Stress isn’t bad for you, but believing stress is bad for you is

Interesting 15 minute Ted talk about Stress (you get the point in the first few minutes if your stressed for time:))

Most of us belief that stress is “bad” for us, right? Physically, mentally or emotionally in some way. At least enough so we try to “eliminate” a lot of stress. This short video by a stress/physiologist researcher flips that thought.

Since helping people change their beliefs is a big part of my practice, I love seeing this scientific evidence showing what your beliefs about stress are more important than actual stress. She goes onto to say if you have a “negative” view or belief about stress you can unlearn this and your body will respond and view stress as helpful!

Enjoy!

http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_content=button__2013-09-04

Stifled Grief: How the West Has It Wrong

I have had some loss in my family recently and thought this article from the Huffington Post might be helpful for all of us.

 

After nearly seven years of personal experience surrounding loss, I can tell who is going to read, share and comment on this article and it’s not necessarily the audience I’ve intended. Those who have walked the horrific road of loss will shake their collective heads “Yes” at many of my points below and share with pleads for the rest of the Western World to read, learn, evolve and embrace these concepts. Unfortunately, my words will fall short for my intended audience because the premise does not yet apply to their lives…yet. In time, my words will resonate with every human on the face of this earth, but until a personal journey with loss takes place, my words will be passed over in exchange for articles about gorillas and fights over public bathroom usage.

There is nothing sexy or exciting about grief.

There is nothing that grabs a reader with no personal interest to open my words and take heed to my writing.

I’m here to say that the West has the concept of grieving all wrong.

I’d like to point out that we are a culture of emotionally stunted individuals who are scared of our mortality and have mastered the concept of stuffing our pain. Western society has created a neat little “grief box” where we place the grieving and wait for them to emerge fixed and whole again. The grief box is small and compact, and it comes full of expectations like that range from time frames to physical appearance. Everyone who has been pushed into the grief box understands it’s confining limitations, but all of our collective voices together can’t seem to change the intense indignation of a society too emotionally stifled to speak the truth. It’s become easier to hide our emotional depth than to reveal our vulnerability and risk harsh judgment. When asked if we are alright, it’s simpler to say yes and fake a smile then, to be honest, and show genuine human emotion.

Let me share below a few of the expectations and realities that surround grief for those who are open to listening. None of my concepts fit into societies grief box and despite the resounding amount of mutual support by the grieving for what I write below, many will discount my words and label us as “stuck” or “in need of good therapy.” I’m here to say those who are honest with the emotions that surround loss are the ones who are the least “stuck” and have received the best therapy around. You see, getting in touch with our true feelings, embracing the honest emotions of death only serve to expand the heart and allow us to move forward in a genuine and honest way. Death happens to us all so let’s turn the corner and embrace the truth behind life after loss.

Expectation: Grief looks a certain way in the early days. Tears, intense sadness, and hopelessness.

Reality: Grief looks different for every single person. Some people cry intensely, and some don’t cry at all. Some people break down, and others stand firm. There is no way to label what raw grief looks like as we all handle our loss in different ways due to different circumstances and various life backgrounds that shape who we are.

Expectation: The grieving need about a year to heal.

Reality: Sometimes grief does not even get started till after the first year. I’ve heard countless grieving people say year two is harder than year one. There is the shock, end of life arrangements and other business matters that often consume the first year and the grieving do not have the time actually to sit back and take the time to grieve. The reality is there is no acceptable time frame associated with grief.

Expectation: The grieving will need you most the first few weeks.

Reality: The grieving are flooded with offers of help the first few weeks. In many cases, helping the grieving six months or a year down the line can be far more helpful because everyone has returned to their lives and the grief stricken are left to figure it out alone.

Expectation: The grieving should bury the dead forever. After a year, it is uncomfortable for the grieving to speak of their lost loved one. If they continue to talk about them, they are stuck in their grief and need to “move on.”

Reality: The grieving should speak of the dead forever if that’s what they wish to do. When someone dies, that does not erase the memories you made, the love you shared and their place in your heart. It is not only okay to speak of the dead after they are gone, but it’s also a healthy and peaceful way to move forward.

Expectation: For the widowed – If you remarry you shouldn’t speak of your lost loved one otherwise you take away from your new spouse.

