Overstimulation is Ruining Your life

Breaking free from the cycle of overstimulation and reclaiming your focus and productivity

Thats Eli
16 min readMar 17


10 tips to help you avoid information overload.

In 1665, while gazing out of his window in his Lincolnshire orchard, Isaac Newton witnessed a seemingly ordinary event. As he gazes upon the towering apple tree in his Lincolnshire orchard, a solitary and ripe apple suddenly detaches and plummets to the ground. While the event may have appeared mundane to most, Newton observed the trajectory of the apple with great interest. Little did he know that this moment would give birth to one of the most significant discoveries in human history, the laws of motion that transformed modern physics forever. Interestingly, Newton did not deliberately conduct an experiment or overload his brain with information to uncover these laws. He was simply bored and aimlessly gazing out of his window when inspiration struck.

However, that was in the 17th century and since then, the world has undergone significant changes. Nowadays, we seldom allow ourselves to sit and stare out of a window or simply sit in our backyards, contemplating the sky. It seems like we never give ourselves the time to just let our minds wander off into uncharted territories. The act of diving deep into our thoughts seems to be something we avoid, finding it tedious and dull. Instead, we often seek to escape boredom by any means necessary, even resorting to self-inflicted electric shocks. Sadly, this is not an exaggeration.

At the University of Virginia, social psychologist Timothy Wilson carried out a research study in which he enlisted several hundred student volunteers to participate in what he referred to as “thinking periods.”. Participants were instructed to sit alone in a quiet room with no distractions, and were asked to spend a minimum of six and up to fifteen minutes with nothing but their own thoughts. The room was empty except for a chair, and participants were not allowed to bring any personal belongings. Upon rating their experience afterward, approximately 50 percent of the volunteers expressed their dislike of being alone with their thoughts, stating that it was boring.

Subsequently, the researchers left the volunteers in the room for another 15 minutes, introducing a button that would administer an electric shock if pressed. Shockingly, roughly 67 percent of the male participants and 25 percent of the female participants opted to willingly inflict pain on themselves rather than remain still with their own thoughts. The study suggests that many of us would rather endure physical pain than sit alone with our thoughts. When we have nothing else to do, we instinctively reach for our phones, mindlessly scrolling through various apps while the algorithms of the internet supply us with content designed to ward off boredom.

The constant need for stimulation is inhibiting our ability to think deeply and solve complex problems

In the spring and summer of 1665, London was struck by a devastating outbreak of the Bubonic Plague, claiming over 17,000 lives by July. In response to the dire situation, residents across the city fled to the countryside, isolating themselves in a desperate bid to avoid infection. One of those who sought refuge was none other than Sir Isaac Newton, who at the time had not yet received his knighthood, nor had he witnessed the legendary falling apple. Interestingly, Newton’s two-year isolation from the hustle and bustle of city life provided the perfect environment for his genius to flourish.

Away from the distractions of everyday life, he was able to focus and make monumental contributions to science, including inventing calculus, creating the science of motion, and developing a framework for gravity. During this time of quarantine in the countryside, Newton’s mind continued to churn out groundbreaking ideas, and he made major contributions to the field of optics, proposing that white light is actually a combination of all colors in the spectrum. Most famously, following his legendary apple incident, he developed the three laws of motion, which still serve as the cornerstone of physics today.

It’s worth noting that Newton didn’t need external stimulation to prevent his mind from wandering. Instead, he embraced the boredom that often accompanies deep thinking, staring out the window and allowing his thoughts to wander. His dedication to his work during this time of isolation ultimately paid dividends for all of humanity, as his discoveries and innovations continue to shape the way we understand the world around us. In many ways, Newton’s two years spent in quarantine can be seen as his own “15 minutes,” during which he was able to unlock his full potential and make history. It’s important to acknowledge that attributing all of Newton’s greatest accomplishments solely to his time spent in quarantine may be misleading. Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize the significance of solitude and boredom in the creative process leading up to those particular Eureka moments.

The reason we jump from one piece of information to the next without grappling deeply with any of it might be our natural tendency to default / autopilot mode. Psychologist Dr. Sandy Mann from the University of Central Lancashire explains that when we let our minds wander, we access the default mode, where our brains work beyond the conscious and into the subconscious, allowing for various connections to take place. This is precisely what Newton experienced when he gazed out the window during his two years in quarantine. Mundane tasks like folding laundry or washing dishes can similarly put our minds into this default mode, where we can try to solve problems and even create personal narratives or set goals.

Your body may be on autopilot, but your brain is actually pretty busy when in the default mode. Your mind now gets the chance to connect to different ideas and try to solve some of your most pressing problems. This is why programmers often tell you that they’ve figured out their problem with their code just as they were jumping into bed ready to get some shut-eye, or while you feel like your best ideas come when you jump in the shower.

