4 Ways to Overcome the Mindless Scroll

Here’s how we can reclaim our attention and avoid the meaningless distraction of social media. 

We are all insane squirrels digging in the same spot again and again only to find nothing. This is what it’s like living with a smart phone in your pocket. We scroll and scroll and end up with the same result as last time: nothing.

Photo by Mayukh Karmakar on Unsplash

I hope this post can help you become a more productive, nut-finding squirrel. But first a little bit of science:

The Default Mode Network (DMN) and its Importance for Attention

Coined by the neuroscientist, Marcus Raichle, the DMN was named after the pattern of brain activity when at rest. There have been many experiments studying the DMN and here are the main facts about it:

  • It’s a task-negative network which means it’s deactivated during goal-directed tasks
  • It’s active during passive rest
  • It’s active during mind-wandering

The DMN is active when the individual is not focused on the external environment. Brain’s enthralled in the DMN are more focused on what is happening internally. It is shown that when sleeping, the DMN is on “full-throttle.” Since attention wanes when sleep deprived, the resting network (DMN) and our waking, goal-directed (task-positive) network are equally vital for optimizing attention.

The Mindless Scroll prevents Mind Wandering

The link between mind-wandering (possibly DMN mediated) and decreased attention is there. Surely this may be detrimental at times, but mind-wandering can actually be beneficial. This study explains why. Here are some benefits of mind-wandering explained in the article:

  • Helps you solve problems
  • Enhances creativity
  • Gives meaning in life

The problem is that with the advent of the smartphone, people are spending less time as mind-wanderers and more time as mindless scrollers.

The study’s co-author, Kou Murayama (PhD, University of Tübingen) says, “It’s now extremely easy to ‘kill time.’ On the bus on your way to work, you can check your phone rather than immerse yourself in your internal free-floating thinking, because you predict thinking will be boring,” he said. “However, if that prediction is inaccurate, you are missing an opportunity to positively engage yourself without relying on such stimulation.”

The Mindless Scroll is a Zombie Plague

Run for your life! Never mind that zombie isn’t goal directed to eat you…

I didn’t realize I was that zombie until I started meditating. Meditation sparked the subsequent awareness of the “pull” towards mindless-scrolling. Then I couldn’t stop seeing it in others in public.

It was the common case of confirmation bias — the awareness of this “pull” in me led to observing it in others. 

While the “pull” towards mindless-scrolling isn’t as deadly as a zombie plague, it does have its consequences.

Both mind-wandering and goal-directed exist on opposite ends of the attention spectrum — where does mindless scrolling exist? I haven’t come across anything scientific on this but judging from my opinion, I believe the answer is NO WHERE. 

And if this is the case, all mindless scrolling does is reinforce your addiction to alleviate boredom.

Andrew Huberman, known for his “Huberman Lab” podcast and professorship at Stanford, talks about the neuroscience of mind-wandering, goal-directed attention, and the compulsion of mindless-scrolling.

“If we are to look at ourselves through the lens of an animal experiment, we would think that animal is really sick. We keep looking and looking for a bone (and stay looking).” — Andrew Huberman on our compulsion to mindlessly scroll.

How to Reclaim your Attention

I fall prey to mindless-scrolling at least once a day. The timeless act of practicing what you preach is definitely in play, but here’s my silver bullet to overcome mindless-scrolling and reclaim your attention (practiced in order):

  1. Meditation
  2. Conscious Awareness
  3. Recognition
  4. Redirection

Meditation — I initially started to meditate 4 years ago to relieve anxiety. It helped with that, but it also led to an increased awareness of my mental and physical states. I am no longer operating unconsciously most of the time. Meditation is the prerequisite to awareness.

Conscious Awareness — Everyone is aware of something when awake, but not everyone is consciously aware. This means that you are constantly monitoring shifts in your awareness. I often oscillate between thought awareness and body awareness. Nevertheless, both are necessary if you want to be aware of that “pull” to mindless scrolling.

Recognition — If you are not aware of the feeling of the “pull”, it is impossible to recognize it. This third step is key because it allows you to take a CONSCIOUS second to modify the UNCONSCIOUS habit of mindless scrolling.

Redirection — Redirection is the final step because instead of reaching into your pocket, you can do literally anything else. The Macarena, twist and shout, or even the Soulja Boy. Since humans are visual creatures, instead of looking at my phone I like to look at my external environment.

Final Thoughts

We have always lived in a world where things demand our attention. It’s just in the present day, the amount of things have grown exponentially.

Not all of them demand our attention equally, and most can be left alone.This post was about having that filter to sift between the important and unimportant with regards to social media and smart phones. Technology with great power like this require a filter to overcome the “pull” of the mindless scroll.

The process of meditation → conscious awareness → recognition → redirection is what I find helpful to overcome it. 

If you have a desire to overcome the “pull”, what helps you?


💥Hope it Sparked your Perception! 🔥Want to fan the flame or snuff it?

Share & #sparkperception

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