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UnTech Yourself

UnTech Yourself
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Technology can definitely make life easier. E-mail, rapid communication, RSS and the internet create vast opportunities for new information. But technology isn’t perfect. Adopting new technologies can have a sharp learning curve and many programs have unseen bugs and usability problems. Even more prevalent is this boost in information can cause overload, zapping your time in endless e-mails and feeds to read.

Breaking your paradigm of technology as a cure-all to every problem can open you up to other avenues for solving problems. Technology may be innovative and wonderful, but learning when to unplug the power cord can help simplify your life. Here are some ways you can untech yourself to simplify your life and get more done.

Internet Dieting

Internet, IM, e-mail and web-surfing can be very distracting, often without providing a lot of value. These empty calories often disguise themselves as necessary information but are just noise. Start a thirty day internet diet to reduce the total amount of time you spend connected to the net.

Notepads

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Turn off the blackberry and try using a paper organizer. It may not be as flashy, but it is amazing how effective they are for having basically two features: write and read. Keeping a notepad with you means zero learning curve, zero interruptions and only stores information not noise.

Television Blackouts

Television is full of stimulation. When television is good it can be entertaining, humorous, dramatic and a social activity. When it’s bad it is flashing lights providing distraction without value. You might want to experiment with cutting down on television, especially when you know in advance that there isn’t going to be any worthwhile programming.

Try cutting down your morning news and replace it with reading books or newspapers. The information will usually be more valuable and text is nonlinear so you can skip information that doesn’t interest you. Best of all most books don’t have commercials.

iPod Mute

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I’ll admit it, I love my mp3 player. Great for workouts and doing boring tasks it can add a bit of extra flavor to regular activities. But sometimes the constant noise and music can desensitize you to experiencing the world around you and cut you off from interacting with other people.

Try turning off the iPod periodically. Drive to work without any music. Try exercising with quiet. Try walking in silence when you are by yourself. Not only will this allow you to reconnect with what you are engaged in, it makes it easier for you to actually notice the music when it is playing instead of just having noise.

Read Books

Remember when books used to be made of paper? Cut back on your online reading and head to the library or bookstore and get something you can hold in your hands. Although some online reading is definitely better than books, if your entire library would consist of 500 word articles with flashy headlines, you probably aren’t getting a lot of depth.

Get Back to Nature

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Go out and spend a half hour in nature. If you live in a big city, at least look for a park or a relatively quiet area. Having a bit of solitude in a natural setting can often inspire ideas where everything is calm. Remember not to bring the cellphone or Blackberry!

Getting back to a natural environment can break away the endless distractions of life and give you some time to really think. I’ve had many of my best ideas on hikes and walks through nature. If you live in a highly technological world, spending a few hours or days can create even more ideas. I don’t believe that this is because nature has some mystical power but simply that it is often such a dramatic change in environment that it triggers new ideas.

Cooked from Scratch

Technology also appears in our food, even if it isn’t in the form of circuit boards. Having easy premade and tasty food can be great in a hectic lifestyle, but this kind of eating isn’t usually healthiest. Try cutting back on processed foods and making more meals from scratch. Most people say they don’t have time, but I believe it is really that they don’t know how.

Even if you aren’t going to be featured on Iron Chef anytime soon, try cooking a new meal from scratch. I’ve found that you can often modify recipes to be cooked in less time without resorting to tasteless and processed filler. You might want to set out an hour or two a week to experiment with a new recipe.

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Technology is a Tool

I’m not going to be joining the Amish anytime soon. I love the many ways that technology can make us more efficient and connect us with other people. But like any tool, you need to see where it’s limits are. If you find yourself becoming a technophile try unteching some areas of your life. You might find a little less tech can get a lot more value.

Scott Young writes about productivity, improvement and learning at his blog, here. You can subscribe to his feed here. Some of his popular posts include Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying.

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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