Reality: You never stop loving what came before, and that does not in any way lessen the love you have for what comes after. When you lose a friend – you don’t stop having friends, and you love them all uniquely. If you lose a child and have another, the next child does not replace or diminish the love you had for the first. If you lose a spouse, you are capable of loving what was and loving what is….one does not cancel out or minimize the next. Love expands the heart, and it’s okay to honor the past and embrace the future.

Expectation: Time heals all wounds.

Reality: Time softens the impact of the pain, but you are never completely healed. Rather than setting up false expectations of healing let’s talk about realistic expectations of growth and forward movement. Grief changes who you are at the deepest levels and while you may not forever be in an active mode of grief you will forever be shaped by the loss you have endured.

Expectation: If you reflect on loss beyond a year you are “stuck.”

Reality: Not a day goes by where I am not personally affected by my loss. Seeing my children play sports, looking at my son who is the carbon copy of his Dad or hearing a song on the radio or smell in the air. Loss because part of who you are and even though I don’t choose to dwell on grief it has a way of sneaking in now and again even when I’m most in love with life at the current moment. It’s not because we dwell or focus, and it’s not because we don’t make daily choices to move forward. It’s because we loved and we lost, and it touches us for the remainder of our days in the most profound ways.

Expectation: When you speak of the dead you make the griever sad, so it’s best not to bring them up.

Reality: When we talk about our lost loved one we are often happy and filled with joy. My loss was six and a half years ago and to this day, my late husband is one of my favorite people to talk and hear about. Hearing his name makes me smile and floods my mind with happy memories of a life well lived. It makes the grieving sadder when everyone around them refuses to say their name. Forgetting they existed is cruel and a perfect example of our stifled need to fix the unfixable.

Expectation: If you move forward you never loved them or conversely if you don’t move forward you never loved them.

Reality: The grieving need to do what is right for them, and nobody knows what that is except the person going through it.

Expectation: It’s time to “move on.”

Reality: There is no moving on – there is only moving forward. From the time death touches our lives we move forward, in fact, we are not given a choice but to move forward. However, we never get to a place where the words move on resonate. The words “move on” have a negative connotation to the grieving. They suggest a closure that is nonexistent and a fictitious door we pass through.

Expectation: Grief is a linear process and a series of steps to be taken. Each level is neatly defined and the order predetermined.

Reality: Grief is an ugly mess full of pitfalls, missteps, sinking, and swimming. Like a game of shoots and ladders, you never know when the board might pull you back and send you down the ladder screaming at the top of your lungs. Just when you think you’ve arrived at the finish, you draw a card that sends you back to start and just when it appears you’ve lost the game you jump ahead and come one step closer to the front of the line.

Expectation: The grieving should seek professional forms of counseling exclusively.

Reality: The grieving should seek professional forms of counseling but also the grieving should look strongly towards alternative modes of therapy like fitness, art, music, meditation, journaling and animal therapy. The grieving should take an “active” part in their grief process and understand that coping comes in many different forms for all the different people who walk this earth.

Expectation: The grieving either live in the past or the present. IT is not possible to have a multitude of emotions.

Reality: The grieving live their lives with intense moments of duality. Moments of incredible happiness mixed with feelings of deep sadness. There is a depth of emotion that forever accompany those who have lived with a loss. That duality can cause constant reflection, and a deeper appreciation of all life has to offer.

Expectation: The grieving should be able to handle business as usual within a few weeks.

Reality: The brain of a grieving person can be in a thick fog, especially for those who have experienced extreme shock, for more than a year. Expect forgetfulness, a reduced ability to handle stress and grayness to be commonplace after a loss.

I’ve just scratched the surface above on the many areas where grief is misunderstood in our society.

One hundred percent of the people who walk this earth will deal with death. Each of us will experience the passing of someone close that we love or our personal morality. It is about time we open up the discussion around death, dying and grief and stop the stigma that surrounds our common bond. Judgment, time frames, and neat little grief boxes have no place in the reality that surrounds loss. Western culture asks us to suppress our pain, stuff our emotions and restrain our cries. Social media has given many who grieve the opportunity to open up dialogue, be vulnerable on a large scale level and take the combined heat that comes with that honesty. As a whole, society does not want to hear or accept that grief stays with us in some capacity for the rest of our lives. Just like so many other aspects of our culture, we want to hear there is a quick fix, a cure-all, a pill or a healthy dose of “get over it” to be handed out discreetly and dealt with quietly.