In “HyperfocusChris Bailey explains that, by default, our brains expend our attention in autopilot mode: Instead of choosing what to focus on in advance, we react to triggers that pique our interest. Autopilot mode kept us alive in ancient times by keeping us alert to changes in our environment. The quicker we noticed danger, the quicker we could react to and avoid it. And the quicker we noticed gratifying things, the faster we could take advantage of them. However, autopilot mode has one major drawback: It makes us prone to distraction. In autopilot, you automatically react to anything new, potentially dangerous, or gratifying. This inclination makes us susceptible to distraction because usually, the thing we’re trying to focus on is not as new, gratifying, or potentially dangerous as other things in the room.

However, in today’s society, where entertainment is readily available, we hardly ever allow ourselves to get bored, which has led to our immediate dissatisfaction with even seconds of boredom. We’ve become accustomed to high-intensity stimulation, and our tolerance for moments of idleness has decreased. Every other time, we almost always choose the electric shock method. The more we fill our lives with constant stimuli, the less we are capable of enduring boredom.

But what does Overstimulation mean in teh first place? Overstimulation is a state of being overwhelmed with too much sensory input. This can be caused by many things, such as a loud and busy environment, bright lights, or too much screen time. Overstimulation can manifest in different ways for different people, but common symptoms include feeling anxious, distracted, irritable, or exhausted.

Overstimulation can be caused by a variety of factors. The most common cause is the excessive use of technology, such as smartphones, computers, and tablets. With the constant notifications and alerts, we are bombarded with information and our brains struggle to process it all. This can lead to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and stress. Other common causes of overstimulation are our busy lifestyles, environmental factors like living in a big city with constant noise and bright lights and our own thoughts and emotions that cause us to feel anxious and stressed.

The Acceleration of Information

In his book “Stolen FocusJohann Hari identifies information overload as the sixth factor contributing to the attention crisis. The amount of information available and the speed at which we encounter it, is constantly increasing, but our brains can’t keep up with this speed. So we jump from one piece of information to the next without focusing. Approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of information are put online every single day, and social media algorithms and 24-hour news cycles continually expose you to that information. Rather than helping people to stay updated with world events, this inundation of information makes it almost impossible to find the basic facts about certain situations because they’re buried by opinion pieces and analysis. This increases the time you spend trying to understand these situations.

New topics have become popular more and more quickly, and the public has lost interest in them at the same speed. Researchers found that topics on Twitter trended for 17.5 hours in 2013 and only 11.9 hours in 2016. The amount of information available determines the churn rate. The researchers built a mathematical model to determine what caused topics to quickly gain and lose popularity. They discovered a simple answer: When more information is available, people’s capacity to process it diminishes, and they move on to the next thing more quickly.

This rapid increase of available information is a problem for two reasons:

  1. We can’t grapple with or solve complex problems. Since we’re constantly bombarded with new information we can’t keep up with, we have only a superficial grasp of every topic.
  2. People with enough resources will find ways to protect themselves from the onslaught of information, such as taking a break from technology with a “digital detox.” Those with fewer resources will continue to be overwhelmed.

This acceleration of information is damaging because our brains are unable to process all of it. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Our brain’s filter is overwhelmed by the amount of information it receives. The brain’s prefrontal cortex filters out unnecessary information, but it cannot keep up with the current flow of information. In “HyperfocusChris Bailey argues that your brain’s capacity for creativity depends on the information it receives. The better the information you accumulate, the better ideas you have, so you should be paying attention to only the highest-quality information.
  2. Our brain operates better at a slower pace. Researchers have found that the faster you read, the less information you understand and the more you gravitate to reading easier material. Conversely, slowing down improves your concentration. People who participate in activities that force them to slow down, such as yoga, increase their ability to focus. That’s because they’re retraining their brains to move at a speed that’s suited to their capabilities. In “BlinkMalcolm Gladwell recommends leveraging technology to slow down the flow of information. For example, watch videos in slow-motion to give your brain enough time to process the information.
  3. Our brain has a limited processing capacity. The human brain can only process one or two thoughts at a time. Yet we expect it to process much more than that, such as when we “multitask.” But the best the human brain can do is jump very quickly from one task to another, reconfiguring itself between tasks and having a negative impact on the quality of all the tasks. Research suggests that the brain is capable of processing up to 185 billion bits of information in an average lifetime. However, in “FlowMihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that we rarely reach that capacity because most of our daily activities aren’t very demanding.

