Imagine you are walking through a forest. You come across a large tree, with tasty-looking shiny fruits on them. You pluck one of the fruits from the trees and eat it. You’re amazed by what happens next! From the place you plucked the fruit, another even shinier fruit pops up. You don’t hesitate for a second and eat the shinier fruit. Again, another shinier fruit appears in the same place… You keep on eating and consuming.
The never-ending cycle
This tends to happen when you consume social media on your phone. After each image, an even more appealing image appears; after each tweet, another smarter tweet appears; after each post, another more engaging post… The algorithms behind these platforms are disproportionately intelligent. Only 300 likes on Facebook, and the algorithm knows you better than your spouse. It’s a never-ending cycle that makes us consume more and more.It’s a digital shiny fruit. It’s making us digitally obese. But what does it mean to be digitally obese? What is it that you are losing by digitally consuming more?
Each new post you consume acts as an external stimulus that hampers your attention.It’s not necessarily your phone’s or social media’s fault, but rather it just enables your brain’s need for seeking out new information. The high amount of consistent new information interferes with our ability to focus.
Having low focus makes you feel bored faster. When you are bored, you become anxious and seek new information. It makes you more prone to external stimuli, resulting in a reinforcing loop. An example of this problem is using our phone while watching television – an activity to stop boredom, stacked on top of another boredom-stopping activity. Think of the external stimuli as bumps on the road. It prevents you from doing what you want to do or what you can do, by slowing you down consistently.
What can you do to become less digitally obese?
What can you do to increase your focus? From the figure above, it should be clear that the biggest obstacle is the external stimuli. Here are a few suggestions to increase your focus:
- Limit accessibility of distractions/external stimuli in your environment
- For example, close distracting browser tabs while working, to make them less accessible
- Limiting the distractions from your phone. We wrote 7 Practical tips that can help you with this – you can download them for free here
- Consciously practicing single-tasking and sustained attention
- Start with short periods of time
- Feel and understand the boredom and anxiety that come up
- You can break up your day in blocks of 30 minutes and plan all activities in these blocks. In that way, you never have to doubt whether you should multi-task, freeing up a lot of mental space
- Take healthy “breaks” before going back to your task
- Avoid social media
- Do some light stretches
- Look at Nature