Here's your mental exercise tonight. Imagine that, in the photo above, each of those marbles is on a plate that you are holding. Now picture trying to dump them, single file, into a jar.
Well, on the upside, at least you don't need to expend mental energy cleaning up the mess.
This exercise has very important implications in your happiness and the overall well-being of this planet.
The One in The Middle
The exercise above is actually one that you undertake everyday. Instead of marbles, however, you are dealing with tasks, ideas, and emotions.
Every marble on the plate can be thought of as representing one of these things. Getting a marble into the jar signifies an accomplishment or something that can be put outside of your consciousness.
The more marbles that you have on your plate at once, the more difficult it is to get any of them to go in the jar and out of your awareness. Sounds familiar, right?
The marble in the middle is perhaps the most stubborn: it is the centerpiece and a very important one. It lingers for a long time since we constantly add new marbles to the plate around it.
As we fumble around, we lose sight of that important center marble. We are more worried about dropping the outer ones off the edge. You can only track one marble at a time, after all. This is a panic. What are we forgetting? Did we need to be somewhere? Did we need to do something?
The truth in this analogy extends to the real world. That very important, singled-out marble in the middle cannot be placed into the jar until the others around it are addressed.
The marbles near the edge are urgent, but ultimately not Earth-shattering. They are things like making it to work on time, figuring out what to make for dinner, deciding what movie to see, or remembering to pay a bill. Or, perhaps it is catching up with an old friend that just sent an e-mail.
Dropping these outer marbles has an immediate consequence. The neglected, important marble has long-term consequences. It is self-care or doing something to take care of the planet. As long as we treat our consciousness as a plate, we cannot get that important marble into the jar without addressing the urgent ones.
It is up to us to change the shape of the plate: our conscious awareness. It determines our quality of life since it affects how we perceive our immediate needs.
How does tech fare?
Technology adds marbles to our plate. Occasionally, it's many marbles from the same device. Most digital tech places a burden on our conscious awareness.
Our brains love stimulation. And what better way to stimulate than to keep adding marbles.
We crave multi-tasking environments because they stimulate us. Physically, our brain is capable of only one task at a time. But we are very good at fooling ourselves, and we tend to mistake the rush for a sense of productivity. Switching between tasks and believing we are productive feels good.
There is even research that suggests your technology is a marble on the plate when it is turned on: simply shutting off the device gives you less cognitive load.
Case in point: the wildly successful Game of Thrones was written on a DOS word processor. DOS is, for all intents and purposes, a single-tasking environment. It is equivalent to shutting off the phone. If you are working fullscreen in Windows and other applications are not in your face, your brain knows that they are there and running.
As far as I know, the author is not a neuroscientist. But he is astute to recognize that modern technology was taking away from him: his masterpiece was shaped by the medium that he used. The medium became the message. He structured his work around it and it structured his thoughts.
Adding gadgets does not increase our cognitive capabilities; studies have shown that having a search engine at our disposal causes our brain to remember how to search rather than to retain information. Trying to retain information sans search engine (reading books to learn something, the old-fashioned way) is one source of creativity, wit, and intelligence despite our brains not containing memories.
Tech does not change the shape of the plate, but just adds more marbles.
Single-tasking is equivalent to changing your plate into a chute. It's easy to handle, gives you an immediate focus of which marble needs to go in the jar, and allows you to order and mix important marbles with urgent ones.
Climb a Mountain, Save a Forest
The mountain climber has no choice but to have one marble on the plate, aiming at the jar, at all times. They are not thinking about their social media notifications or their taxes.
Activities where we can set the difficulty level to our current skill level, while simultaneously increasing both are known as flow activities. We recognize these as the things that we enjoy so much that we lose track of time while doing them. They are not necessarily leisure activities since they are intrinsically rewarding. Flow activities require focus on one marble at a time.
Studies show that we are happiest when we can focus on just one thing at a time with no background noise. This is why retreats are so popular. We get to leave our plate of marbles on a shelf somewhere for a bit.
Jade is being designed using the latest neuroscience and time-tested Montessori techniques. Through this combination, it is a device that neurologically resembles a tool for putting one into a flow state. In flow, elevated dopamine means that your brain forms stronger pathways between neurons. (Studies have shown that gamification is effective for this reason.)
Jade has two screens, but it has a single-tasking interface. It is reskilling technology for developing oneself and one's creativity. We become what we practice. I want it to help shape your mind so that you can order your thoughts in a way that benefits you.
Collectively, we spend a lot of time in the gym training our bodies. Comparatively, we spend very little time shaping our plate. It should be no wonder that we are so stressed.
Technology has added so many marbles that we struggle to balance the plate. We have basically dumped it on the floor, slipped and fell, and are hearing marketing messages from tech companies that we are inadequate. They have more marbles that will solve our excessive marbles problem.
Just remember: don't lose your marbles.
See you next week!
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.