The Science of Boredom: Why Our Brains Need Downtime for Creativity

Americans, on average, reach for their phones 344 times a day in search of boredom relief. That’s the equivalent of once every four minutes! From scrolling through emails to endless reels and memes, people in the US spend an average of 2 hours and 54 minutes on their phones every day, with some individuals racking up 10 hours a day on their devices. Although technology has undoubtedly improved our lives, our overreliance on smartphones is depriving us of our most creative selves. As far back as 1903, German psychologist Theodore Lips offered one of the earliest definitions of boredom, stating:

Boredom is a feeling of displeasure arising out of conflict between a need for intense mental activity and lack of excitement to it or inability to be incited.

In other words, it’s an underwhelming state where none of the options available to us seem appealing. But rather than allowing this sensation to pass, we often try to stimulate our brain, which hinders its ability to utilize the full potential of this period of rest. When faced with boredom, our go-to response is to aimlessly scroll through social media feeds, even while walking or waiting in line. We’ve become accustomed to seeking out novelty and instant gratification, resulting in a continuous delivery of dopamine hits to our brains. We’re waiting for a big, unattainable reward.

As Anna Lembke observes in “Dopamine Nation” when we are constantly reminded that we have a chance to hit the jackpot, we remain in a state of dopamine arousal. Chris Bailey calls this the “novelty bias”: Whenever you do something new, like giving in to a distraction, your brain gives you a hit of dopamine — so getting distracted feels good. However, when the initial excitement wanes, we’re left with a more profound sense of boredom, prompting us to seek even more stimulation. This vicious cycle keeps our brains occupied with mindless entertainment designed to capture our attention for the longest time possible.

Studies have shown that when people are given tasks that require minimal mental effort, they often begin contemplating their future plans. However, if our brains are constantly bombarded with stimuli, we are less likely to set goals for the future or engage in creative thinking. In fact, a study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017 examined the brain patterns of over 100 individuals who were asked to focus on a stationary point while in an MRI machine. The researchers aimed to identify which regions of the brain were active during this “awake but resting” state. The data was then compared to questionnaires filled out by participants regarding their level of daydreaming in their daily lives. The study found that participants who reported more frequent daydreaming had higher scores in intellectual and creative ability, as well as more efficient brain systems as observed through the MRI. These findings are often echoed by artists when discussing their creative process.

Questlove, music producer and drummer for The Roots, discussed the distractions prevalent in modern society in his book “Creative Quest”.

On the face of it, it doesn’t make any sense. Boredom seems like the least creative feeling, but it’s actually a way of clearing space for a new idea to spring back up.

Similarly, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, came up with all the ideas for her book during a four-hour train ride from Manchester to London. If she had an iPad and binge-watched her favorite Netflix show instead, she probably wouldn’t have brought Harry in his magical world to life. In his book “Daily RitualsMason Curry studied the routines of numerous artists, writers, and creatives, and found that boredom was a common theme that led to mind wandering and a diffused focus, ultimately resulting in increased creative output. This diffused state is when the mine enters its default mode and comes up with its best work.

Many psychologists today even advise parents to let their kids be bored rather than keeping them occupied by having them watch YouTube all the time on their tablets. Giving young brains the time and space to explore, develop, and uncover their own creativity is the main goal. A key component of digital skills should include teaching people, especially children, how to use technology to enhance their quality of life while also self-regulating their exposure to it.

There’s a saying used in Tech, when the product is free, you are the product. Many applications are competing for our attention, and as a result, we never have time to sit and reflect on our own lives and experiences. This, however, shouldn’t be the case. The next time you’re bored and grab for your phone, remind yourself that you’re choosing to shock yourself voluntarily, rather than staring out the window and daydreaming about your own metaphorical Apple falling from the tree. When you just let your mind roam for a little while, you’d be surprised at what it can do.

Finding Balance in a World of Supernormal Stimuli: Strategies for Conscious Consumption

In today’s world, our technology and population densities have undergone a rapid and tremendous transformation. However, our biological evolution has not had the chance to keep up with that pace. Our brains are still the same as those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and as a result, the instincts that have been honed over thousands of years in a world of scarcity continue to exert a powerful pull on us from all directions, particularly in a world characterized by supernormal stimuli.

In our modern era, we have enough spare time and wealth to indulge in some of the pleasures of supernormal stimuli, but the question remains, how much is enough? The reason why these stimuli affect humans is that, like all animals, we possess innate basic instincts that are deeply embedded in our brains. The impact of these instincts on us is more significant than we often realize or care to admit. In fact, when confronted with supernormal stimuli, it can feel as though our willpower has been completely immobilized.