The reality is you will grieve in some capacity for the rest of your life. Once loss touches you-you are forever changed despite what society tells you. Stop looking at the expectations of an emotionally numbed society as your threshold and measuring stick for success. Instead, turn inward and look at the vulnerable reality of a heart that knows the truth about loss. With your firsthand knowledge escape the grief box and run out screaming truth as you go. If we make enough noise maybe someday societies warped expectation will shift to align with reality.

Just ask

Asking for what I want is one of my favorite things in conversations I have learned to do more of. Wasn’t really easy at first, for a somewhat shy Midwestern boy, but I practiced and now I’m occasionally asking for some pretty big things. Things I would have never asked in the past. I still feel uncomfortable in certain situations, however, it just feels so much better to be honest with my feelings, intentions and desires. It’s so easy to fall in the trap of hoping the person your wanting something from is going to read your mind. Gosh, if you have been in a relationship long enough, you are supposed to be able to do that, right? Likely, that thinking will lead to disappointment and frustration as I haven’t met many mind readers that get it 100% right out there.

Of course, this doesn’t let us off the hook for being aware of the feelings the people in our relationships are giving off and “helping” them out now and then by checking in with their needs. But, be careful there, if you do this too much, then your trying to read the person so much it circles back to trying to figure out what they want. Though most of us likely don’t do this consciously, we often use some kind of manipulation to TRY to get want you want. If I do this, then can you do this or that for me? Or we go through some elaborate strategy or emotional drama to “guilt” someone into doing what we want. Hey, we have all done it. My view is let’s just clean it up with some honesty and trust that WE will be okay no matter what the outcome of our “asking” is.

Also, this doesn’t mean we always get a yes when we ask for what we want. We can still have some disappointment or frustration to work through, however, with your clear communication, it often leads to greater opportunities to talk about those things that are important to you or maybe work out a “yes” sometime in the future.

 

No “dumping” zone

No dumping zone - abundance guy

Do you feel people are often “dumping ” their problems on you?

Do you feel like you can’t say no or stop someone from talking about their problems? Does it leave you tired?

Do you feel obligated to hear someone’s problems? is it supportive for you?

It feels good to vent now and then and I enjoy supporting family and friends that are working through issues. However, to hear someone go on and on about their problems, especially when its filled with gossip or blaming others is usually draining. I certainly have noticed this for myself. Sometimes when I feel this obligation to listen, I notice a few things happen. First, I resent it and my energy gets drained. Also, I’m not as present as I’m usually wanting the conversation to end after a while………. Any of you, start checking emails or doing chores around the house when a conversation becomes one sided? How much value are we really adding in this “not so present” listening mode. If someone is really stuck in “drama” mode, getting stuck talking excessively about the problem, gossiping or blaming others for their situation, that is a lot of negativity to hear. I feel it eventually it starts to drain ones energy.

In the past I have gotten mad at myself for “listening” too long as now my energy has been affected, sometimes lasting for hours or more after I leave the conversation. No matter how much we love someone, does allowing our energy to be drained really serve either person? I feel keeping my energy high actually helps the other, even if they can’t see or feel it.

A few years back, I added a 5 minute “dumping” rule for myself. That is, I would allow 5 minutes of “dumping” to go on in a conversation and if it went beyond I then asked the person if we could schedule a time (if I wanted to) when I could better listen and be present for them. I would say something like, “this sounds like a really important issue for you and I want to hear you when I can be fully present” or being more direct, “it is sometimes draining for me to hear someone talk at length about their problems when my energy is not so strong”. If their was a lot of gossip and blame, I sometimes would offer, “I feel I might be more helpful to you to be a sounding board for SOLUTIONS to your problem” (rather than gossiping and blaming others). Of course, communicating this can be a delicate balance in relationships. I have noticed that it is best to bring up how you want to communicate in the future to those closer relationships, as in the heat of the moment can be a bit harder for the other person to handle. Practice those “I” messages when communicating, “I feel this way”…..”I notice this about myself when”, ect. We all are allowed to feel how we feel about something.

Know that this is a practice and you will likely mess it up, at least I do. I believe in taking small steps to improvement  and that often comes as two steps forward and one step back.

I have been practicing this 5 minute rule more these days. It takes some communication and patience and what I found was and is that when I did this with some people they would eventually dump somewhere else and in many circumstances our connection grew as we more frequently moved into real feelings and solutions when some of the drama was removed. Also, there is an definite energy shift when you change from talking about the problem to talking about the solution.

