(Breather) In part 2 of this breather show, I dive even deeper into the topic of how to manage digital distraction and hyper-connectivity. I get honest about the shit that I struggle with by first acknowledging some things. This is the best way to heal and grow, because you heighten your awareness and give yourself a chance to do something about it.

One major thing I acknowledge we get a payoff (a dopamine hit) from receiving incoming stimulus. I acknowledge we then get another payoff from being helpful, giving advice or answers. The third hit comes from being focused and organized and getting our To Do List completed and our Inbox clean. This is good for the psyche, but obviously can be bad for productivity, as well as your overall stress level. Most of us can benefit from having a more focused and linear accomplishment of top priority goals and a more mindful approach.

Today, I see how the mobile device interrupts and corrupts live interpersonal interaction. Try to be aware of the intrusion, instead of just making it a given – at the same time, I hate being bored and wasting time, and I love to use technology to help me with a long drive or long line, so ultimately, it’s really all about balance.

I also try to remember the wise words of Tim Ferris, who says, “indiscriminate constant action” is a form of laziness. With his obsession with time optimization and systems’ efficiency in all areas of life, Ferriss strongly presses what a disgraceful waste of life it is when you find you’re repeatedly drawn to doing this:

“If you consistently feel the counterproductive need for volume and doing lots of stuff, put these on a Post-it note:

  1. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

  2. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important, but uncomfortable actions.

Remember, what you do is more important than how you do everything else, and doing something well does not make it important.”

British author James Hewitt calls it the “cognitive middle gear.” You may be under the illusion that you are busy and productive, but you’re actually engaged in a string of medium-demand cognitive tasks that are a far cry from true peak performance. In an article on JamesHewitt.net titled, “The Attention Paradox,” Hewitt details the “interweaving tasks” of a hypothetical office worker’s day, with each quip validated by a footnote to actual research (we reach for our phones an average of 150 times per day, etc.) My favorite excerpt comes during a morning of conference room meetings, where the worker, “switches between checking his smartphone and replying to emails, while pretending to write notes on his laptop.” Ouch! But I can admit that I notice when I drift into this cognitive middle gear – usually when I’m tired or have been working too long. I find my attention is split, elsewhere, and I’m not really concentrating on my desired task at hand. When you feel your focus and attention is wavering, just simply identify what’s going on, and take a nap, or get moving.

My main suggestion that I can stand by is to carve out deliberate winning strategies that are dummy proof – this is very important. Put alarms and reminders on your phone to ensure that you aren’t just sitting there working for 5 hours straight! We’ve learned from brain research that we can only really focus on a peak cognitive task for about 20 minutes at a time before our attention breaks and we need to take our focus off the task at hand. Obviously, this poses a challenge because the world we live in is so hyper connected and technology driven that fighting digital distraction is something we must all work at daily. Taking a break should NOT be optional – it needs to be prioritized and even pencilled into your schedule if necessary. Taking breaks satisfies your brain and your body’s needs for movement and fresh air, gives you some rare distance from all your devices and screen exposure, while allowing your mind to rest and refocus. That’s why part 2 of this show is so essential: because by learning how you can stay truly focused in the face of so much overwhelming distraction, you can learn how to be as productive and stress-free as possible.


What are the payoffs when we hear the ding of our phone?   [03:27]

It’s a highly stressful occupation to be on top of everything. [07:17]

Is it really a big deal when the absolute cutting edge of technology is not working perfectly?  [10:01]

Be aware of how the mobile device interrupts and often corrupts live interpersonal interaction, [12:15]

If we learn to use technology wisely, we can make our lives easier and simpler. [14:13]

Tim Ferris says, “indiscriminate constant action is a form of laziness.” [16:04]

You may be under the illusion that you’re busy and productive, but you’re actually engaged in a string of medium demand cognitive tasks that are a far cry from true peak performance. [17:25]

Take breaks. [19:23]



Download Episode MP3

Get Over Yourself Podcast

Brad: 00:00 Welcome to the get over yourself podcast. This is author and athlete, Brad Kearns, discovering ways to be healthy, fit and happy in hectic, high-stress, modern life. So let’s slow down and take a deep breath. Take a cold plunge and expertly balanced that competitive intensity with an appreciation of the journey. That’s the theme of the show. Here we go.