Yet, as humans, we possess another layer above our instincts, a piece of circuitry capable of overriding or redirecting the impulses our reptilian brain urges us to follow — conscious thought, the mind. With the power of conscious thought, we are able to distinguish between what is real and what is not, what is a normal stimulus and what is not and thus can make choices that are in our best interest.

However, this process of decision-making requires a significant amount of willpower. Those who possess the ability to recognize and understand the impact of supernormal stimuli on their instincts can develop the skill of silencing their innate impulses. This is not an easy task and requires effort, patience, and discipline. It is only through the development of such skills that we can hope to overcome the powerful effects of our basic instincts and make conscious choices that reflect our true values and goals.

“Once capacity is surpassed, additional information becomes noise and results in a decrease in information processing and decision quality” (Joseph Ruff)

How can we prevent information overload?

Here are 10 tips to help you avoid information overload:

  1. Filter the information: Focus only on the information that is useful to you, such as what enriches your knowledge or what is relevant to your daily tasks. Ignore irrelevant information like gossip, news, and talk shows.
  2. Select reliable sources: While it’s great to hear different opinions, be sure to stick to reliable sources of information.
  3. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can help calm your mind and reduce stress caused by information overload.
  4. Set time limits: Avoid spending too much time on social media or news sites. Limit your time spent checking them to no more than 10 minutes a day.
  5. Choose your conversations wisely: Avoid people who leave you feeling drained or who constantly complain. Spend your time and energy wisely.
  6. Spend time alone: Take some time to yourself to recharge your brain. This can involve simply doing nothing, away from the noise of the internet and other people.
  7. Take breaks: Schedule regular breaks throughout your day to give your brain a rest. Use this time to step away from your devices and engage in activities that relax you.
  8. Prioritize your activities: Determine which activities are most important and focus on those first. If you have time left over, then you can move on to other tasks. Know your limits and learn to say no to requests for your time and attention.
  9. Avoid multitasking: While it may seem like you’re getting more done by multitasking, it can actually decrease your productivity and increase stress. Focus on one task at a time and give it your full attention.
  10. Practice information hygiene: Just as you practice good hygiene for your physical health, you should also practice good information hygiene. This means regularly deleting unnecessary files, unsubscribing from email lists you no longer need, and unfollowing social media accounts that don’t add value to your life.

When it comes to the impact of supernormal stimuli on our behavior, it can be overwhelming to consider all the ways in which our instincts can be triggered by modern stimuli. With this in mind, what steps can we take to ensure we maintain a healthy relationship with these stimuli?

First and foremost, it’s important to avoid panicking or overreacting. While there are certainly signs that suggest the internet and other forms of technology can be distracting, it’s important to remember the many benefits these tools provide. For example, the internet is an unparalleled resource for information and knowledge, and its impact on our lives ultimately depends on how we use it.

The truth is, we are all capable of engaging with supernormal stimuli in a responsible manner. The key is to develop a greater sense of awareness about the ways in which these stimuli influence our behavior. For example, we may find ourselves drawn to sugary, processed desserts because they are sweeter than any naturally-occurring fruit. Similarly, watching television activates the primitive ‘orienting response,’ which can keep our eyes fixated on the screen as if we were staring down a predator or prey. Even our affinity for ‘cute’ characters can be traced back to a biological urge to protect and nurture our young.

By recognizing these underlying biological impulses, we can gain greater control over our behavior and make more informed decisions about how we engage with supernormal stimuli. In essence, moderation is key. By using technology and other stimuli in a balanced, thoughtful way, we can harness the benefits they provide while minimizing the negative impacts they can have on our behavior and well-being.

I have not removed supernormal stimuli from my personal life, nor do I intend to do so fully. The key is to identify when these stimuli arise and use our conscious mind to regulate or override the temptation. Sometimes it can feel more rewarding to say no to the supernormal, than to cave into impulse. So, to prevent supernormal stimuli from dominating our lives, awareness is crucial.

By recognizing the reasons behind our attraction to them, we can make informed choices. It is possible to avoid habituation to supernormal stimuli by occasionally taking a break from them. By abstaining from an activity for a brief period, we can better understand its place in our lives, particularly if it is optional.

If we feel anxious or agitated while refraining from something, it may be a sign that we need to regulate our consumption of it. Conversely, if we can easily give up something without feeling any withdrawal symptoms, it indicates that it does not hold much value for us. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to ensure that we remain in control of our lives. As the saying goes, “those who do not move do not notice their chains.” Rather than panicking or freaking out, we should recognize our agency and strive to maintain it by keeping supernormal stimuli in check.

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Thats Eli

I write essays and stories on topics that interest me, such as philosophy, science, productivity, and nutrition.