How To Overcome The 7 Worst Habits For Your Brain

At some point, not sure when exactly happened. I realized that my desire to absorb a tsunami of information doesn’t really contribute to healthy brain activity. It was the opposite. The more content I was trying to cramp in my already weary mind. The more my thinking got paralyzed.

The daily habits we hold are often a gut-wrenching ordeal for our health, certainly. But for our brains, too.

Our so-called unconscious actions are not only the primary cause that leads to adding abnormal weight to our bodies. But they also influence the way we think.

After all, the size and capacity of the human brain is limited.

Why do we then take every opportunity present to bathe in the unlimited waters? The limitless online world.

Instead of pausing. We prefer more.

And that’s just part of the problem.

In this article. We’re discussing the 7 worst habits for your brain.

The daily activities we engage in that have a negative impact on our cognition and therefore sabotage the way we think.

What Type of Habits Damage Your Brain?

Well-known habits that lead to devastating outcomes are:

  • Sleepwalking to the fridge and devouring a chocolate cake pudding leads to poor health.
  • Uncontrollable desire to walk around the never-ending aisles of online products leads to poor wealth.
  • Urge triggered by a tag team of notifications to click on every clickable element on your phone leads to poor mental health.

But as cringy advertisers usually say, “Hey, there is MORE!”

The daily activities that are draining our mental batteries. Draining our retirement money. And filling our bodies with junk, are not the only ones that accompany us toward the cliff of self-hurt.

There are also daily habits that work in the background. They often go unnoticed by your “this sucks and it should be avoided” radar, which leads to devastating effects on your brain health.

Or more precisely, there are activities that look unharmful but are quite damaging to our most precious organ – the brain.

If we take the liberty of categorizing them. The habits that are considered worst for the brain fall into, actually, only one category: our relationship and use of technology – you will see why below.

To return to the original question: What type of habits damage your brain?

The answer is this:

Our modern life habits and more prominently our technology habits are the true destructors or brain cells that negatively influence our cognitive health.

What Habits Drain Your Energy?

Amidst the rapid rise of things you own that give you access to the infinitive world of information – your phone, your tablet, your laptop, your car dashboard, your smart TV, and now even a smartwatch that’s just a glimpse away. You have to ask yourself at some point. Who is leading?

Is it supposedly you? The person who we assume is the person in the control room of your body. Or you give it away. You entirely surrender the control of your existence to the gadgets that you presumably bought to aid you in your quest to conquer the natural limits of your body.

New technologies give access to massive data sets. Unlimited number of ways to have fun. And yet, we are not entirely satisfied.

And even more importantly. We are not in full control of what to look at.

Raise a hand if your intention to check something “for just 2 minutes” led you deep into the online dark labyrinth. No, just because someone mentioned the word decoration reminded you that you should buy a new lamp is not an excuse to throw yourself in the ocean of things. Also, you lose points if you are “reading” an article on your laptop while listening to a podcast and while also scrolling through social media posts on your phone.

It’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed. Mentally crushed after staring at a screen.

Consuming large amounts of soggy saturated fat are well known that hurt us.

But consuming large quantities of “online stuff” is not doing us a favor, either. We think we are better informed. But we are mentally exhausted.

So, the seven worst habits for your brain you’ll see below have a lot to do with how we use technology.

Hopefully, after reading this. I’ll convince you that not buying a smartwatch. Leaving your phone for a while. Reading a book instead of scrolling on your phone every possible minute. Are all better alternative activities to your desire to “just checking this additional thing”.

The 7 Worst Habits For Your Brain:

1. Urge to Check Stuff That Leads To Information Overload

I’m practically outsourcing my thinking and remembering stuff to Google. Since I have – you, too – access to the world’s information by just pressing a button. I no longer have to remember the year my country was founded and which exact khan was the founder. Not that I have to. But hey, these facts are part of my DNA.

I can just type on my phone without even trying to type correct words and phrases – the autocorrect will do that. Then, hit get and receive my information on a silver platter.

Type. Click. Boom. You are the smartness person in the room.

But being able to Google stuff is both a blessing and a neurological curse.

We interact with our phones in a completely different way than with things that have limitations.

The most recent example I have to offer you – you probably noticed it too if you are a parent. Is how my kid – and kids in general, from what I’ve noticed – interacts with a smart device.