Brad: 03:27 Dah, Dah, Dah. At um, ah, yes. Where did we leave off from the breather show? Number one, it was areas where I struggle with and totally suck at and I’m trying to get better and we’ve got to talk about it. We’ve gotta be honest and real and vulnerable. Like Berne Brown. Yeah, man. So here’s my thinking on this. Oh, I referenced in the first show that, uh, my, my nemesis is the email inbox and I offered up an excuse that, oh, people need to contact me cause I’m so important, I’m part of a team. Uh, true. And, uh, very difficult for most of us to lock ourselves into a cave and just do work without connecting to the outside world and putting other people in a compromised position. Cause maybe they’re waiting on you and so forth. So to balance this out, I know people recommend batching their email communications.

Brad: 04:18 That seems to be very difficult for me. Uh, but something’s got to crack. And so what are we going to do? You know, the first thing we’re going to do is, uh, uh, tell our hard truths, like Marianne Williamson said on stage during the Democratic presidential primary debates: tell the hard to, so the country can heal reparations for slavery acknowledge, that the healthcare system is really the sick care system and we need to focus more on wellness. Wild times in the political world. Yeah, yeah. Anyway, back to the show, which is not political. What’s the hard truth? Well, one of them that occurs to me that I’d like to acknowledge in myself and obviously we can all relate, is that we get a form of payoff, a hit of dopamine from receiving this incoming stimulus, right? It’s our hardwired genetic instinct to respond to novel, uh, existences in our environment.

Brad: 05:19 And so the ding of the text message, the new item in the inbox creates that little surge of, uh, excitement, stimulation. Uh, that’s the opposite of boring, right? So we have to acknowledge that, that we get a little payoff from new stimulus may be more exciting than the existing paragraph we’re trying to rework for the third time and having trouble with, right? Secondly, let’s acknowledge that we get a payoff from being in that position to, uh, be helpful. Give advice, give a solution. So a lot of times the inputs we received from text message or from email are someone asking for something, especially a kid asking a parent. You get to, uh, really have your role as a parent, especially when you have older kids, adult kids. And, uh, you know, Harken back to the wonderful days of childhood when your parents were totally dependent upon you for everything and you got that pay off as a parent.

Brad: 06:19 And so now, uh, my kids asking me a question about this or that, and boom, I respond quickly to the text message and getting that payoff. Third, we get a payoff from feeling or being focused and organized and staying on top of our to do list, keeping our inbox clear and clean, responding to everything that comes our way rather than being the sorry ass loser that doesn’t respond to a text message or an email. I would say admit that this is good for the psyche, right? It feels good to stay on top of things, stay organized. But obviously this can be muy mal noticias (bad news) for your productivity and your overall life stress level, especially with mobile devices where you have a constant opportunity to disengage from the real world, plunge into the digital world and get that payoff of staying on top of your inbox and real time.

Brad: 07:17 How many people do you know that are so quick to respond that you’re like, wow, thanks for the fast response. And then project and imagine their day where they’re doing that to every single email that comes their way. It’s a highly stressful occupation to be on top of everything. Sometimes I appreciate those people that are really difficult to reach and have their phone going to voicemail all the time and you reflect a little bit and go, wow, they are so difficult to reach after a work hours or whatever. And then you think maybe they’re having a good time with their family or relaxing or out hiking or whatever. And then I feel bad sometimes when I call people when they’re in the middle of a recreational opportunity and are still compelled to answer the phone. And so I try to play my part and do my thing to say, hey, why don’t you call me, uh, when you’re back in the office or whatnot.

