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Day 97: Popcorn Brain

January 19, 2024

Do you have a popcorn brain?

I do. That’s why joy is something that feels like effort to me.

What is popcorn brain?

A term originally coined by David Levy, it is an actual biological phenomenon that describes what happens to our brains when they become over stimulated – our circuitry starts “popping”, not literally with bits popping out but with that sense of “jumpiness”.

It’s when we’re out for dinner with someone and, when they go to the loo, we immediately reach for our phones. It’s standing in a queue and jumping on our phones. It’s filling every quiet moment with something, anything because the mind cannot hold still.

Popcorn brain is generally associated with over-use of tech. It’s different from internet addiction in that it doesn’t necessarily interfere with our ability to function. With popcorn brain, we get through the day ok, we just enjoy everything a little bit less and feel more anxious more often. Hooray!

What does this have to do with joy?

In the same vein as the other lessons I’ve written about over the last 3 months, I’m learning that joyful living isn’t about adding things to my life, it’s about stripping things away – clearing away the things that block the sense of ease, calm and peace that’s actually not too difficult to find once the mind settles.

So many of us are quick to talk about how stressful life is and how we “can’t complain” but I don’t think many of realise we have quite a lot of choice in the amount of stress we create in addition to the stressful stuff we can’t control.

Popcorn brain definitely fits in the self-created stress category, and I love how visual the term is – today, I’ve noticed when my mind was popping. I’ve noticed when I reached for my phone to fill the 1 minute when the kettle was boiling, or how I went for a walk and struggled to do it in silence and immediately put on an audio book.

I like the idea of noticing the “popping” and turning down the heat, offering myself a little extra moment of stillness. It might be fun to let my mind settle while I wait in line, cook dinner, do the dishes or wait in a restaurant.

Actually, I doubt it. It’ll probably feel like torture – but that’s precisely what tells me I need to do it if I ever want to see past the huge and ever growing pile of undigested popcorn I’ve already made.

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