It rarely happens, but when I give my son my phone. He is never satisfied. Not because there are few things he can do with the device. But because there are plenty. He knows there is more. That there is something potentially better than what he’s watching right now. So, he never remains present on a YouTube video for more than 15 seconds. It’s like I’m doing an experiment indoors and bearing the consequences.

He starts a video about stuff he’s interested in. But since there are other recommendations. I think, his mind goes something like this: “Hey, this video that just appeared is probably better than the one you are watching right now, you dummy. Go click the button and watch the other video before daddy takes this portal to entertainment heaven away…”

But the next video leads to the next, which leads to the next. Finally, he’s in worst condition than before he got the phone.

It’s not only that we are assaulted with facts, rumors, and all other types of persuasiveness online pulling us in different directions. It is, we, knowing that there is something potentially better than what we’re doing/reading right now. We’re in a constant FOMO state. Never focusing on one thing. Simply hurrying to move to the next.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  1. Clearly define what you want: Before unlocking your phone and teleporting to the crowded online world. State exactly what you want to do. Having a clearly defined goal will prevent you from randomly checking everything that comes your way. For example, if you want to find the location of a new restaurant. Go online and find it. Then exit. Dismiss every distraction trying to pull you deeper into the rabbit hole.
  2. Choose things with limitations: Reading a physical book is quite a different experience from reading on an electronic device. Oftentimes, when reading on my phone and the title becomes a bit weary. A bit confusing. My mind immediately wants to jump to something else. After all, it’s an option. I just have to press a button. Conversely, if I’m holding a book and my phone is too far. I have to stick with my book. There is no option for me to distract myself. So, I concentrate. It turns out that fewer options lead to a better experience. There is a whole book about this phenomenon: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. When I’m reading a physical book my mind wants to understand and make progress. When I’m reading on my device my mind focuses on what else I can read.

2. Negative Thinking

The second habit that preconditions the brain toward a state of destruction is our tendency to register negative stimuli more readily.

If you still don’t know, bad news spread faster than good news. They are like a deadly virus spreading across the internet mob. Silently opening your backdoor and popping in front of your screen.

How do you think this affects us?

Basically, you become crippled by negativity. Instead of feeling motivated to make a positive change in your life – and probably make the life of your neighbor a bit better, too. You bluntly state, “The world is fucked! There is nothing we can do to change it!” So, you take the time to contribute to the swarm of negative comments.

There are many studies done in relation to negative thinking.1 All of them conclude pretty much the same. That prolonged negative thinking hurts your ability to think properly. Your reasoning ability is diminished. Rumination and worry consume your brain. You dwell on negative events, unable to let them go.

Sadly, this is a natural tendency for the brain. It’s called negativity bias. And it makes sense to be a part of our default way of thinking.

After all, the prime goal of the brain is to protect the vessel carrying it – the body. So, by concentrating on anchoring bad things in your working memory. It ensures that these are remembered so we can potentially avoid them.

For instance, when I see a dog. My brain brings out a memory of a dog biting me when I was 7 years old. This happened nearly 30 years ago. Yet, this is the main thing I think about when I see one.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  • Positive list: Create a file on your computer. Or simply create a new category in your note-taking app. Give it a label. Something like “Good stuff”. Then, start adding good things that happened to you by date. Someone said something nice about you? Add it. The neighborhood kid gave you a hug? Add it too. You watched an inspiring movie? Write a couple of sentences about the story and what you liked most. The point is to return to this list when doom tries to displace your good mood.
  • Keep a positive journal: A positive journal is similar to what I mentioned above. The difference is that you do it daily. You write down positive things that happened to you today. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. To add an entry in your journal by expressing what you’re grateful for. When the busyness of modern life strikes. When projects are stalling. It helps to slow down and write something in your life that makes your life complete. Your family, for instance. A positive journal acts as a reminder that even when life is hard. There is always joy to be found.

3. Constantly Doing Several Things at Once (Multitasking)

These days, it’s almost impossible to slow down in a world that is constantly speeding up.

And it’s our fault.

Instead of acknowledging our natural limitations and working with them. We try to turn ourselves into robots.

For instance, one of the most prominent modern delusions is that people can multitask. That is, to do more than one thing good.