Brad: 08:06 But sometimes, oh my gosh, the give and take the balance there of being in that taking role where you’re trying to get something that you need for your important life and you’re leaning on a person who might be writing up a, a ski lift chair and you’re going to ask the question anyway. So maybe we could think about a mutual obligation to protect our own time and energy and not be constantly available to everyone and be okay with it. Uh, realizing that most everyone can benefit from having a more focused and more, uh, linear, uh, accomplishment of top priority to do list items over your day, single tasking. Uh, my dad was really good at that. He was, uh, so spacey. It seemed like you’d stand there and ask him a question and he was focused on something else. I remembered that, uh, throughout the course of my life.

Brad: 09:02 And he was a physician, a surgeon, so he had one of these, uh, peak performance, very focused, precise careers, or he had to do what he had to do while the patient’s life was at stake. So he wasn’t one of these hyper-connected type people. And of course he was from another era, another generation. Uh, he lived until 97 years old and until 2019. And so man, there were not a lot of technology for the vast majority of his life. I don’t think he, uh, my mom and I were wondering how many times he sat down at a keyboard and typed a letter cause he did a lot of dictating as a doctor and as a private citizen to my mom. Excellent typist, thankfully. Uh, but isn’t that interesting, refreshing, uh, perspective to think of someone perhaps from an older generation or who just has that focused mindset where they’re naturally able to tune out a lot of this hyperstimulation and then to reflect on the opposite where some people are wired, bent this way, are high responders, are fast responders to technology.

Brad: 10:01 They’re the ones that have the new phone. They’re the ones that have a juggling of many, many plates and of course many careers reward this type of behavior and these types of attributes. But I think it’s time for all of us to reflect and settled down a little bit and think about the, uh, the negative consequences of being this extremely high responder to technology, especially when you’re wrestling with it. And it’s not perfect, man. Is that stressful when you can’t get shit to work and then you can step back a few steps and go, do I really care that this thing works perfectly or can I just let it go and do the next best thing? Because after all, many of us, raise your hand if you were alive at a time when to communicate with someone or pay someone, you had to, uh, get your pen and paper out, write a check, stick it in an envelope, lick the stamp, forget about the sticky stamps and mail the letter away.

Brad: 10:59 So is it that big a deal when the absolute cutting edge of technology is not working perfectly or can we relax and take a deep breath? And I like to, uh, jump on board with the latest greatest technology like a year after it’s introduced just to cool my jets a little bit, sort things out. And then I’ll go pick up a used iPhone 10, uh, here in 2019 instead of waiting in line when don’t, don’t they have to wait in line on the street at the apple store to get the precious new release of the iPhone 10. Come on now people, uh, try not to succumb to the marketing hype to that extreme. Really. Okay. Sorry Apple. But you know what? Sometimes my iPhone 10 is glitchy, so I got a shout out and say I’m really disappointed that, uh, some of the greatest machines and the history of the planet here, my Mac book pro major props of that. And also the iPhone, uh, seems like they’re getting rough around the edges. I don’t know why. Maybe we’re pushing it too hard with all the apps and the updates and things like that. But I’ve never seen an iPhone glitchy before until my latest greatest device this year. As an aside, thank you very much back to the subject matter. So we get these payoffs and when we can acknowledge that hard truth,

Brad: 12:15 then we can have a better chance of doing something about it. Uh, more mindfulness, more awareness is the first step to healing and behavior change, right? So I’m trying to be highly aware at how the mobile device interrupts and often corrupts live interpersonal interaction, right? What happens when you’re talking to somebody and having a wonderful conversation and the ding of the text message occurs. I try to make a concerted, deliberate effort to completely ignore the ding why don’t have dings. And I was patting myself on the back for not having any notifications or dings. And then Elisha Goldstein at one of the earliest shows in the get over yourself podcast said, yeah, and there’s people that turn off their notifications and their dings, but guess what? That means they have to continually reach for the phone throughout the day to check and see if anyone’s sent them a text because they don’t have any dings going off.

