Welcome to a recap of Fewer Things Better.
When I started this podcast in May 2022, I had a few topics I intended to explore. This episode is #37, which shows I still have plenty of things to say about plenty of things. As this is being published at the start of 2023, I wanted to offer a round up of quotes and brain snacks from six previous episodes.
If this is your first time connecting with the content, this will give you a taste of topics to see what might interest you. If you’ve been listening for a while, first, thank you! And I hope these snippets and sound bites are helpful reminders of ideas to try and apply to your everyday life.
Let’s start with a clip from Episode 2, which outlines the direct impact of the attention economy in our daily lives.
Attention is a commodity – and it’s a very profitable one. Businesses invest a lot of money in technology, marketing, and psychology to capture your attention. Share of your mind gets them a better shot at share of your wallet.
Let me give you an example. Whatever device you engage with most frequently likely has settings and notification that, unless you change them, are there to knock on the door of your brain. For me, it’s those red dots on my phone that are constantly saying “hey, pay attention to this! And this! Here’s an email, a text, and app – look, a missed call. That always freaks me out. I’m like, who just *called* me?
And that’s not even taking into account chat channels from work or school, family and friends – plus all those social channels that are there to entertain the brain.
The interactions of all these channels and all these options are part of our cognitive psychology. That’s the second part of what our cognitive capacity is doing, and a lot of scientists call this simply the technology brain drain. This is going to be the diminishing law of return of your productive output and decision making. By the end of the day – or for a lot of us even by the middle of the day – we are often experiencing reduced mental attention. Because we’ve been on all day and trying so hard to keep up with all-the-things.
There is a study that said the average person interacts with their phone 85 times a day. Just their phone. One device – 85 times a day. That included when they first woke up, right before they went to bed, and even, in some cases, when they woke up in the middle of the night. Is that you? That study, by the way, was done before Covid. So it’s very possible that there has been an increase in the amount of time we’re touching technology.
So ask yourself if that’s what your brain is doing. And it’s okay if it is. Just understanding how you navigate the attention economy will help as you aim to do fewer things better.
Next up is Episode 6 about the people in your life who are either engines or anchors. This topic struck a chord with a lot of people as it explored who we allow to make regular deposits (or withdrawals) from our mental bank account.
When looking at the Who surrounding us, they typically fall into one of two categories. They can be engines or they can be anchors.
The engines are the ones who help propel you forward and are the inspirational pace cars ahead of you. These are the individuals who cheer you on, pick you up, and keep you going. This specific and intentional energy is a critical component of where you are likely to find progress, and innovation, creativity and problem solving, or sometimes, more importantly – most importantly, offer you a soft place to land.
The other type of a person who can contribute to the quality of our life is an anchor. This is somebody who typically is holding you back, who has the emergency brake on when you’re trying to rev that engine. The person that’s saying, “Everything’s fine as it is, why do you have to go and change things?” And often with the anchors, it’s less about what you’re trying to do and more about their own comfort level that is being challenged as they are watching you learn and grow and consider new things.
What other people say to you – the words that they use – these are the accelerants to the acceptance that you allow into your brain. Pay attention to the people who also deprive you of conversational calories. The people who simply don’t respond or who intentionally send you silent anchors. All this study, all these conversations are about unlocking the brain and really comes first from that nourishment in the soil of our minds. And that nourishment is words.
Episode 11 was among the first of many about the science and psychology of decision making. In fact, this next excerpt touched on a touchy topic. So much so that it got its own airtime later in Episode 24. Listen to how it started:
Indecision is a decision. The act of making a decision takes the brain a matter of seconds. The act of not making a decision – the extensive pro/con list you have, the feedback gathering you do, the moving an item from your to-do list to your other to-list – takes hours, days, weeks, sometimes months. When you suspend yourself in indecision, you are avoiding something intrinsically (“but what if I fail?”) or extrinsically (“I don’t want them to be mad at me.”)
When you chose to multitask, procrastinate, sleep-on-it, you are making a decision to not make a decision. Yes, there are complicated, complex things in our lives that require lots of details. But details are actions once a decision is made. Details are how you execute on a decision.
Whatever you are still deciding on is what you are avoiding. Watch where you put the question marks and you will find the corners where your mind is hiding: “Should I watch one more episode?” “Should I apply for that opportunity?” “Should I respond to that email?” “Should I speak up about this?”
This isn’t about waiting for the right answer to reveal itself to you; it’s trusting that the decision you make is the right one, right now. And, remember, you get to change your mind. You just have to make up your mind first.