Here we’re not talking about walking and at the same time taking a sip from the coffee you just got from the local Starbucks – though, a lot of people can’t do that either. We’re talking about actively thinking about two different tasks simultaneously.

According to Earl Miller. One of the most awarded neuroscientists in the world today. We can’t multitask. Multitasking is a myth. It’s something we invented trying to cheat time.2

“We are very, very single-minded,” he states. We can only do one thing at a time. It’s basically how our brain is structured. To focus on one single thing.

When we try to do a couple of things simultaneously. Usually, these things happen: Productivity is ruined. Mistakes are made. Creative and critical thinking are slaughtered.

To return to the neuroscientist at MIT. Earl Miller adds that, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.”

And this happens all the time. Especially in the tech industry.

You are discussing a project over chat while also having a Zoom call on a completely different topic.

In such cases. You are not fully present in either of the conversations. You’re just throwing what first comes to mind. Unable to concentrate and figure out an elegant solution.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  • Solotasking: Multitasking kills your flow. One of the best ways to organize your life is to schedule time for activities. For instance, I’ll work on project A till launch. After that, I’ll focus on project B. If during that time thoughts emerge related to other projects. Write them down and move along. Don’t try to do something about these tasks. Don’t try to keep them in your headspace. When you write them down. You are clearing space. Making room for the current project.
  • Postpone: My friends probably hate me about this, but I have to do it. If I’m busy doing something. Writing for example. If I’m deeply concentrated and if someone calls me. I don’t pick up. While my concentration is damaged simply because my phone rang. It takes me less time to recover than if I pick up the phone and talk about something totally unrelated to what I’m doing right now. I do my best to implement this behavior in all kinds of situations. My wife wants help with something, “I will come after 10 minutes”. Sure there are unavoidable situations. But if you consciously defend your time. Your flow state. You’ll find yourself more concentrated when you are doing something.

4. Inconsistent Sleeping Regime

We consider sleeping a very passive activity. After all, you lay down and you do nothing. You wake up after a couple of hours not knowing what happened. Sometimes, even not knowing where you are – if you had too much to drink.

It turns out. That sleeping is a very active process.

Yes, seemingly nothing happens from the outside. But inside, you are repairing yourself.

Think about sleeping as charging your batteries. When you wake up. We can say that our energy is at 100%. OK, some days it might be 70% – or 50% if the previous day you had guests at your house and you stayed up late. The point is that with each passing hour your energy gets lower and lower – 60%, 50%… 20%! At around 10:00 PM, or 11:00 PM, you feel drained. Exhausted. You have to recharge.

Without regularly and properly renewing your energy sources. Your ability to think. To function in general gets diminished.

The problem with today’s sleeping is that we view it as a dreadful necessity. A thing that keeps us away from the pleasures the modern world has to offer.

After all, if you sleep less. You’d have more time to read books. Or play video games. Depending on your main interests.

Big companies view sleep as a threat, too. It’s simple. While you sleep. You can buy stuff from Amazon. You can’t scroll online and make rich tech companies richer.

Alas, we need sleep, and we need it badly. And it’s up to us to create a sleep regime that is right for us.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  • Educate yourself on sleeping: Reading a book or two on sleeping will reveal how significant sleeping is for the body. You can check one of the best-selling books on the topic by the self-proclaimed guru on sleeping: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Also, you can read the following article by a leading figure studying our sleeping habits: How Sleep Clears the Brain.
  • Sleeping rules: Create your own sleeping rules. In The Knowledge Project Ep. #133. Dr. Andrew Huberman talks about the expansive sleeping regime he uses to optimize the quality of his sleep. Dimming the lights. Following a strict diet. Not using the phone, etc., etc. I don’t think you have to do everything as he does. But creating your own regime and following it will significantly boost your nighttime. Personally, I shut my eyes at 10:00 PM. I’m very strict about this. It certainly might seem like an old-man regime. But going to bed before newborns is allowing me to wake up early in the morning (05:00 AM) so I can write.

5. Chronic Physical Inactivity

How often do you exercise?

How often do you schedule time to focus on physical movements and you actually do them?

According to a study performed by CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the likelihood of you moving daily is around 25% – only 22.9 percent of adults nationally met the federal physical activity guidelines.3

While we want to exercise. Exercising is the most desired habit according to a survey on the topic of habits. Wanting to exercise and actually doing it are two quite different things.

