the work we do at Mind over Tech, it’s guaranteed that one of the first things they’ll ask is “Have you ever thought about doing sessions for children?”.
For years, my answer to this has been an emphatic “Yes!”
And I meant it.
After all, building good digital habits is hard enough as an adult. Imagine trying to navigate your relationship with technology as a young child in today’s world of TikTok, AI and Virtual Reality!
Supporting future generations on this journey is challenging and important work.
But recently, I’ve realised saying Yes to this has been a big mistake.
I should, it turns out, have been saying No.
Let me explain.
There’s lots of reasons why I was saying Yes:
- Saying Yes feels good—Especially when it’s clearly in aid of helping children.
- Saying Yes feels progressiv—Keeping Mind over Tech moving forward into new areas of growth.
- Saying Yes feels safe—It ensures we have a horse in the race of a potentially huge market.
- Saying Yes feels easy—If people are asking for it, there must be a need!
- Saying Yes feels exciting—This is a meaty and complex problem that clearly aligns with our goals!
These all seem logical, compelling reasons.
Especially the last one: If something exciting also aligns with Mind over Tech’s goals, this feels focused in the best possible way.
So much of Mind over Tech is about focus; Focusing our attention on what is most important in our lives; Focusing our awareness on digital habits that don’t serve us; Focusing our mindsets to keep us productive.
Even if I’m not personally able to stay focused every minute of the day, at least I’m able to keep the company’s direction on track because I’m confident about what being focused looks like.
And then I came across a quote from Steve Jobs that pulled the rug out from under my feet:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all.”
This stopped me dead in my tracks. Wait, what?!
Of course it’s about saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on! …surely?
Is it possible I could have completely misunderstood something that was so fundamental?
As I read on through the quote, I began to feel a little more at ease:
“[Focus] means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Ah, ok… that’s what Steve had meant! Not getting distracted by all of the other great ideas outside of Mind over Tech. As a founder of a startup, I certainly know a thing or two about saying no to things in my personal life in service of focusing on the business…
But before I could become too complacent I came across another quote, further down the page, this time from Jony Ive who had worked so closely with Steve Jobs at Apple:
“What Jobs really meant is that even if it’s something that you feel passionately about, focus means ignoring it and putting it to the side. And often it’s at real cost; it hurts.”
Once again I felt stopped in my tracks.
This didn’t quite add up to my own experience.
Sure, I say No to things every day, but how many of them are things that genuinely hurt to say No to… not many.
If I’m honest, I’ll actively go out of my way to make time for something that excites me, even if (inevitably) it stretches me beyond my capacity as a result.
So perhaps I’m not as focused as I thought I was?
The surprise of this shift in perspective caused me to reflect:
What have I been saying an enthusiastic Yes to where I should have been saying a painful No?
In this light, I considered my previous enthusiasm for developing Mind over Tech sessions for children.
Why hadn’t I said No?
- Saying No feels bad—Who wants to be the person saying “No, we don’t help kids, we only help corporates and professionals”?
- Saying No feels obstructive—Mind over Tech is one of the few companies in the world focused on teaching skills to ensure tech use is intentional and serves our wellbeing, connection and productivity. This is a nascent field, and we are helping to define it. If we are not exploring how this relates to children, then surely we are not responsibly exploring all the options?
- Saying No feels like missing out—If we don’t do it, then someone else will. We could end up falling behind on something really successful.
- Saying No feels impossible—If this is what people are asking for, how can we say no? Isn’t meeting the needs of our customers our job? (This feels a bit like not being able to say no to your boss.)
- Saying No feels painful—This is a creative problem that I’d genuinely love to tackle. The thought of passing that up hurts…
Oh! 🙊 It suddenly became clear that saying Yes had never been an act of focus!
In fact, the complete opposite was true—saying Yes was only ever a fear based reluctance to say No. Furthermore, this reluctance had actively clouded our focus.
Commiting to No
This insight came a few months ago, and since then at Mind over Tech we’ve been purposefully saying No to focusing on children’s digital habits.
The full benefit of this continues to reveal itself slowly, but powerfully, over time.
In reality we hadn’t tangibly done much in recent months in this space anyway, so it wasn’t as though we suddenly gained back loads of time and energy.
However it became clear that by not explicitly ruling children’s sessions out, I had been implicitly diluting our focus.
Much like the cognitive load of decision fatigue, the hesitancy to say No meant that every day we were having to work extra hard just to remember what the path forward looked like.
Since committing to a No we’ve dramatically enhanced our clarity of what isn’t a priority and, by extension, what is.
We focus on helping professionals.
This has become a virtuous circle—the more clarity we have about our core focus, the more confidence we can bring to the act of saying No to anything else, which in turn brings further clarity to our focus.
Fear of No
This seems so obvious in hindsight!
So what was blocking me from seeing this before?
On reflection, this has become clear. It was a fear of the negative feelings I associated with saying No.
I shouldn’t be surprised. The capacity of humans to avoid fear is not to be underestimated.
Research has shown that 46% of Britons are deterred from starting a new hobby because of their fear of failure, and 49% of Americans agree that the fear of failure prevents them from achieving or revisiting their goals.
In general, human behaviour is often shaped by fear.
This is something well worth remembering when considering our own digital habits.
They are often shaped by a Yes that is, in reality, just a fear based reluctance to say No. In a digital environment nearly everything can appear to be a high-priority, which makes discerning what to say No to even harder
In the programmes we deliver at Mind over Tech, we hear many professionals say they feel a need to respond immediately, for example, to every email or Slack message, knowing their real work is getting put on the back burner.
Saying ‘No’ to any of these things is not easy, as it means directly facing your associated fears (It may involve, for example, saying No to your colleagues, or even your Boss! 😬).
But if you are able to, experimenting with constructive ways to say No can help anyone question assumptions, re-evaluate their digital habits and gain deeper clarity around their priorities.
In turn, this could liberate you to focus more on whatever really matters to you most.
As a quick endnote: Just incase it wasn’t obvious, at Mind over Tech we passionately believe that supporting children with their digital habits is crucial work—It’s just not the work that we will be directly focusing on ourselves.
The beauty of our newfound clarity around this is that it’s enabled us to quickly and confidently partner with some incredible individuals who are focusing on supporting children.
We often get enquiries about running sessions for children, and now we can quickly and confidently connect them with some of the best trainers out there. I look forward to introducing you to some of them in the future!
Until next time,
Founder of Mind over Tech
P.S. Need some help practicing saying No with confidence? The Digital Habit Lab is full of inspiration and resources to help.