What Are You Doing to your Brain?


Even though I don’t carry my cell phone with me all the time. Even though I have non-tech hours built into my day. Still, I am amazed by the power that little device holds over me in its insistence to be swiped, clicked, checked, and played with.

It reminds me of the experiments B. F. Skinner did with rats. In one experiment, he created a lever inside a cage for rats to push. By pushing the lever, there was a random possibility that food would appear. What he found was that the rats had a little rush of excitement to the brain each time they pushed the lever, whether food appeared are not. The result was the rats kept pushing the lever.

I find the implications of this staggering. It means that, like Skinner’s rats, our brains are being stimulated each time we check our device, whether something important is there or not. This leads to the urge to keep checking and creates a brain that is addicted, distracted, non-present, and increasingly bored with the beauty of nature and the intimacy of a simple face-to-face conversation.

Contrast this to the brains of people with a regular meditation practice. These brains are finding their direction in a growing attention span, a keen focus, the simplicity of quiet stillness, and contentment in life as it is.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my devices. But I don’t relish the idea of being like one of Skinner’s rats. And I sure don’t want a brain that is addicted, distracted, and unable to enjoy the simple things in life.

I want a brain that has honed the power of attention. The staying power of attention is how we hear each other, it is how we make sustainable decisions for the future, and it is the path to the contentment we seek within ourselves.

Let’s find ways to mediate a little more and “check” a little less.

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