Our brains are easily primed, which then dictates our actions, which then changes how we think.
Before we realize this, we’re just swimming in water without knowing what water is.
Now that we’re aware of it, we can actively train our brains (we each only have one, so training it in one part can affect another! Consciously, this is called learning transfer), or at the very least be mindful of how our brains are being affected by the many stimuli in our lives. There’s an escalating competition for each of our attention, convincing us that what somebody else has to say is more important than what we have to say.
There’s a lot for further exploration, but I want to briefly explore how software primes our brains:
Technology, media, and particularly software, prime much of our brains right now. At Napkin Math, Evan Armstrong writes:
If you spend enough time on the website, you’ll eventually hear the phrase “Twitter brain.” This is where if you spend enough time using it, you’ll allegedly have a suboptimal brain that prioritizes quick takes. And I mean…yes? But also—there is Substack brain! This is where you place too much weight on the publication of a single opinion writer *looks in mirror uncomfortably*. There is Tumblr brain! Facebook brain! Shoot, there is probably a Yahoo brain! There is an everything brain! All of these pieces of software shape who we are and how we interact with the world. There are probably some that shape us into better thinkers than others, but they all likely affect us to a similar degree.
We can choose what types of software we use to prime our brain. In fact, some more forward-thinking teams choose to provide free games that train (and prime!) their employees’ brains to think more in terms of optimizing businesses. Shopify believes it stands to benefit from “Factorio brain,” both in terms of learning transfer, but I suspect also in priming.
Then, there’s also the interface. An interface’s design and affordances definitely prime the brain. If the text box is bigger, I’ve noticed that I tend to type more. If the text box is smaller, I’ll type much less.
Similarly, I’ve written in WordPress since I was 15, Google Docs since I was 18, and iA Writer since maybe 25. Each of these interfaces bring me an incredible sense of comfort, and these tools are part of how I do my best work. I’m primed to relax, express myself, and finish a draft. I feel much more creative in these interfaces, and my writer side is allowed to emerge.
Conversely, social media interfaces have the complete opposite effect on me. My editor side completely takes the stage, and it feels suffocating. I can barely bring myself to get my thoughts out; I hate this experience. It totally works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. In fact, it wasn’t until I tried an editing interface like Hypefury that I was able to write Twitter threads. In an age where more people spend time on social platforms, interfaces like this can mean the difference between leading and lurking.
Each of us get energy in different ways, and it affects our creative work. If we’re going to be creators, we’ll need to know ourselves well enough to know what creative process works for us. We’ll also need to know why some do not work for us, and how we can get around or through it.
For example, these days, I’m posting at my blog every day. I’ll then post some of these into Hypefury for Twitter. I’ll also share some to Hacker News. But those are optional; the process of posting to this blog, every day, is the key.
Rather than draining me of energy, and feeling like it’s a chore, it’s given me a ton of energy. I’m starting a virtuous cycle of writing more, shipping more, and seeing more benefits from it. It’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I’m experiencing more confidence from the experience.
It all started with me figuring out how overwhelming social media interfaces and incentives were for my brain, and how it primed it (to care about results), and how to find a different structure to write and publish (to write in a separate interface that primed my brain for calmness and presence).
You control your creative process. Don’t let other people’s trends, best practices, or tastes affect how you think you should work. If you want to start with paper and notebooks, you should do that! If you want to start with permanent marker, why not? Find what calms your brain down and gives you energy to create, because motivation is the scarcest resource in creativity.