Our brains evolved to scan the environment, seek out possible problems and solve them. Our brains did not evolve to say: ‘tell you what, I’ve done enough analysing / thinking / scanning for today, I’m clocking out’. And the brains that did do this, were soon weeded out. Probably by lions.
So, the non-stop brain is highly adaptive for survival situations.
But what happens if, like now, the imperative is not survival but productivity, and where the information we receive is increasingly limitless?
Well, the response is the same. We naturally keep scanning the environment, seeking out problems and attempting to explain or resolve them. And of course, this takes time.
So fast forward to today and we are naturally feeling very busy. We are trying to cram more in. Not all of the side effects of this are negative of course, but I want to focus on just one that is.
I came across some Australian research recently which simply looked at the number of hours we work vs the number of hours we sleep. Here is the result:
Now, I don’t know if this is a bad thing for productivity per se, but I suspect overall it is, especially if we are working in a highly distracted, disengaged way. But I do know about some fairly conclusive research from the University of Warwick, which found that people who slept for less than 6 hours per night were almost 50% more likely to die from heart disease and 15% more likely to die from strokes.
Our minds naturally seek meaning and coherence from the world around us. But our worlds have expanded and we have become addicted to activity. As Ian Price argues, today we even get status from being busy.
So in an age of limitless information, our natural responses may no longer be adaptive. We may need to re-think our thinking in order to thrive.