Our brain is structured to do every activity we do. Whatever we ask it to do is what it will get good at. But when people think of all their capabilities, they only think of the surface stuff their brain does like remembering directions, or calculating numbers or knowing how to read or write.
Without further meditation those all seem like they’re just manipulations of existing data. What we believe we know is the ‘directions,’ the ‘numbers’ and the ‘communications.’ But what we also need to have is the ‘remembering,’ the ‘calculating’ and the ‘creation.’
This is why I use a flip phone. Most of you have already noticed a drop in functionality of your memory due to smartphones. People used to routinely remember all 30 of their friend’s phone numbers, all of their bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc. etc.
We had to remember a lot and those of us who haven’t surrendered the skill can still do it. But like a muscle, if I don’t do the work, the ability will deteriorate. This can impact all sorts of activities.
Consider the fact that mental disorders are not tangible. You can’t cut someone open and find depression, or ADHD, but you can find tumours creating pressure, or damaged structures from drug use, or strokes, or actual observable issues with various aspects of the brain’s function.
That sort of physical damage is not the same as confusion about the usage of our brains. A car can crash because a part breaks, or it can crash because the person driving it wasn’t properly trained. Mental Disorders are often little more than innocent driver errors due to poor or missing driving instructions.
Many of us are understandably uncomfortable with the idea that we have ignored some level of personal agency and responsibility. But this is not to say that any of us have been negligent. That’s like saying people who’s kids were injured in a car crash in 1950 should feel responsible for the seat belt not being invented yet.
We can’t even start working on something until we know it needs work. So no one is guilty in most of these struggles. But some things are happening.
If we ramp up the amount kids watch things on phones, on TV, in movies and in games, and then at the same time that we perpetually shorten the length of each edit or time frame within those formats, then this is like repeatedly hitting the novelty switch in our brains.
Not that long ago we were a lot less safe and a lot more hungry, so our brains were wired up to notice new things because they might be either food or a predator. Since we were built to notice new things, our brains sees media’s edits or its switching as ‘new things’ that are worthy our attention just because they moved.
Ask the brain to get good at switching but not at holding and guess what? It gets good at switching and not at holding and an increase in ADHD is born, and why many nations with less media use also report less incidence.
The other brain function impacting this involves the nature of the internet. Hyperlinks are literally opportunities to distract yourself from what we’re doing. Yes, Hyperlinks are related to what we’re doing, so we can justify using them. But we are nevertheless creating our own attention-edit by following them.
Many times these hyperlinks are genuinely useful for finding the article or information we were really looking for. But often times we’re being far less directed than that, and before we know it we’re down a rabbit hole for hours. Over time, repeating this actions has lead to us all to do more Hyperlink Thinking in our daily lives.
If we can’t read a book for more than 30 minutes without getting up and doing something else, then already our brain has been trained to think it is supposed to flit from here to there.
From that awareness, it’s easy to see that our ability to concentrate can end up being seen as an enemy by a brain trained for switching. That battle is why we all so often lose focus, get distracted, and are unproductive even on work we care about.
Keep in mind, I only noticed this because I slipped into it too. I limit my screen time intentionally, but even then I could feel myself losing focus far sooner than I was accustomed to.
Noticing what was happening, I immediately raised my awareness and quickly I noticed my impulse to follow part of a thought in a new direction and there I had my culprit.
My brain had gotten good at chasing down other angles and I was getting increasingly willing to wander off of my original intention. Yet, the world is the world, so we must all continually learn more about managing our attention.
All it really requires is some awareness, and some targeted non-action and diligence. It can take a while to learn not to wander so much, but we got good at wandering by wandering so we’ll get good at focusing by focusing too. Today, I now regularly check back in with my original intention to ensure I’m still on it.
Don’t let Hyperlink Thinking invade our days and steal both our productivity and our mind’s ability to focus on an issue at a level that makes us more successful. Our capabilities are not a fixed asset, we are a flexible beings who are capable of altering ourselves to suit your needs. But to do that we must do it consciously.
And maybe on another day I’d maybe help more with that effort by adding in a relevant hyperlink about this issue, but… well, you know… It’s probably better this way. 😉
peace (of mind) s
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.