How to restore our brains and enhance our intelligence, spiritual depth, wisdom and happiness?

We live in a world of advanced technologies, I-phones, I-pads, mac-books, overstimulation and redundancy. Our brains are constantly bombarded with information and stimulation. The Millennials are the first generation to grow up with the new technologies. They are identified as “digital natives” by the Pew Research Centre. Ever since technology became a vital part of our lives. We have to use it for work, for studies, for research, for leisure, for socializing so we become utterly dependent on it.

Studies show that the average person spends around two hours on social media, while new research indicates that individuals aged 18 to 36 spend an average of 17.8 hours on any types of media. The young people tend to use social networking to create a different sense of belonging. They make acquaintances and stay connected with friends via text messaging, social media chats, face timing, sending videos and etc.

Excessive tech usage, according to leading scientific publications affects the parts of the brain that control the core of a person’s personality, from how they work in a team down to hand gestures and expressions. It also atrophies the frontal lobe, breaking down ties between different parts of the brain. Too much technology use also shrinks the outermost part of the brain, making it more difficult to process information. According to Kirk Erickson, principal investigator of the Brain Aging & Cognition Health Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, this can affect the way people interact.

“You might see changes in your ability to regulate emotions, your ability to remember certain events, your ability to pay attention to different things,” he said. “These things altogether will certainly affect how you communicate with people.”

In 2010, research was published in the Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research which claims that students who used excessively social media and decided to quit, showed the same withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict who quit their stimulant.

These data show that although there are many benefits that technology offers, the excessive use of media could actually change the structure of our brains which could have a detrimental effect on our entire well-being.

If that is so, how could we create healthy relationships with technologies so that we can still enjoy its benefits while minimising its negative impact on our well-being?

In her book “Switch on your brain” the cognitive scientist Dr Caroline Leaf speaks about the importance of practising ‘focused reflection’. She describes is as ‘directed rest of the mind’ which have the ability to restore our brain. The first thing to do to get into this directed rest of the mind is to switch off our brain from all distractions. When we switch off, we enter into the so-called, default mode network of the brain (DMN). It is like rebooting our brain system to reconnect with who we are and to bring perspective to the issues of life. DMN is activating when we slow down, stop our activities, take ourselves into a quiet place resting or walking outside daydreaming, introspecting, praying, reflecting or let the mind wander in an organized exploratory way.

“Brain imaging experiment shows that there is a persistent level of background activity when a person is in a focused rest. This includes recollections, ruminations, imaginations and it involves the ability to focus on specific information, thought, memory, looking at things from different angles and at the same time being solution-focused. It is very important in planning future actions.”, says Dr Leaf.

Research shows that if we do not switch off from the flurry of everyday activities and overstimulation of technologies, we will develop a chaotic mindset, which will result in anxiety, worry, depression, low self-esteem and mental health issues. We may develop a tendency to focus on the problem rather than the solution or may feel stuck, unable to cope.

Those who adopt the discipline of focused rest increase their intelligence, wisdom, spiritual depth and most of all the feeling of peace and inward joy. When we slow down and learn how to practice focused reflection, our mental resources will speed up and we will emerge far ahead of where we would have been without practising it.

Here are a few practical tips that could help you to start practising focused reflection.

  1. The first thing is to detoxicate your brain from the influence of technologies. Try to reduce the screen time only to specific working hours or a certain time during the day. You could introduce a tech detox day in your weekly routine, a day without the use of any technologies. You might think of switching off your internet or put your phone on ‘do not disturb mode’ to avoid getting distracted. Plan your day ahead. Think of activities that will engage your body, brain and creativity. You may think of walking outdoors, observing and reflecting; cycling or other outdoor activity; reading or writing, doing some art crafts or engage in other creative work.
  2. Get into the habit of reading traditional paper books. You may find it difficult at first because you have read only on screens/tablets. However, researchers have found that the brain develops differently depending on the way it is used. Texting and web surfing use different parts of the brain than reading or speaking. Reading involves the part of the brain that process information and develops focused thinking and imagination. Also, when we read paper books, we can immerse into the story, without being distracted by pop-ups, ads or notifications on the phone or the computer. We can also underline and write notes, which engage other parts of the brain.
  3. Writing is a complex process requiring deep thinking and involves all your brain activity. Writing down your thoughts is an important technique because it consolidates the processed information and gives clarity to what you are thinking. It also helps you see your conscious and nonconscious thoughts visually.  You may consider writing a thought journal where you can pour out your thoughts, vent your emotions, explore ideas and just be creative. Or, you may find that you have a gift for writing and start your own Blog.
  4. Prayer and meditation are directed and deep intellectual processes. Meditation ( I am not referring to Eastern meditation but rather to a directed and focused reflection), involves deep intellectual thinking, preventing chaotic thoughts moving through the mind and processing the information. It could include meditating on Bible passages or other literature, reflecting on a situation or a memory. It involves also self-reflection, self-awareness, which develops our ability to regulate our thoughts and attitude. Prayer, on the other hand, is the outward expression of our thoughts and reflection. It is talking to God, pouring out our hearts, expressing gratitude and reverence. Both practices develop our mind intellectually as well as enhance our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being.

Whichever practise you choose, make it a priority to regularly declutter your mind and create some mental space. Mental clutter could lead to congestion in your inner world. It clouds your ability to think clearly and causes stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. When you regularly take time to slow down your activities, minimise the use of technologies, spend time walking outdoors, reading, praying, reflecting, you would be able to restore your brain and increase your intelligence, spiritual wisdom, productivity and the most important, the feeling of joy and satisfaction.

Sources: “Switch on your brain. The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health” Dr Caroline Leaf