Usually, during our leisure time we fall into one of the following buckets: social media, watching TV, or zoning out in front of the TV. No blame here. Who has the power to do burpees or sit-ups after a long and tiring day at work?

As you can imagine. Not moving has its cost.

Not getting enough physical activity leads to a portfolio of diseases – diabetes, heart problems, etc.4

Our bodies are designed to move. The modern world, however, doesn’t agree here. Our life is optimized for sitting – behind a desk, in front of a TV, behind the wheel.

What do you think happens when you don’t move?

The same thing if you don’t use your bicycle – another thing designed to move. It deteriorates. Rots. Becomes unusable.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  • Create a daily system: One of the problems with exercising and getting fit is that we want fast results. We boldly announce that we’ll lose 20 pounds in 3 months. Sadly, when we fail. Or even when we succeed. We stop exercising. Getting fit shouldn’t be the goal. It should be staying fit. This happens when you focus on systems instead of goals. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds. What will happen when you reach that goal? Commonly, people resell their equipment and imagine that their weight will remain uninterrupted – this never happens. Opposingly, if your system is to exercise daily. You’ll never stop exercising.
  • Exercise-first lifestyle: Remember above where I mentioned that your body is like a battery that is slowly draining with each passing hour? Well, it’s no wonder why you feel exhausted after work. Convincing your colleagues that your ideas are awesome or driving all day to deliver goods is tiring. Personally – because I know that a long working day crushes me not only physically, but mentally too – I exercise in the morning. The first thing I do when I wake up is to work out. This way, I ensure that I’ll do it. That’s an exercise-first lifestyle.

6. Chronic Stress and Hopelessness

How to feel hopeful about the future – about today – when your day starts with rushing to a job totally unrelated to your values and desires as a human? When your monthly check is focused on getting out of debt, not making wealth.

Chronic stress and hopelessness are not things you physically do. These are things you think about. We can consider them as bad habits of the mind.

These days, more and more people are feeling stressed out during the workday. According to a recent survey, more than 70% of the American workforce is feeling stressed during the workday.5

And how not to feel stressed out?

  • Pressure? Check.
  • Unrealistic deadlines? Check.
  • Boss trying to micromanage your every move? Check.
  • Uncertain future in the company? Check.
  • Your mind trying to solve the puzzle of what you’ll do if you get laid off? Check.

Sadly, the aftereffect related to chronic stress is that we get predisposed to extra negative behaviors.

For instance, if you are under daily stress. You will most likely turn to smoking, drinking, and uncontrollable urge to check social media sites.6 You do these things for stress reduction.

And it makes sense to be addicted to things that bring you immediate satisfaction.

You are in desperate need of some kind of salve to get you through the next few stress-filled hours.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  • Get in control: A key factor that leads to mental struggle is lack of control. Or our perception of lack of control. After all, how to feel hopeful about the future if your future looks unchangeable – the same mentally-crushing job, the same shitty apartment, the same bad habits? To clear the skies. To invite hope. You need to obtain a sense of control. As Mark Manson writes in his best-seller, Everything is F*cked: “To feel as though we’re in control of our own life.” It’s not going to be easy. And it’s surely going to take time. You can begin with small daily activities like retiring your sugar intake. Then make a conscious decision to exercise. Then set a goal to learn a new skill that can potentially allow you to change your job. When there is a goal. There is hope for a better future.
  • Find support: Being part of a group that has similar values and hopes as you is a game-changer. You’ll not only find help. Find friends. Build relationships. You will also keep your momentum and your motivation flourishing.

7. Intellectually Unchallenged

There are people who get new jobs because they want more money.

There are people who get new jobs because they want new sensations.

And there are people who get new jobs because they are bored and want more challenges.

Intellectually unchallenged.

That’s how we typically feel after a certain period of doing the same things.

At some point in your career. Your work starts to feel the same. Agonizingly boring. Useless. Unless you work for NASA or something.

And it’s not only work.

People too.

You talk with the same people about the same stuff while dining at the same places.

Unless, again, you work for NASA or something.

It can feel so depressive.

You can be in a room full of people and feel alone.

Not because the people there don’t have anything to say. But because what they are saying isn’t intellectually challenging. It’s completely forgettable after you part – the weather, an object, the latest movies, etc.