Brad: 13:10 And I’m like, oh my God, dude, you’re seeing right through me and you’re staring through my eyes into my soul and uh, talking about me directly. So there are so much for turning off the stuff, but I do feel like a, that’s a winning strategy is to turn off all those sounds and notifications and you can refer to your phone as needed, especially if you’re expecting an important text or what have you. Oh man, we don’t have to overwhelm ourselves. Uh, but when that conversation interruption occurs, a lot of times it breaks the flow and listen to the MIa Moore show. We’re, uh, I admit or get called out for getting butt hurt when the GPS is talking. While I’m telling an important story and it’s true, man, I just don’t like that stuff interrupting the flow. Sometimes it’s kinda disturbing and boy, oh boy. Um, I believe overall, collectively, our ability to focus, to stay focused on a single stream of information or a single conversation thread has been compromised because of our ability to be hyper connected.

Brad: 14:13 That said a, not to be a downer all the way through the show, uh, because I absolutely love how this mobile technology can, uh, make our lives easier and more simple if we use it to our advantage such as the GPS technology for navigating your way through, uh, a driving trip or a bicycle trip or uh, being on foot. That’s good stuff. That’s a, a lot of saved energy from having to navigate with a paper map or uh, by feel or by sight when you’re in a precarious situation especially. So props to the positive of the phone. I also hate being bored and wasting time. So, uh, to have that power at my fingertips is really nice when I’m standing in line at the bank, uh, I have something to do, I can be productive and I don’t have to worry about the wasted time.

Brad: 15:07 Same with the long drive where I can just tee up a bunch of podcasts and enjoy consuming information, uh, learning more, getting smarter, Ha listening to my own shows once in awhile, which is a good exercise, I think to help improve the way I come off. But sometimes it’s like, okay, well I’m thanks for bearing with me when I do. Um, uh hum hum. That kind of thing or talk too fast. So working on it anyway. It’s a positive experience to have that technology at your fingertips, uh, to remain engaged on something like a long drive in between phone calls, right? Cause live interpersonal interactions, possibly more valuable and enriching to your life, uh, than just living in a digital vacuum where all your consumption of entertainment and a diversion is through a programming rather than a real person. So back to the propensity the payoffs that we get from clearing our inbox and being engaged and connected.

Brad: 16:04 A Tim Ferris had something interesting to say about this. He said that, uh, he calls it indiscriminant constant action that’s being busy, busy, busy. He wasn’t talking specifically about technology, but I’m using the, uh, the, the concept here when we talk about being hyper-connected, indiscriminant constant action is a form of laziness he says, whew, what’s that mean? What are you talking about? You’re busy, busy, busy? That’s a form of laziness? Yes. Quote from Ferris, if you consistently feel the counterproductive need for volume and doing lots of stuff, put these messages on a postit note. One: being busy is a form of laziness, lazy thinking and indiscriminate action Two: being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions. Remember, what you do is more important than how you do everything else. And doing something well does not make an important. A further wonderful insights on this topic come from a British author named James Hewitt, who wrote a fantastic article on James hewitt.net about the cognitive middle gear.

Brad: 17:25 This is what he describes for being in this busy mode where you’re not really engaged in peak cognitive performance tasks. You’re just going through the motions, you’re responding to texts and emails. Ah, maybe you’re consuming a youtube video while you’re writing something or reading something, you know, uh, diverting your attention so that, uh, it’s, it’s minimal in a disparate areas. And so he says, you may be under the illusion that you’re busy and productive, but you’re actually engaged in a string of medium demand cognitive tasks that are a far cry from true peak performance. His article on James Hewitt. Dot. Net was titled the attention paradox. And so he details the, uh, quote interweaving tasks of a hypothetical office worker’s day. And, um, he, uh, described this guy in a conference room and it was so funny, um, because it was pretty over the top, but you realize how, uh, we can, we can relate to this so much and it’s pretty embarrassing, uh, disgusting really if you think about it.

