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Curing your digital addiction

Slide Attention seeker. Before the digital revolution, in a time when CDs, vinyl and cassettes were the media of choice for music, the intro to your favourite David Bowie, Queen or Human League song may have been up to thirty seconds long. Today, the singles of Taylor Swift, Rihanna or Ariana Grande are more likely to have just a few seconds of music before the vocal kicks in. The reason? Now that we consume our music on digital streaming services such as Spotify, we allow melody makers only a second or two to convince us of their worth, before hitting the 'next' button.

Why do we afford musicians less time than we used to? Is it the huge variety of available tracks, or the ease at which we can skip to the next one? No, we believe that it points to a much more serious issue in today's society. Over the months and years, the device on which you're reading this article has changed the neurology of your brain. Your smartphone or tablet provides you with a constant distraction and as a result, society now suffers from attention deficit. We are losing our minds.

The same neurological circuits that are responsible for the cravings of a heroin addict are lit up by your phone addiction. Believing that this object of your desire will relieve you of the disease of your dis-ease, you reach for it constantly, to check Facebook, WhatsApp, texts and emails. You are leaning in towards these pleasures to satisfy your emotional impulses. The neurological circuits at play here are the postcingulate cortex (PCC) and your dopamine system. The PCC becomes active when we are distracted, when we let our mind wander, when we think about ourselves, feel guilty and when we crave something. Dopamine keeps you coming back for more.

The problem originates from the fact that we have trained our minds to wander. On average, we are now able to hold our attention for eight seconds, that's a second less than a goldfish. Because our phones are always at hand, we can reach for them whenever our minds get carried away by our impulses. Which is all of the time.

This is bad news for adults, but devastating for children. They have grown up with constant distraction, so have never cultivated a mind capable of holding its attention. They also don't know any different, so are not aware of this awareness deficit. Within their brain is weak circuitry between the PCC and the prefrontal cortex, which kicks in within your brain when you tell them to put their phone down. This has huge implications for learning. If children can't pay attention, nothing is learned.

So what can we do about this societal ADD? The good news is that attention can be trained. It takes practice and the right kind of practice, using the right methods in the right environment, with the right coach, but it's possible to strengthen the brain's circuitry for attention. At the Pencil retreat, chapter three is concerned with wellness and it's here where we show people how. Our neuroscience training and our study of the science of meditation has taught us exactly what's needed to reverse the effects of our attention deficit.

If you're interested in learning how, take a look around our website, using the menu at the top left hand corner of the page. If you'd like to attend our luxurious retreat, email Matt on

Slide Pencil Rewrite your story with Pencil. Built upon the three pillars of purpose, wellbeing and community, the Pencil programme is delivered over the course of four days at a luxurious location in the English countryside.

Pencil's unique content was developed over a two year period and lives at the point where mindfulness, neuroscience and psychology collide, to bring life into beautiful, sharp focus. Once you’re there, you'll have a sense of peace and equanimity. We call it a deep lightness.
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