Productivity is a common thread throughout these conversations here since it’s a common pursuit for so many of us – myself included. They say we teach what we most need to learn. And I love learning about tools, tips, and tricks to make the most of the minutes. And part of this learning is the cost of that happens when we take on too many shortcuts. That’s part of the thought bubble of Episode 17 – The Cost of Convenience:
Technology has brought many innovations – and it can also add wide layers of aloneness. Scrolls of text and images but none of the physical fingerprints of life.
It’s the unsmoothed textures of life that make it life. The hiccups, accidents, bumps, and shared belly laughs – those are the commercial breaks in our otherwise fast and serious days.
But convenience sands off the rough edges, and it’s a great option on occasion. But depth never comes from a drive through. A digital birthday wish is easy, but what’s the thought that is being counted by the other person? Are they hearing you say: hey, here’s the fastest way I could wish you happy without having to actually speak to you.
Courtesy isn’t convenient. It takes time and may not be understood or acknowledged. Courtesy is a muscle that you use for yourself. It reminds you of who you are.
Compassion also isn’t convenient. Technology creates this thick wall of awareness without presence. We can see what is happening, over there, but we watch it from over here. It’s convenient to hit an emoji instead of finding the door in the wall.
But when life gets real, we need real things instead of digital courtesy. The call, the card, the visit, to let us know that we are seen. Don’t wait to be asked. Life is often awkward, and words often fail us (all of us) when life gets hard. Simply saying that you don’t know what to say is both a courtesy and it’s compassionate.
When it comes to people, take the longer route. There’s a cost when we don’t.
I’m a word nerd. I even had that as my personalized license plate on my car for a while. And while I love to have lengthy love affairs with words, Episode 18 is one of my favorites as it explores the simplicity of Seven Words That Can Change Your Life. This next clip talks about three of those words:
The next three words that make a difference are: I Love You
Mmm, I know, these are loaded words – and for a reason. Love is one of the most personal – and complex – emotions us human beings experience.
So, let’s scan out and take a look love at on a macro scale. The study of evolutionary psychology explores how we humans are hardwired for survival. And while it is possible to live independently, humans have the instinct for attachment not just to survive but also to thrive.
And to reinforce this, feelings of love and attachment have a physical reward. The brain and body share information through neurotransmitters, which carry chemical signals across neurons. Expressions of love evoke feelings. These feelings, in turn, release chemicals like serotonin, adrenaline, and oxytocin. So, these three words pack extra vitamins emotionally and biologically.
Expressing your love to another person is an emotional paper clip, clasping meaning to that connection. At our most basic root, we want to know that we matter. And it matters that we know.
Wrapping up this round up is a reminder about why sleep is the magic ingredient for our brain and our bodies. Episode 29 offers insight from science about the dividends and deficient to how much we invest in the space of sleep:
Sleep is one of the most overlooked and underrated productivity hacks that we can take in our daily lives. Ironically, it’s also the most common thing that we trade in our pursuit of productivity. Early morning workouts and late-night emails and entertainment exact a mental payment that we have come due the next day (and the next day and the next day).
In fact, a 2017 study showed a direct connection between sleep and our cognitive performance. Those researchers examined the sleep of 30,000 people over an 18-month period. They found that having two consecutive nights of less than six hours of sleep can leave you sluggish for up to six days. Six days! Is that extra Netflix episode really worth being sluggish for six days? And even staying up an extra hour, the study found, even if followed by a full night’s sleep, is still correlated with slower cognitive performance the following day. So it’s not just skipping sleep, even delaying sleep can have an impact.
So why does this happen?
Sleep is the silent partner to your brain. It’s when memories are sorted and stored, it’s when stress is put on pause, and when your body reboots its internal operating system.
Physically, studies are also exploring how the body filters toxins at a much faster rate when you sleep. Cognitively, though, our short-term memory takes an immediate hit when we get less sleep. There is also impact to storing longer-term memories as our neural connections get their strength while we’re snoozing. In short, it takes us longer to do tasks and we’re more likely to make mistakes or not even finish what we started just when we’re trying to trade just a little bit of minutes for doing more.
Thanks for listening to these six clips. I hope they offered reminders on where our attention is being spent and how to make better investments in our attention, time, decisions, connections, and our sleep.
You are the only expert on you. Hopefully you’ll get a few more ideas on how to bring out the best of you in your days. And as you do, I hope you take time to take good care.