This is still a work in progress for me and I’m always on the look out for creative ways in dealing with “dumping”, so let me know if you have any ideas!

 

Getting off the front lawn

“Anything you hide in the basement  has a way of burrowing under the house  and showing up on the front lawn”.

Howard Sasportas

Classic quote which we kinda all seem to know, but we often don’t do anything to keep it from happening or we just do not see our part in it. It takes some courage or discipline to tackle some things that we really do not want to. I kinda read this quote thinking of the bigger things. For example, not communicating your TRUE feelings on an issue with a friend or family member. Our thinking maybe why stir up the conflict? We say, “I really think I can let it go, it’s not that important”. Usually, this is our growth opportunity talking to us in the moment. It seems that “life” won’t let you get away with not doing it anyway. We seem to attract more and more of the same type of situation or the one gets bigger and bigger. Of course, we often say it’s not our fault and it is so much easier to play the blame game. But, the situation doesn’t go away and stress builds mentally and physically and we can actually get sick not moving forward!  Also, eventually, even inevitably, it blows up in your face in some way and it’s now in the middle of the front lawn.

I have had my share of time on the front lawn. But, as I began to look for patterns in my challenging situations and discovering what I had the power to do with those by adding some courage to do something “new”,  I noticed I stopped getting the same lessons over and over. People that were “challenges” stopped being that way or just moved out of my life completely. Sometimes it was subtle and I noticed the change in hindsight and sometimes the sense of relief and freedom was immediate.

Of course, It doesn’t mean that a particular situation is gone forever, now and then, usually when I’m a bit out of balance, I may “attract” an old pattern. But, I have found, with practice, I’m a bit more self aware and I catch some patterns quicker than in the past.

 

Why does it seem some people want you NOT to do well?

In my abundance practice I have run across this occasionally. Where it seems like some people dislike others that are doing well. This can sometimes show up in the media. An anti success bias or something like that. If your doing well, especially financially, something is wrong with you or you’re bad for accumulating wealth or because you are wealthy you took advantage of someone somehow…..If you’re wealthy you’re guilty of something!

I think there is a lot tied up into this kinda of thinking whether its jealousy, judgement, guilt, someone’s own lack, personal, religious and societal beliefs, etc. Certainly they are many wealthy people that, trying find something less negative to say, have not been the best role models of wealth! Of course, often when people have negative views about wealth they often “see” only the negative side of wealth. A fancy car cuts them off on the highway, a financial scandal on the news, a wealth boss that treats them badly, etc. Its always interesting in my practice to hear individuals who want to attract more wealth in their lives, but dislike “wealth” in many ways. In my opinion, attracting more wealth with these conflicting beliefs and desires is challenging at best.

The first thing I often have people do with this thinking, is just start looking for the “good” in wealth. A person makes a gift to their school that enables computers to be purchased, have an appreciation for something specific that wealth can buy whether for yourself or others, a business owner or investor that created a product you like or use. This may seem small, but if your wanting to attract more wealth I feel you must believe that wealth is actually good or your beliefs, thoughts and actions will be out of alignment. Hard to change anything when your out of alignment as its kinda like the concept that a negative (thought about wealth) cancels out a positive one. I like my clients to create and build up their positive thoughts so they create momentum and reprogram old ways of thinking. Many say “you are what you eat”, I belief we are and create what we think!

 

Relationships

I subscribe to Ross Bishop’s blog, which lately has been experts from his latest book. I find most of his work pretty heavy, though accurate. Kinda coming down to psychology and the wounded child in all of us driving a lot of our lives. I get it, but I just don’t want to hear about it every week which is why I don’t read his blogs all the time. Then a few months pass and I read one and it reminds me a bit to be aware of those beliefs patterns little Johnny might be running as big John and feels like a worthy exercise of awareness.

This one is more specific about relationships and has some interesting thoughts.

 

RELATIONSHIPS
by Ross Bishop

We think we know what love is, but honestly, not many people do, because we have never experienced it. We didn’t get unconditional love from our parents and we weren’t encouraged to find our hearts as we grew up. And we certainly haven’t been encouraged to do that by society! Our various relationship breakups and perhaps a divorce have also made us gun-shy.

Many people operate under the fantasy that having a partner will make them feel good enough about themselves so that they can continue to ignore their inner feelings of inadequacy. After all, a new relationship feels pretty wonderful! Usually things go fine at first, but after the excitement wears off, friction sets in and then things go south.

 

Tom Robbins said: When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on-series polygamy-until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.

