The Positivity of Presence

Group of friends at a restaurant with all people on the table occupied with cellphones

If you’re wondering what it means to be present, this is not it.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Oprah Winfrey’s second-annual Super Soul Session at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

It was an amazing day full of wisdom, laughter, connection and positivity from modern-day luminaries such as Eckhart Tolle, Marie Forleo, India Arie, Caroline Myss, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Cheryl Strayed, Shaka Senghor, Kris Carr, Kerry Washington, and of course, Oprah.

(Side note: If you’re not familiar with any of the names on that list, just Google them–you’ll be glad that you did.)

To call the day “inspirational” would be the understatement of the year. Truthfully, recapping this epic day probably deserves its own separate blog post.

But, I actually want to talk about something else that I noticed during that day:

The amount of people who were hopelessly glued to their cell phones for the entire day.

My wife and I sat behind a woman who spent the majority of her day texting, surfing Facebook and playing a game that looked like Candy Crush while the speakers were dropping their brilliance on us.

She wasn’t alone–there were quite a few people seated around us who were doing the same (yes, I know that some people were”live tweeting” the show, but many were just mindlessly swiping through their phones).

To me, this is a problem. If buying an expensive ticket to watch A-List speakers share their wisdom with you isn’t enough to pull your eyes away from your phone, then there is no hope left.

It’s time to get present again.

Who’s In Control–You or Your Technology?

Before you think that I’m a technology hater who still uses a rotary phone at home and surfs the internet on a Netscape browser–that’s definitely not the case. I think that I love technology more than anyone I know.

The difference is that I focus on controlling my technology, instead of allowing it to control me.

In a world where people can’t go more than two minutes without staring blankly at glowing blue boxes in their hands, the biggest game changer these days is the ability to be (and stay) present.

Admittedly, I’m far from perfect when it comes to this. Even so, I intentionally focus each day on getting better at ignoring the hypnotic pull toward my phone–especially, when I’m in the company of others.

If you don’t think that it’s a growing problem, just go to a restaurant and look around. The picture at the top of this blog post isn’t an exaggeration at all. Many tables are loaded with people who are more focused on their cell phones than on the (hopefully) good company they are sitting with.

In the workplace, it’s just as bad. I work with someone who keeps her cell phone right next to her whenever I meet with her, and every time she hears her alert tone (regardless of whether I’m mid-sentence or not) she dives on it like a fumble in the end zone at a football game. It’s sad, disrespectful, and unfortunately, very common these days.

Fighting through the constant allure of instant gratification from our connected devices, combined with the anxiety of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is almost too much for most people to overcome.

But I’m assuming that you’re reading The Positivity Solution because you don’t want to be like most people.

That means that we have to shift our focus.

The Game-Changer: Becoming Aware

Just like most problems, the solution begins with finding the awareness that a problem exists.

Ask yourself, what makes you check your cell phone the most often?

  • Is it to see how many people liked/re-tweeted your latest status update?
  • Is it to live vicariously through others, because you erroneously believe that their life is better/more exciting/happier than yours?
  • Is it because you are addicted to finding the latest deals on Amazon, Groupon, or another sales website?
  • Is it because you don’t want to miss the latest tidbit of information from the nonstop 24/7 news sites?

The reason doesn’t really matter. The key is that you want to break the habit of letting your technology control you.

If you can’t stop yourself from checking your cell phone or messing around on Facebook during an hour-long meeting at work, while you’re out on a dinner date, while you should be watching your kids, or worst of all, while you’re driving, then you might have a problem that’s worthy of your attention.

Start by throwing your cell phone in the back seat while you’re driving (or better yet, turning it off), limiting your usage to certain times of the day, and committing to focus on the human in front of you instead of the device buzzing in your pocket.

Is it easy to stay consistently present? No, it’s not–but becoming aware of the problem and taking steps to improve it is exactly how we can reclaim our connection to others.

And isn’t connection with others the main reason why we’re here on this planet?

We can’t marry our cell phones. We don’t celebrate our iPad’s birthdays. We don’t hug our laptops when we’re feeling sad.

It’s people who matter, and although we know this, the challenge is to step past “knowing the truth” and into living this truth–consistently.

That is the positivity of presence.

Your Turn

Do you struggle with staying present? Be honest–do you control your technology or does it control you more than it should? What strategies do you use to stay present? Jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

Latest posts by Shola (see all)


  1. Boom!

    I struggle with this too, but I am trying. It took my kids pointing it out to me (when they were talking to me) that I was not present.

    Now, no matter who is talking, I work hard to fight those urges to grab my phone. It is hard. It is also worth it.

    Happy Monday, Shola! Thank you for the reminder. We each get the same 24 hours every day. Wasting mine on my phone is not my goal!!!



  2. This is such spot on! I will share this with some of my friends who constantly are checking their phones. I admit that technology is great in bringing people together when they are across the globe, but sadly is tearing friendships and families appart. When I go out and eat at a restaurant, I am surprised to see a lot of families where the hubby and the wife are checking their cellphones, not even talking to each other while the toodler is playing angry birds in the ipad. what is this world coming to?!

    I miss the old days where we could all enjoy a nice family gathering and actually have a fun conversation with our relatives.

    Have a great Monday Shola!

  3. Sharon Lippert says:

    I was at a restaurant and there was a table of 5… not one of them was speaking to each other, they were all looking at their phones.
    I was glad I wasn’t friends with them.

  4. Kathleen Carey says:

    Hey Shola,

    I guess I’m an anomaly, I don’t own a smartphone. I’m not concerned if I’m missing out on anything or up on the latest TV shows or movies (no, I don’t watch Game of Thrones). I find it disturbing that conversations are so trivial. It seems a lot of people are afraid of simply “being” and not part of a “group.”

    Terrific subject to ponder!

  5. madeline says:

    THANK YOU. Watching parents ignore their precious little kids and/or stick a phone into the child’s hands to shut them up, instead of sitting fascinated and enjoying every word, facial expression, and smile of their little child-it makes me want to simultaneously scream and cry. I thank you, and all the neglected little kids out there thank you. You just are the best. Huge hugs to you.

  6. Hi Shola, I miss your posts very much when you have other business to tend to. I am so jealous you were at Oprah’s event! This post is about being present, and in this day & age that brings up the smartphone situation. Yet actually the issue of presence has always been a challenge. I think it is the Buddhist philosophy that clearly promotes the concept of mindfulness & being present in the moment. Many books have been written on Focus, Attention, and Productivity (which is really just being aware, at any given moment, “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?”). This issue of being present addresses that we tend to get stuck dwelling on the past, fearing the future, or just sidetracked in our own heads (& by extension, phone). I guess I’m saying, taking the phone away won’t solve the problem. I do find that now that I personally practice being present & positive, others are more likely to respond in kind, and actively engage with me. Please keep working on the positivity mission Shola. I truly believe we can get through to people if we keep this going.

  7. A wonderful, well-timed post, Shola! This ‘problem’ is getting way too common, and I’ve seen it even cause a death because her eyes weren’t on the road. We need to wake up to this epidemic before we lose ourselves! Well said! Cheers!

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