I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, EdTech, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of the Crush School Series of Books, which help students understand how their brains process information and learn. I also wrote The Power of Three: How to Simplify Your Life to Amplify Your Personal and Professional Success, but be warned that it's meant for adults who want to thrive and are comfortable with four letter words.

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To Focus on What Truly Matters You Must Fight Predators and Choose the Right Opportunities

Fight Predators and Choose the Right Opportunities

The modern Homo Sapiens is in the fight of his life. The never-ending struggle occurs in his brain. As the modern brain battles the ancient part of it, the struggle manifests itself as a series of contradictory behaviors. On one hand, the Sapiens has the ability to learn an indefinable amount of information. On the other, he's often too distracted to learn much of anything.

Evolution has both allowed him and robbed him of the ability to carefully process information - to rethink, to reflect, and to reapply. As a result of this paradox, he often skims the learning surface. While the cerebrum (modern "rational" brain) has skyrocketed his potential, his progress is hindered by the amygdala (ancient "emotional" brain). His knowledge stalls. He's mired in mediocrity. No longer in tangible danger, he's escaping the conditioned anxieties. The distractions today's world affords him make it easy. And they are everywhere. 

Why do so many people become part-time zombies, the classroom students and the everywhere adults, who upon leaving their dull desks and constraining cubicles glue their eyes to screens and allow their minds to be trapped in virtual, dopamine-inducing worlds that serve as fire escapes from the boring, painful, and otherwise unpleasant daily reality but keep them stuck in it long term? 

The ancient brain has evolved to respond to two things: threats and rewards. The mere perception of a threat releases cortisol and adrenaline and we freeze, fight, or flight. When the brain detects reward possibilities or we're rewarded, it produces dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. This motivates us to keep doing what we're doing because we want to keep feeling the good feeling.

Back in the day, the rewards were food and the opportunity to procreate. The threats were the predators that tried to eat us and the natural we tried to hide from.

Enter the modern times - the technology and the entertainment. Our ancient brain responds to them as opportunities and they often are but the rewards they offer can be tricky. 

While technology is cool, the entertainment industry is insidious, and our awareness rare. Fires are few and far in-between and most other prehistoric dangers the Sapiens faced have long been extinguished. Yet our split attention remains and make no mistake, the industry knows it and fights for it. And we succumb by continually allowing ourselves to be convinced we must keep running away.

The insidious, profit-mongering, and brilliant marketing campaigns and products of television producers, social media providers, app and game developers, and others work to keep us convinced they offer something much better than life itself. Consequently, we often let time pass unforgivably "taking the load off" from our busy work or school lives instead of spending it doing more meaningful things that improve our lives. Mediocrity perpetuated with the belief "this is all life is supposed to be."

And this is how the industry players want us. They want us coming back to them. The more automatic our behaviors the better, because if they lose our attention they lose. They can't profit.

While many online activities are worthwhile, we rarely think about how much time we spend participating in things that keep us stuck in the status quo we might otherwise work on changing. While there's nothing wrong with taking a mental break, as we should do things that relax our minds, we are being conditioned to identify work as the necessary evil to grind through from 9-5, so that we can have fun as a reward afterward.

We become dabblers. We just dabble in things. We're too distracted to commit. The predators changed and so did the opportunities but they're ever-present. They keep our minds occupied. If we don't pay attention we end up doing a lot of things that entertain us in the moment but add little lasting value to our lives.

We can spend our lives sitting on a couch looking at a screen doing little more than nothing or we can spend that time interacting with the world we live in, learning about it and ourselves, and filling our lives with meaning. The only way to flip that switch is by becoming aware and taking action. 

Our kids are the most vulnerable ones. But zero tolerance electronics policies are not the way because the brain wants what it cannot have even more. The forbidden fruit tastes sweeter.

So we don't take away but educate. We lead by example. We show our kids that there's a better way. We limit our use and their use of the devices and actively participate in their lives. We do stuff with them because we love them. Then, we cross our fingers and hope they see the way for themselves.

On the places they'll go.

I think they will. I believe they can. 

You have the power to change lives. Use if often so they can change the world.


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