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The Scipionic Circle 73: The Effects of Constant Connectivity, Disassociating from the Inner Voice and Exploring Homeostasis
"Eventually you will see that the real cause of problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems."
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Persistent Connection to Technology: The Silent Stressor of Modern Workplaces
“A different 2019 study, appearing in The International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, looked at long-term trends in the self-reported health of a group of nearly five thousand Swedish workers. The researchers found that repeated exposure to ‘high information and communication technology demands’ (translation: a need to be constantly connected) was associated with ‘suboptimal’ health outcomes. This trend persisted even after they adjusted the statistics for many potentially confounding factors, including age, sex, socioeconomic status, health behavior, BMI, job strain, and social support. Another way to measure the harm caused by email is to see what happens when you reduce its presence. This is exactly what Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow explored in an experiment conducted with consultants from Boston Consulting Group. After Perlow introduced a technique called predictable time off (PTO), in which team members were provided set times each week when they could completely disconnect from email and the phone (with the full support of their colleagues), the consultants became markedly happier. Before PTO was introduced, only 27 percent of the consultants reported that they were excited to start work in the morning. After the reduction in communication, this number jumped to over 50 percent. Similarly, the percentage of consultants satisfied with their job jumped from under 50 percent to over 70 percent. Contrary to expectations, this mild reduction in electronic accessibility didn’t make the consultants feel less productive; it instead increased the percentage of those who felt like they were ‘efficient and effective’ by over twenty points.
“In one particularly devious study, published in 2015 in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, researchers figured out how to discreetly assess our psychological response to thwarted digital connection. Subjects were brought into a room to work on word puzzles. They were told that as part of the experiment, the researcher also wanted to test out a wireless blood pressure monitor. After the subject worked on the puzzle for a few minutes, the researcher returned to the room and explained that the subject’s smartphone was creating ‘interference’ with the wireless signal, so they needed to move the phone to a table twelve feet away—still within earshot, but out of reach. After the subject worked on the puzzle for a few more minutes, the researcher covertly called the subject’s phone. At this point, the subject was trying to solve the word puzzle while hearing their phone ringing from across the room, but was prevented from answering it due to a previous warning from the researcher that it was important not to get up ‘for any reason.’ Throughout this entire charade, the wireless monitor was tracking the subject’s physiological state by measuring blood pressure and heart rate, allowing the researchers to observe the effect of the phone separation. The results were predictable. During the period when the phone was ringing across the room, indicators of stress and anxiety jumped higher. Similarly, self-reported stress rose and self-reported pleasantness fell. Performance on the word puzzle also decreased during the period of unanswered ringing.
“Rationally speaking, the subjects knew that missing a call was not a crisis, as people miss calls all the time, and they were clearly engaged in something more important in the moment. Indeed, in many cases, the subject’s phone had already been set to Do Not Disturb mode, which the researchers surreptitiously turned off as they moved the phone across the room. This means that the subjects had already planned on missing any calls or messages that arrived during the experiment. But this rational understanding was no match for the underlying evolutionary pressures which ingrain the idea that ignoring a potential connection is really bad! The subjects were bathed in anxiety, even though their rational minds, if asked, would admit that there was nothing going on in that laboratory that was actually worth worrying about.
“No matter what the expectations, the awareness that there are messages waiting for you somewhere triggers anxiety, ruining the potential relaxation of your time off.” — From A World Without Email: Find Focus and Transform the Way You Work Forever by Cal Newport.
II. Discovering the Observer: The Power of Disassociating from the Inner Voice for Authentic Growth
“Imagine if you were to see someone walking around constantly talking to himself. You’d think he was strange. You’d wonder, ‘If he’s the one who’s talking and he’s the one who’s listening, he obviously knows what’s going to be said before he says it. So what’s the point?’ The same is true for the voice inside your head. Why is it talking? It’s you who’s talking, and it’s you who’s listening. And when the voice argues with itself, who is it arguing with? Who could possibly win? The best way to free yourself from this incessant chatter is to step back and view it objectively. Just view the voice as a vocalizing mechanism that is capable of making it appear like someone is in there talking to you. Don’t think about it; just notice it. No matter what the voice is saying, it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s saying nice things or mean things, worldly things or spiritual things. It doesn’t matter because it’s still just a voice talking inside your head. In fact, the only way to get your distance from this voice is to stop differentiating what it’s saying. Stop feeling that one thing it says is you and the other thing it says is not you. If you’re hearing it talk, it’s obviously not you. You are the one who hears the voice. You are the one who notices that it’s talking.
