Learn about your brain and you’ll understand many of your habits–including why it’s so challenging to step away from a digital device.
Every time we try something new, a combination of brain cells connect to create a pathway that supports learning. The more the circuit is connected, the stronger it gets. The less a pathway is used, the weaker it becomes.
Neuroplasticity: The Brain’s Ability to Change
For those who choose to learn throughout life, neuroplasticity is a particularly exciting area of study that shows brain function can be remodeled. We have the ability to intend, shape and create our experience. We can choose to no longer feed habits that don’t work well and instead opt to nourish and develop new pathways and habits that are positive and uplifting.
Dopamine and Your Digital Device
Fast-paced likes on social media, rewards earned during video games (termed a compulsion loop by gaming companies) and immediate responses to texts harken to an early childhood feedback loop called contingent communication. If your parents or caregivers adeptly responded to your needs, their feedback created attachment. According to psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, MD, from UCLA’s School of Medicine, contingent communication “encodes our brains and the neurological processes that govern our interactions with the world around us.”
Digital devices can easily become addictive as they ping this early, reward-based loop and the centre in the brain where dopamine is released, creating a feeling of happiness or euphoria. We become giddy on dopamine which further signals feedback for predicted rewards. For instance, if we learn to associate a smartphone with likes on social media, we will start to get increases in dopamine in response to merely the sight of our phone as our brain predicts the reward.
We then become attached to our devices–not unlike being attached to a caregiver. This reward system further strikes a chord similar to a gambling addiction: You never quite know what you’ll get, but it’s enough of a reward to keep going and keep the pathways firing, often overriding more meaningful relationships or participation in the social activities.
Brain Knowledge is Brain Power
As we learn about the brain, we gain an opportunity to interrupt unhealthy digital habits and become free from digital compulsion. We can then create new pathways and utilize our digital time to bring balance to the workplace, our relationships and life.
FIVE WAYS TO OUTSMART A SMARTPHONE
1. Learn about Your Brain Your brain function determines much of your experience throughout the day, from thoughts that guide your speech and determine your actions to overall body function and physical health. Exercise, nutritious foods and a great laugh all positively affect the brain. Learn more about NEUROPLASTICITY, watch this video about the POLYVAGAL THEORY by Dr. Stephen Porges, read about INTERNET ADDICTION treatment and discover how LAUGHTER AFFECTS THE BRAIN.
2. Exercise Exercise offers activities that are not part of an addiction issue and physical movement supports healthy brain function, great metabolism and restful sleep. You have the opportunity to step away from a digital device, to improve mood and enhance self-confidence. EXERCISE IS A KEY TO MENTAL FITNESS and mental fitness is equally important to physical health. Science shows we can create new brain cells and exercise is a particularly effective way to stimulate the brain.
3. Establish a Digital-Free Zone and Work Policy Consider daily time slots for answering emails and leave other portions of the day for your creative, project-oriented work. Propose a digital-free hour when going to lunch with colleagues or head out for a brisk noon walk. Propose an office policy of no after hour emails. At home: Establish digital free zones at the dinner table and in the bedrooms. It’s great modeling for kids, too.
4. Clear the Mental Cache with Meditation Meditation is the ultimate de-stressor: CORTISOL LEVELS CAN DECREASE whilst brain and immune functions improve. You can GROW MORE GRAY MATTER in the brain in just eight weeks and meditation is also shown to enhance THE LENGTH OF TELOMERES in support of healthy aging. To clear the mental cache: Meditate 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before bed. Regularity of practice is initially more important than length of time.
5. Consider Screen Time Tracking Apps Space provides a pause and a simple reminder to breathe before opening an app. It’s simple, free and effectively breaks the gratification loop before the app opens. Another option, RealizD Pro, offers a screen time tracker to help monitor your online time as well as your family’s digital habits. You can establish on-screen and off-screen goals. While it may seem counter intuitive to use an app to reduce digital time, the helpful screen reminders provide non-intrusive tracking updates to help you overcome smartphone addiction and become more effective at work and home.
DOWNLOAD THE 10 QUALITIES OF A POWERFUL MIND, Karuna’s meditation programme that builds the brain, enhances mental clarity and improves focus.