We are SPAMMING ourselves

People spend a lot of time up in their head.

Did you just think... "HAH, I know, I'm up in my head all the time"? 

Or perhaps you thought... "I don't waste time up in my head, I'm as focused and efficient as a brain surgeon thank you very much". (Ahem, not to be a smart ass but where were you to have that thought? Up in your head, perhaps?)

Or maybe you thought... "My constant thinking means I give superficial attention to the task in front of me to the extent I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'VE JUST BEEN READING ARGHHHHH!"

I wouldn't blame you if you had these thoughts, or any other thought for that matter. The very fact that a huge variety and volume of thoughts emerge every single day is a challenge we all experience. It is this challenge I am keen to explore with you some more...

The days of unstoppable stimulation

As exemplified by the introduction, when we are exposed to new stimulus, thinking is triggered. Even though humans have been thinking for a long time now, in our modern information-intense and digitally-driven age, there is a seemingly unstoppable surge of stimulus coming at us from many angles, through multiple devices, at an increasingly rapid and sizeable (bit)rate, at all times of the day and night.

Some challenges include:

Digital distraction vs Digital discipline

The digital technology that promised us increased organisation, has evolved to overwhelm us in the process.

  • Email and social media consume a lot of our time and mental energy inside and outside of work.

  • Effort is spent scrolling through and sharing bite-sized snapshots of information via short emails, 'abbrev. txt msg's' (lol), status updates, tweets, instagram feeds, snapchat, micro-blogs, etc.

  • Our attention is fragmented by the constant notifications through beeps, blinks and buzzing that is distracting us around the clock.

Taken together, we are now distracted by constant interruptions and neglect to invest effort engaging with longer forms of communication. The fact that this blog is now 338 words long might already be stretching the attention span of some readers. I'm sure they'd be offended - if they were still reading...

People will continue to be overwhelmed by digital distraction if deliberate effort into learning and practising a disciplined approach to digital technology use is not adopted. You can be taught, but no-one can build the habits for you.

Working with Mobility or Immobilised by Work?

Conversation with a colleague from the couch? Work text from the toilet? Boardroom presentation from the bedroom? Is this the promise of working with mobility or is our life being immobilised by work?

  • Work is mobile and happens in non-work hours and non-work locations - blurring the lines between work, personal, home and social situations.

  • If we don't exercise discipline, work can infiltrate our personal lives and relationship time.

  • If we don't detach ourselves, our rest and recovery for the next day is hampered and sustainable levels of high-performance are compromised.

The mobility of work promised greater flexibility. In the process, work has spread across locations and times. We can now get stuck working when instead we need to detach, get some rest, and invest in personal and social interests.

Bearers of Bad News

We get sucked into negativity like a moth to a flame. 

  • Under the pretense of keeping us informed, our media floods us with stories of doom and gloom to which our 'negativity biased' mind becomes magnetised.

  • Pressure, competition, and constant change in our fast-paced working world create a steady flow stress.

  • Rolling worrisome thoughts tend to become the norm.

It served an evolutionary purpose to attend to the negative and be vigilant in the face of potential threats to our safety. However, negativity has the potential to run riot if we fail to demonstrate mindfulness and balance the negative saturation with some positivity and ease.

Expanding the definition of SPAM

It is not surprising people are feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. On a rational level we might acknowledge that it isn't possible to attend to all incoming information effectively. Nevertheless, in our attempts to engage with the chaos and stay on top of what's important, we are using precious mental, emotional, and physical energy managing the constant flow of fleeting thoughts triggered in our overstimulated mind. 

Whereas SPAM used to be a term meaning "to send unsolicited electronic mail or text messages simultaneously to a number of email addresses or mobile phones". Now it's used to refer to superfluous information transmission - 'getting spammed'. As a further extension, I believe the constant flow of thinking stimulated by the 'hyperkinetic' environment outlined above, now means we are increasingly SPAMMING our own mind. 

Do you find yourself:

  1. Struggling to stay focused because you get distracted by your thoughts?

  2. Sucked into negative and unhelpful thoughts to the extent they lead you to feel crummy and perform poorly?

  3. Scrolling mindlessly through digital information - emails, social media feeds, or channel surfing?

Then you may be feeling the effects of the challenges outlined above. We are information hungry beings, but our ability to engage has run amok. This is exacerbated by the technology dependence we have developed and the lack of effort many people put into disconnecting from technology to just 'be'. 

You may have some habits using digital technology that have intensified the variety and volume of your thinking. Plus, your increased work mobility may be keeping your brain wired during times when you need to unwind. In short, you might be spamming yourself. 

This begs the question...

How do I unsubscribe?

I hope the comments section is an invitation for fellow readers to contribute their ideas for tackling these challenges. Here are a few brief suggestions of where we can start and I welcome more conversation.

  1. Unsubscribe from as much of the flow of digital information as you realistically can (and make it a quick monthly cull thereafter).

  2. Turn off app notifications that distract you at times that aren't helpful. It's worth the time you take to do it, because you'll get that time back in a day not spent constantly attending to alerts. Your productivity will also go up because you'll be better able to stay focused on what you're doing.

  3. We've heard this one before - now do it - switch off your email and put your phone in flight mode when you need to concentrate on something. This includes your child's playtime or a conversation with your partner.

  4. Slow down so that you can filter incoming information and thoughts more consciously and effectively. Seriously, SLOW DOWN.

  5. Learn to apply mindfulness techniques as these can help us build conscious attention regulation for dealing with your SPAM. Some books I recommend that link usefully with the content of this blog include: Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world and Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.

It's true that there is brilliant information out there and we don't want to miss out. Let's just take some of the ownership back over what we allow in, and when that is appropriate and good for us.

With that point i'll now leave you with a brilliant quote from none other than Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame who reinforces our mindfulness mission. "It is not our abilities that show us who we are, but our choices." We need to exercise mindful choice to manage how and when we find ourselves under a tidal wave of spam.