“Suppose you were looking at three objects—a flowerpot, a photograph, and a book—and were then asked, ‘Which of these objects is you?’ You’d say, “None of them! I’m the one who’s looking at what you’re putting in front of me. It doesn’t matter what you put in front of me, it’s always going to be me looking at it.” You see, it’s an act of a subject perceiving various objects. This is also true of hearing the voice inside. It doesn’t make any difference what it’s saying, you are the one who is aware of it. As long as you think that one thing it’s saying is you, but the other thing it’s saying is not you, you’ve lost your objectivity. You may want to think of yourself as the part that says the nice things, but that’s still the voice talking. You may like what it says, but it’s not you. There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind—you are the one who hears it. If you don’t understand this, you will try to figure out which of the many things the voice says is really you. People go through so many changes in the name of ‘trying to find myself.’ They want to discover which of these voices, which of these aspects of their personality, is who they really are. The answer is simple: none of them.
“If you watch it objectively, you will come to see that much of what the voice says is meaningless. Most of the talking is just a waste of time and energy. The truth is that most of life will unfold in accordance with forces far outside your control, regardless of what your mind says about it. It’s like sitting down at night and deciding whether you want the sun to come up in the morning. The bottom line is, the sun will come up and the sun will go down. Billions of things are going on in this world. You can think about it all you want, but life is still going to keep on happening. In fact, your thoughts have far less impact on this world than you would like to think. If you’re willing to be objective and watch all your thoughts, you will see that the vast majority of them have no relevance. They have no effect on anything or anybody, except you. They are simply making you feel better or worse about what is going on now, what has gone on in the past, or what might go on in the future. If you spend your time hoping that it doesn’t rain tomorrow, you are wasting your time. Your thoughts don’t change the rain. You will someday come to see that there is no use for that incessant internal chatter, and there is no reason to constantly attempt to figure everything out. Eventually you will see that the real cause of problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.” — From The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer.
III. Homeostasis: A Dynamic Dance for Survival and Flourishing
“Homeostasis is the process through which organisms make continual adjustments to bring them as close as possible to their ideal conditions.
“Physician Walter Cannon coined the term homeostasis in his iconic 1932 book The Wisdom of the Body. Cannon marveled at the many variables our bodies manage to keep within narrow parameters, including blood glucose, body temperature, and sodium levels. Although systems theory did not exist as a field of study at the time, Cannon was espousing a view of the human body as a whole system that needed to maintain a stable internal state in response to its ever-changing environment.
“In his book The Strange Order of Things, Antonio Damasio explores the role of homeostasis in evolution. He explains that homeostasis ‘ensures that life is regulated within a range that is not just compatible with survival but also conducive to flourishing, a projection of life.’ He further clarifies the concept by saying, ‘Homeostasis refers to the process by which the tendency of matter to drift into disorder is countered so as to maintain order but at a new level, the one allowed by the most efficient steady state.’ Organizations, communities, and countries—all are systems that must respond to environmental changes with modifications intended to bring them closer to a desired state. When we go through external challenges, whether it be war, competition, or extreme weather, homeostasis kicks in to help us return to a point where the surrounding system functions at its best. Sometimes that can simply be a matter of what feels good rather than a precisely definable set of conditions. Unlike biological systems, we as humans can change the state we aim for, such as when we realize something else would work better.
“Damasio argues that feelings act as the key to understanding the biological role of homeostasis. Our feelings are a feedback loop that provides information to our body system about how we are doing. You have to be able to monitor the adjustments and responses to make changes that put you back on track. We do this through the value judgment of feelings. After a disaster, for instance, homeostasis does not need to (and frequently doesn’t) return the system to its previous state. Instead, it’s more useful to think of homeostasis returning a system to a place where it ‘feels good’ under new conditions. Therein lies the potential of homeostasis. How systems define themselves as ‘feeling good’ will have a huge impact on their ability to adapt to stress and change. In biological systems, feelings are a critical component of how we assess problems. When your blood glucose drops, you feel terrible, which causes behavior that seeks to bring you back to where you feel okay. But that level of okay is a range, and Damasio’s idea is that homeostasis normally keeps us at the end of the range that allows us to develop. As variables under- and overshoot and external conditions change, systems can never stop making adjustments. Homeostasis is never a static state.” — From The Great Mental Models Volume 3: Systems and Mathematics by Rhiannon Beaubien and Rosie Leizrowice.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Ram Dass on treating all experiences as stepping stones:
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed."
II. Lao Tzu on the power of love:
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
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Thank you for reading,
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