Nurturing Your Default Network

Your Default Network is a pattern of neurons that fire when you are not actively concentrating on anything. It’s what we call daydreaming. It has been linked to creativity and our ability to reflect on the past, and prepare for the future. Yet with so many distractions at our fingertips, it’s easy to forego daydreaming under the guise of ‘being productive’ or simply wanting to counter boredom. This is not an original thought by any means. I am yet to read How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy but it appears to talk about this phenomena (and it’s on my reading list).

I think back to before I had a smartphone. I would sit at a bus stop waiting and just think. 20 minutes could go by where I would often do nothing except listen to music and watch the world go by. Of course there would be often be times when I had a book, magazine, or a game of snake to help pass the time – but I certainly let my mind wander more than I do now.

With that in mind, I recently made a few changes to my iPhone setup that I have so far found to be beneficial to my overall mood and happiness levels:

Delete News apps: The media always makes the world seem worse that it really is. If a plane lands successfully we don’t consider it news. If a plane crashes, then it’s news. Not having my default cure for boredom being to pick up my phone and open The Guardian or BBC News has freed my mind to think about more worthwhile things. Reading the news and being aware of current events is an important and many would say an essential aspect to living in a democracy, but reading it constantly is not necessary.

Fewer Podcasts: Podcasts are a wonderful form of entertainment. They are the perfect for introverts: conversation with no response required. I find myself listening to them when I’m walking, running, doing household and garden chores, and even when falling asleep. Yet I’ve recently started to realise that this isn’t a necessarily a good thing, and reading this recent post helped me solidify the thought. While some podcasts can be informative, and pure entertainment is important, there’s only so much I need. I’ve recently tried to just ‘do nothing’ as I do the washing up or go for a walk, and while it initially felt strange, I have now actually started to enjoyed it. I won’t be going cold turkey: 10 mile runs without any distraction are not on the cards just yet.

Separate business email: About a month ago I was sitting down to relax at the end of a long day and my phone pinged. It was an email from my gas and electricity company telling me that my bill had increased three-fold. It made me think how odd it was that my utility company is able to reach me at 10pm at night. Thankfully days later I found out that the increase was simply because I’d been bit lax with submitting my meter readings and they’d made a poor estimate, but nevertheless it spurred me into taking action to prevent such intrusions happening again. I separated out business from personal email, and not just my work and personal email (those were of course already separated) – I’ve setup separate accounts for my private ‘business’ related subjects. Anything to do with my property, utilities, TV Licence, car etc. goes to the ‘business’ account. Anything fun and relaxing – mainly emails from family and friends and newsletters go to the personal account. Only the personal account is on my phone. I check my business account two or three times a day, and times of my choosing. Sometimes I don’t check it for days, and I’m much happier for it.

Social Media: I’ve written about this before so I won’t belabour the point. Much like deleting News apps from my phone helped rein in the ‘default’ behaviour of reading the news when bored, deleting social media apps from my phone did the same. I found a nice trick that allows me to incorporate a few Twitter accounts into my RSS feeds. Without the temptation to ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ and with no algorithm recommending content in attempt to try and increase my engagement, I find I get the benefits of Twitter (access to knowledge and opinions I wouldn’t have otherwise had) but without many of the downsides (which are well documented).

Those are my tweaks for 2021 and they won’t of course work for everyone. There are no doubt times when we need to be distracted and it’s good for our mental health. In those cases, I’m going to try reading books, listening to audiobooks or even getting back into coding. Let me know if you have tried any of the above or have any other recommendations.

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