Brad: 18:28 And so he’s talking about this worker who’s in a conference room meeting who quote switches between checking his smart phone and replying to emails while pretending to write notes about the meeting on his laptop end quote out. I notice that I drift into this cognitive middle gear when I’m tired or have been working for a sustained period without a break for too long. So it’s really, uh, a good skill to identify when you start drifting. And I noticed I start drifting when, uh, the youtube video start magically playing, uh, like the, uh, speed golf world records. Some dude broke my world record a professional player from Belgium and a, it’s on youtube now. So I enjoy studying that video, looking how I can, uh, optimize to try to take that record back someday. Uh, but what’s this video doing in my, uh, daily work life?

Brad: 19:23 It’s not on my to do with for top priority items, but when I start to drift, whether I haven’t had a sufficient break or I’m avoiding a more painful tasks such as we reworking that paragraph that I talked about, that’s when you see these things popping into the picture. Uh, reaching over to, uh, your text message inbox and trying to disengage and doing these cognitive middle gear tasks are merely assigned that you’re probably overstressed and needing a break from peak cognitive function. So if you don’t take the break yourself, if you don’t slam your lid closed and announced to a all in attendance that you are going to take a walk around the office courtyard and get some fresh air after working hard for two hours, these breaks will be taken for you and they won’t be as valuable as a proactive break where you get outdoors, fresh air, sunlight, open space sit on a park bench.

Brad: 20:19 Watch the squirrels run around and just, uh, refresh the brain beautifully from the depleting nature of a peak cognitive tasks and a heavy focusing as well as the heavy stress of hyper-connectivity. So take those breaks, be proactive, plug him in. I get an app or something with a little pop up on your screen that says time to take a break. We know from a brain research that we can only really focus on a peak cognitive tasks for about 20 minutes at a time before our attention breaks. And we deserve a, a, a short break and be one to two minute break. Uh, we know this from the patterns of the air traffic controllers and the card dealers in Las Vegas and the casino dealers, uh, work on a pattern of 40 minutes on 20 minutes off throughout their shift. Imagine that. Wow, that must be nice.

Brad: 21:11 Well, guess what, when they’re on, they are on, there’s cameras watching them. They’re handling money. They have to do everything perfectly with extremely high awareness of every player’s hand and not to make a single mistake with the cards or the money. And so they deserve that 20 minute break. Same with the air traffic controllers who work on a similar pattern. When, uh, when they’re on the screen, they ain’t watching no youtube videos. They’re watching little beeping, uh, dots that are traveling toward, uh, their destination. And those represent jets with people on them. So they ain’t space and out either. So they have tons of time to take a break and they maintain high productivity throughout their shift on duty. Uh, most of us in a normal office environment, uh, unless someone’s breathing down your neck and looking, uh, looking at your screen all day, which is very rare. I know some people get that treatment from the boss. Uh, you’re responsible for maintaining that peak cognitive focus and taking the necessary breaks.

Brad: 22:07 Like right now, the show’s over. Take a break. Stare off into space, get some fresh air, open space, sunlight, whatever you’re doing. Thank you for listening and we’ll keep talking about this important topic. Send your feedback to getoveryourselfpodcast@gmail.com and notice that I have a brand new pdf that you can download for subscribing to the email newsletter list on bradkearns.com. It’s called long cuts to a longer, healthier life. A good stuff in there about all manner diet, exercise, movement, physical training, uh, personal growth relationships, little tidbits that came, uh, inspired by the show of the same title. Uh, that was back a breather show, uh, a while ago. Thanks a lot. This is Brad. See you next time.

Brad: 23:00 Thank you for listening to the show. We would love your feedback@getoveryourselfpodcastatgmail.com and we would also love if you could leave a rating and a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. I know it’s a hassle. You have to go to desktop, iTunes, click on the tab that says ratings and reviews, and then click to rate the show anywhere from five to five stars and it really helps spread the word so more people can find the show and get over themselves because they need to. Thanks for doing it.


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