FF Insights 721: The nature of thought

August 24, 2022: Are Indians phone addicts?, How to change, Functions of a potato

Founding Fuel

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Good morning,

Very recently, we started to read The Science of Mind Management by Swami Mukundananda, a very unlikely spiritual leader who holds degrees in engineering from IIT Delhi and management from IIM Calcutta. Instead of going the corporate route, he chose the path less travelled and is now known for his talks on yoga and the books he writes. This extract had our attention because it delves on the nature of thought.   

“Our thoughts impact us in multiple ways. Our body reacts to every thought we have, literally even chiselling our physical appearance. This is why we look at someone and remark, ‘Stay away from him. He seems to be a very angry guy.’ Or we look at another and say, ‘She seems like a very simple person. We can rely on her.’ In either case, the thoughts within sculpted the person’s external looks. 

“Secondly, thoughts fructify into actions. They are the internal roots from which all actions spring. This is based on a simple principle: good thoughts fructify into good actions and bad thoughts fructify into bad actions. Those who dedicate their lives to the service of humankind do not land there by accident. For years, they cultivated compassionate and noble thoughts in their mind, until the energy of those accumulated thoughts blossomed into inspiring acts of sacrifice and service.

“Similarly, those who commit theft and murder naively blame circumstances for their sins. If we were to delve deeper, we would discover that they harboured sinful thoughts in their mind, and circumstances literally aligned themselves to fulfil their desires. 

“If we wish to draw more favourable circumstances in our life, let’s begin by improving our thoughts. Without understanding this cause-and-effect relationship, we put the cart before the horse when we struggle to discard bad actions from our personality without changing the underlying thoughts. 

“Like diligent horticulturists, we must carefully weed out all kinds of negative thoughts that sprout, such as anger, greed, hatred, envy, illusion, fear, and anxiety, from the orchard of our mind. When we strive to improve the state of our mind, we then realise the import of the Vedic injunction: ‘The mind is the cause of bondage and the mind is the cause of liberation.’ 

“The Buddha stated the same principle in different words: Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draws it. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves. (Dhammapada 1.1)” 

There is much to think about there! 

Have a good day!

Are Indians phone addicts?

If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, the answer is yes. But “No” writes Pavitra Jayaraman on Factor Daily. There are nuances that must be looked at as well. This includes the rural-urban divide and gender disparities. This story is the first in a series from Factor Daily on mental health, the co-founder Pankaj Mishra informs us on his LinkedIn page. 

“Addiction is a pathological dependence on a substance that has a significant effect on your day-to-day life. The keywords are dependence and compulsion. For the most part, most of us don’t struggle to keep away from our screens when otherwise engaged in fun and flow inducing activities.

“But we are using our screens more every year. According to numbers crunched by the State of Mobile by App Annie, Indians spent over 4.7 hours on their mobiles in 2021 versus 3.7 hours in 2019. India also ranks second in downloads growth with 26.6 billion downloads of the combined global aggregate of 230 billion downloads globally.

“Mobile usage data like this often don’t represent rural areas and there’s only anecdotal information to see how rural India compares to its urban counterparts. Nonprofits working in rural India struggle to provide digital access to their rural beneficiaries, and even more so to women. 

“In a survey conducted by GraamVani, on the impact of the lockdown on children’s learning, of the 1243 only 17% of parents said that they have separate smartphones with internet for their children to do online classes while 20% said that their children share the smartphones among themselves to undertake online classes. Around 55% of parents said that either they have a single smartphone in their houses for daily use or there is no smartphone. This affects their children’s education. However, even with the low usage number, 8.8% of the sample size said that ‘the most severe adverse effect of not being able to attend school’ was that children ended up spending too much time on smartphones and games. 

“We could well wave this away as parental apprehension but the numbers at NIMHANS’ SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic, the only clinic in the country to exclusively treat digital addiction, tell us that more people are crossing the threshold of what constitutes an addiction. The clinic now sees 12 -14 cases per week compared to 8 per week before the start of the pandemic. ‘Most of these cases are of people who are addicted to gaming and pornography. Gaming among adolescent and young adults and pronograpghy among adult men,’ says Dr Manoj Sharma, professor of clinical psychology, who runs the clinic. The cases at the clinic are mostly from urban India.

“‘Since families are now in closer proximity to each other than ever before, they are getting a chance to notice excessive phone use in each other,’ says Dr Sharma, adding that the need to be online constantly for work and academic commitments left no time for physiological needs such as sleep, exercise and healthy meals and created the dependent behaviour.

“The data corroborate this. In a study conducted by App Annie, Indians took the top spot in missing meals to play games. We are at par with the global average of hours spent gaming (India reported 6.35 hours vs the global average of 6.33 hours). Around 57% of those quizzed say they play games during their working hours.

“Dr Sharma also talks about emotional distress, which often triggers addictive behaviour. ‘Adolescents feel that their parents don’t understand them and veer towards games and social media where they can interact with their peers and feel like they belong. In some cases, this becomes a way to escape emotional distress that they may be experiencing in their real life.’”

Dig deeper

This yin and yang of screens 

How to change

Despite recognising bad behaviour and the intent to change, people don’t. Why not? This is a theme that interests Katy Milkman, a behavioural economist. And she speaks about why this happens and how to overcome it in an interview with Neelima Mahajan, editor-in-chief of Think:Act Magazine. 

“The first [common barrier] is finding the motivation to begin. The second is impulsivity, the tendency to focus on instant gratification rather than long-term rewards. The next one is procrastination, the flip side of impulsivity. Forgetfulness can be a real barrier—people undervalue reminders, that they'll need some trigger to follow through. Then laziness: It's a very negative word, but we tend to look for the path of least resistance, something we share with the best algorithms. [Then there's] confidence and conformity: If we lack the confidence to believe that we have a shot at making a change, we may not ever take action [just as we] look to others for evidence of what's possible and to shape our beliefs about what we're capable of. If you deploy a one-size-fits-all solution, you tend not to be nearly as successful as if you actually understand and diagnose what is standing in your way.” 

Milkman also points out that people overestimate the outcomes of what will happen immediately and underestimate longer term consequences. Economists call this present bias. “Why present bias happens is difficult to answer without insight into human evolution. Maybe thousands of years ago it would have been extremely adaptive in a world where you're constantly facing survival risks and you might not have a long-term time horizon to work with. But it doesn't seem to be advantageous in today's world. [But there are] tools for how we can overcome present bias and achieve some of our long-term goals more successfully.

“I did some research on a strategy I call temptation bundling. Imagine only allowing yourself to pick up a favourite treat when you're heading to the library to hit the books—we can link temptations with something that otherwise wouldn't be that enjoyable. A critical insight about how to overcome present bias is to lean into it: recognise it in yourself and recognise that instant gratification matters tremendously if you want to persist at something.”

Dig deeper

Why change is difficult 

Functions of a potato 

(Via WhatsApp)

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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