As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

The brain is like a muscle. It needs flexing to stay sharp. This means that the more you think about the same boring things. The same unimportant things. The more the mind relaxes. It becomes like a retired athlete. The muscles atrophy.

I’m not saying these things to offend anyone. And I’m not considering myself intellectual or astonishingly prolific. But at some point in my life, I got bored with the common topics around me.

  • Where are you going on holiday?
  • What will you buy your kids for Christmas?
  • Did you watch the latest TV series?

Who cares. Let’s talk about the theory of constraints principles and how we can teach it to our kids. Or what are the unknown unknowns in the field of parenting?

Alas, no one was interested.

That’s why I turned towards reading books.

I quit the noisy shallow social media to spend more time with people smarter than me.

How To Overcome This Bad Habit?

Two main things:

  • Read great books: People talk left and right about the importance of reading books. While surely significant. There is a difference between books and great books. A book like The 5 AM Club can crush your cringe meter. Conversely, books like The Evolving Self by Robert Kegan and To Have or to Be? by Erich Fromm will change how you think forever. However, a taste for good books develops with time. When I was younger. I remember that I was OK with reading titles that are purely superficial – e.g., Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Over time, I become mainly interested in titles that need a philosopher besides you to explain to you the ideas – e.g., The Art of Being by Erich Fromm. Plainly, the more you read. The more you can distinguish – and search for – great books.
  • Discuss your ideas: What was it like to live in the same age, in the same town, when Plato was alive? Or Aristotle? Endless discussions on a high level about justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom. Greek philosophers are recognized for delivering a particular way of thinking that provided the roots for rational thought. Nowadays, we mainly talk about celebrities, shows, or what new objects to buy. If you’re not in a place where important ideas can be discussed. You can do that inside your notebook. Surely being by yourself and writing down your ideas can’t replace having an intelligent conversational partner. But you can still reach fruitful conclusions. You primarily need time, an important concept to tackle and critical thinking questions to challenge you.

Some Closing Thoughts

The effects of the 7 worst habits for your brain. When you add them together, are producing a kind of “human downgrading”.

If one – or more – of the above routines remain present in your daily life for long enough. They start to make you less rational. Less intelligent. Less focused. Less resilient.

Instead of evolving to adapt to the changes in our environment. The world even. Evolving intellectually and physically. We are adapting the world, and our environment, to suit us. To satisfy our eternal appetite. Our whims.

This means…

Refrigerator full of chocolate goodies. A TV set with more-than-you-can-watch movies. An online profile fully loaded with distractions.

If we want to regain our sanity and unlock all the features our brain has to offer. Instead of trying to satisfy every sudden desire that morphs in our brain simply because it’s possible. The single biggest shift you can make today, I think, is to create healthy boundaries (plus incorporate healthy brain habits into your day). Create borders between your work time and your time with your family. Between using your phone and not using your phone. Between being busy and being alone with your thoughts for a while.

The brain hurts when we let the rivers of all of the things we have to do mix up. It becomes a dangerous cocktail.

We can’t do everything – and certainly can’t think about everything – all at once.

Instead of repeatedly bombarding your mind with more sensory stimuli. Treat it with less. Make it a habit. Give it more room to think about fewer things to create better solutions.

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Footnotes:

  1. Marchant, Natalie L. and Howard, Robert J. ‘Cognitive Debt and Alzheimer’s Disease’. 1 Jan. 2015 : 755 – 770. On the web: https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad141515
  2. Miller, Earl K., Multitasking: Why Your Brain Can’t Do It and What You Should Do About It. On the web: https://radius.mit.edu/programs/multitasking-why-your-brain-cant-do-it-and-what-you-should-do-about-it
  3. CDC, Early release of selected estimates based on data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey, data tables for figures 7.1, 7.5. On the web: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/releases/released201905.htm#7a
  4. Mischel NA, Llewellyn-Smith IJ, Mueller PJ. Physical (in)activity-dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla. J Comp Neurol. On the web: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24114875/
  5. American Psychological Association, The American workforce faces compounding pressure. On the web: https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-well-being/compounding-pressure-2021
  6. Lawless MH, Harrison KA, Grandits GA, Eberly LE, Allen SS. Perceived stress and smoking-related behaviors and symptomatology in male and female smokers. Addict Behav. On the web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4558262/
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