Our minds think in lots of different ways, but there are two ways in particular that we need to be very mindful of in these modern times. Reactive thinking and reflective thinking are, in their own ways, both essential for guiding us through life successfully. The difference between them is important to understand because, without realizing it, the screen age we’ve lived in for the last generation has seriously warped the ways we think. Specifically, an incessant bombardment of powerful screen stimulation has conditioned our minds to process information reactively rather than reflectively. It’s no exaggeration to say that our brains have become dangerously hijacked by our new digital realities. And the key to restoring control over the content and destinations of our minds lies in the power of reflection.
We’ve been losing control of our minds because it’s easier for the brain to passively react than it is to actively reflect, and the ceaseless streams of powerful screen stimulation we’re exposed to has short circuited our ability to reflect. Reflective thinking takes more time and mental energy, and the screen age has been systematically robbing us of both. It’s like having a 24/7 junk food store on every street corner, the junk food cheaper and more irresistible than ever, and the gyms and bookstores are on the outskirts of town. Most of us lack the discipline to balance our consumption of addictive junk with healthier pursuits.
The dangers of screen stimulation begin with “click bait” seductions, which then easily leads to entrancement, addiction, and brainwashing. It doesn’t matter if it’s social media, news, shopping, gaming, gambling, porn, shows, podcasts, or politics in order for our minds to become consumed. It happens when the content is of a nature that bypasses the rational centers of our brains and penetrates straight into the emotional and pleasure centers of our brains. This is how cult leaders, propagandists, charismatic influencers, advertisers, and other predators successfully gain control of their marks. And without reflection we are oblivious to how outside forces take control of our minds and our lives.
Reflective thinking is necessary to redirect our attention away from the shiny objects that mesmerize us and instead upward toward those forces that are pulling our mental strings. Reflection is what we need to cut these manipulative strings and free us to become self-directed. The wisdom for determining what to do with this freedom will also require reflection.
Reflective thinking doesn’t only have us looking upward - it has us looking backward, forward, left and right, examining reality from multiple perspectives. It employs hindsight to create insight for the sake of foresight. It helps us discern the difference between truth and myth. It enables us to identify the best destinations for ourselves and chart the wisest paths toward them. It prevents the pied pipers from leading us astray.
But possibly the most important direction for reflection is inward. Screens direct our minds outward and distract us from what’s going on within ourselves. Self reflection, or introspection, is the key to both personal growth and the growth of healthy relationships. But we’ve traded in journaling and creativity for surfing and entertainment, often stunting our growth in the process. So the starting point for tuning in more is logging off more.
My career as a clinical psychologist has had me teaching clients how to reflect on themselves deeply and harvest their insights for growth and healing. I’ve had a front row seat to observe how people have lost touch with themselves, and seen the myriad ways that the screen age has contributed to us becoming lost and imbalanced. But instead of redirecting the lost toward healthier destinations, I teach them how to use reflection in order to determine what destinations and paths are most right for themselves. This is in keeping with the adage, Catch a person a fish, feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, feed them for a lifetime. In this case, fishing is reflection.
The challenge and importance of reflection is only going to become greater over time as our digital stimuli grows ever more intense. The lines between actual reality and virtual reality have already become blurred and may soon become invisible. Screen trances and spells will assume more and more control of our minds, moods, and actions. Our sanity will require the ability to see through the lies of the great and powerful digital Oz, to the influences behind the curtains, and to remember that there’s no place like the home of our inner lives.