Living in a Brainwashed Culture of Urgency

Whether you like it or not companies know exactly how to get in your brain and control what you’re paying attention to. Everything today is about tricking our brains into a state of urgency. Think about how the news is delivered, “Breaking News.” Or how about how your phones is configured, everything plays to a sound or blinking light that tells our brain, this is something we need to pay attention to right now. Applications have become increasingly popular because they give you up-to-the-minute update alerts on whatever you want from news, to sports scores, to the newest Groupon or sale.

Everything is urgent and important. 

Or so it seems.

How do we better understand that this is all an illusion that is occurring in this very era we’re living in?

How do we begin to see that this new urgent-based culture is shaping the very structure of neural growth in our brains and therefore changing the way we think and make decisions?

What are we missing out on by constantly being drawn to these false urgencies?

I tell a story in The Now Effect of a time I was leading a group of people in a classic raisin eating meditation. In this practice you imagine you’re coming down from a distant planet and find this object (which is a raisin) and the intention is to investigate this object as if this was the first time you’ve ever seen it.

In order to do this you use all your senses from sight, to touch, to hearing, to smell, and finally taste.

Many people have the experience of noticing things about the raisin that they never noticed before, like it has a crackling sound when you move it around near your ear. Or others have the experience of a single raisin being so satisfying. In this one group a man at the end had an “aha” moment. He said, “You know, my whole life I’ve been shoveling raisins down my mouth, handfuls at a time, and it’s only now I realize…I don’t even like raisins.”

This begs the question. To what extent does living with cues of such urgency serve us? Do you like being prompted with urgency by the billboards, our phones, or the television? Maybe it’s just become routine and it’s like you’re shoveling all this content into your mind only to realize later that you don’t even like it. What else may be more important in the moment that you’re missing out on?

The good news is that we can learn to get better and better and noticing this illusion of urgency and stepping into that space between stimulus and response where perspective and choice lie. That is the very definition of The Now Effect.

In this space of choice you can even ask yourself, “Do I want to pay attention to this right now? On a scale of 1 to 10, how urgent is this really? What affect does this have on my daily stress? Are there more important things I’d rather be paying attention to?”

The way I see it, gaining this freedom from false urgency is the most important practice of our time, or so we’ll come to understand in the years to come.

Now, this may seem simple, but it’s not easy, because our brains have been conditioned for years now to believe that all these forms of media are urgent and important. That means it’s now become a default, meaning it’s what happens when there’s no awareness.

In this moment right now, you have the ability to break free from the illusion of urgency and step back into your life. All it takes is recognizing the reality of the illusion and being on the lookout for it.

As an initial practice to play with, take today to be on the lookout for the illusion of urgency and see what you notice. Is there a space to step into greater freedom?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

One Response to “Living in a Brainwashed Culture of Urgency”

  1. Helen Fetty says:

    Thank you for this validating piece. Just this morning I practiced quieting the urgency by not responding to a ringing phone. It felt right and wrong at the same time. I expect that the more I practice the quieting, the more right it will feel. I am a quiet person and I do best when I respect that.