Dating for most people is a negotiation where the couple agrees to limit the openness and commitment they expect from one another. It is never openly discussed, but it becomes the dominant defining quality of the relationship. And so they circle, neither being willing to fully step in and each feeling somewhat cheated. In some relationships one partner capitulates their needs to those of the other in order to try and make the relationship work and also to fulfill her own needs.

The need to be loved can become an addiction and the threat of its withdrawal can cause us to sacrifice everything – losing our integrity, honesty, self-respect and dignity in the process. And that is the ego doing its job, getting us through difficult situations while limiting the exposure of our shortcomings. Looking back, we can see the foolish things we did, trying to prop up a relationship that would have failed on its own without artificial life support.

The unfortunate consequence is of all this that you become reluctant to enter in and be as vulnerable as a real relationship requires, because it will expose your “inadequacies.” A real relationship would ask you to take emotional risks that you aren’t prepared for. So instead, you choose from the “less heathy” group of candidates. You will seek out someone who feels damaged themselves because they are safer. It is the inadequacy wound that drives almost all of our codependent behavior, by the way.

Sarah Dunn wrote: “Why does anyone stay in an unhappy relationship? Because people do. They do it all the time. And the truth is, when you’re in it, when you’re up to your neck in the everyday part of life with another human being, sometimes you don’t exactly notice how bad things really are. It’s not always as apparent as it would seem. Unhappiness, when it involves another person, can be like that line from The Sun Also Rises about going bankrupt, how it happens two ways: gradually, and then suddenly.”

Why don’t we see the future more clearly? Has your partner really changed that much or have things that were latent before just come to the surface? Songwriters say that “Love is blind,” but that isn’t true. Love can see just fine. Codependency however, is blind as a bat, and that points us to the biggest reason people mess up relationships.

If you open your heart to another and he or she turns away, you will feel badly, perhaps very badly. Your sense of self-worth can take a painful hit if you are dependent upon another person for acceptance. And when your partner doesn’t make your feelings of inadequacy go away and the relationship turns sour, then you feel betrayed. Thus, you must create walls.

Andrew Boyd wrote: We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems-the ones that make you truly who you are-that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person-someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”

How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds

So you bought that new iPhone. If you are like the typical owner, you’ll be pulling your phone out and using it some 80 times a day, according to data Apple collects. That means you’ll be consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year. Your new phone, like your old one, will become your constant companion and trusty factotum—your teacher, secretary, confessor, guru. The two of you will be inseparable.

The smartphone is unique in the annals of personal technology. We keep the gadget within reach more or less around the clock, and we use it in countless ways, consulting its apps and checking its messages and heeding its alerts scores of times a day. The smartphone has become a repository of the self, recording and dispensing the words, sounds and images that define what we think, what we experience and who we are. In a 2015 Gallup survey, more than half of iPhone owners said that they couldn’t imagine life without the device.

We love our phones for good reasons. It’s hard to imagine another product that has provided so many useful functions in such a handy form. But while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. So what happens to our minds when we allow a single tool such dominion over our perception and cognition?

Scientists have begun exploring that question—and what they’re discovering is both fascinating and troubling. Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.

The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.

Adrian Ward, a cognitive psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has been studying the way smartphones and the internet affect our thoughts and judgments for a decade. In his own work, as well as that of others, he has seen mounting evidence that using a smartphone, or even hearing one ring or vibrate, produces a welter of distractions that makes it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job. The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.

A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier—whether they check the phone or not. Another 2015 study, which involved 41 iPhone users and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.

Illustration: Serge Bloch

The earlier research didn’t explain whether and how smartphones differ from the many other sources of distraction that crowd our lives. Dr. Ward suspected that our attachment to our phones has grown so intense that their mere presence might diminish our intelligence. Two years ago, he and three colleagues— Kristen Duke and Ayelet Gneezy from the University of California, San Diego, and Disney Research behavioral scientist Maarten Bos —began an ingenious experiment to test his hunch.

The researchers recruited 520 undergraduate students at UCSD and gave them two standard tests of intellectual acuity. One test gauged “available cognitive capacity,” a measure of how fully a person’s mind can focus on a particular task. The second assessed “fluid intelligence,” a person’s ability to interpret and solve an unfamiliar problem. The only variable in the experiment was the location of the subjects’ smartphones. Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on their desks; others were told to stow their phones in their pockets or handbags; still others were required to leave their phones in a different room.

As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.

The results were striking. In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.

In subsequent interviews, nearly all the participants said that their phones hadn’t been a distraction—that they hadn’t even thought about the devices during the experiment. They remained oblivious even as the phones disrupted their focus and thinking.

A second experiment conducted by the researchers produced similar results, while also revealing that the more heavily students relied on their phones in their everyday lives, the greater the cognitive penalty they suffered.

In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.

Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research. In a similar but smaller 2014 study (involving 47 subjects) in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight. (The two groups performed about the same on a set of easier tests.)

In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.

It isn’t just our reasoning that takes a hit when phones are around. Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well. Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying.

Illustration: Serge Bloch

In a study conducted at the University of Essex in the U.K., 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for 10 minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, while half had no phone present. The subjects were then given tests of affinity, trust and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in 2013 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when “a personally meaningful topic” was being discussed. The experiment’s results were validated in a subsequent study by Virginia Tech researchers, published in 2016 in the journal Environment and Behavior.

The evidence that our phones can get inside our heads so forcefully is unsettling. It suggests that our thoughts and feelings, far from being sequestered in our skulls, can be skewed by external forces we’re not even aware of.

Scientists have long known that the brain is a monitoring system as well as a thinking system. Its attention is drawn toward any object that is new, intriguing or otherwise striking—that has, in the psychological jargon, “salience.” Media and communications devices, from telephones to TV sets, have always tapped into this instinct. Whether turned on or switched off, they promise an unending supply of information and experiences. By design, they grab and hold our attention in ways natural objects never could.

But even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings—which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.

The irony of the smartphone is that the qualities we find most appealing—its constant connection to the net, its multiplicity of apps, its responsiveness, its portability—are the very ones that give it such sway over our minds. Phone makers like Apple and Samsung and app writers like Facebook and Google design their products to consume as much of our attention as possible during every one of our waking hours, and we thank them by buying millions of the gadgets and downloading billions of the apps every year.

A quarter-century ago, when we first started going online, we took it on faith that the web would make us smarter: More information would breed sharper thinking. We now know it isn’t that simple. The way a media device is designed and used exerts at least as much influence over our minds as does the information that the device unlocks.

People’s knowledge may dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data.

As strange as it might seem, people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores. In a seminal 2011 study published in Science, a team of researchers—led by the Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and including the late Harvard memory expert Daniel Wegner —had a group of volunteers read 40 brief, factual statements (such as “The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas in Feb. 2003”) and then type the statements into a computer. Half the people were told that the machine would save what they typed; half were told that the statements would be immediately erased.

Afterward, the researchers asked the subjects to write down as many of the statements as they could remember. Those who believed that the facts had been recorded in the computer demonstrated much weaker recall than those who assumed the facts wouldn’t be stored. Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. The researchers dubbed this phenomenon the “Google effect” and noted its broad implications: “Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.”

Now that our phones have made it so easy to gather information online, our brains are likely offloading even more of the work of remembering to technology. If the only thing at stake were memories of trivial facts, that might not matter. But, as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, “the art of remembering is the art of thinking.” Only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.

We aren’t very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones.

This story has a twist. It turns out that we aren’t very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones or computers. As Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ward explained in a 2013 Scientific American article, when people call up information through their devices, they often end up suffering from delusions of intelligence. They feel as though “their own mental capacities” had generated the information, not their devices. “The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before,” the scholars concluded, even though “they may know ever less about the world around them.”

That insight sheds light on our society’s current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.

Data, the novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick once wrote, is “memory without history.” Her observation points to the problem with allowing smartphones to commandeer our brains. When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.

Mr. Carr is the author of “The Shallows” and “Utopia Is Creepy,” among other books.

Appeared in the October 7, 2017, print edition as ‘How Smart- phones Hijack Our Minds.’

Last weeks post offered a quote from Marcus Aurelius, which I never heard of or, more likely, didn’t remember from high school history. I looked him up on the internet and he was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 and had some cool quotes. Sounds like he was pretty far ahead of the self help movement.

 

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.
The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Fear

In our digital and media age there is a lot of fear spread around from so many sources. When you add that to the big one, that we all seem to have some feeling of not being being good enough in one way or another, its a wonder were are not paralyzed with fear all the time.  I thought these quotes from some wise people offer some pretty good advice.

 

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.
Karl Augustus Menninger

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
Helen Keller

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
Marcus Aurelius