Constant stimulation. Instant gratification. Today’s world is all about being caught in the tantalising trap of ‘what’s next?’. And there’s a word for it: nexting.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn how to ‘free’ ourselves from this vicious cycle.
According to a September 2023 report in the US-based psychology news website Psychology Today, nexting is a modern habit that focuses on the compulsive anticipation of what’s to come, thereby fueling the release of dopamine, a feel-good hormone, in our brains. It’s like scrolling through endless possibilities, where the excitement lies in what might be ahead, rather than in what’s happening right now.
The problem is, the constant anticipation – and often disappointment – we experience in pursuit of the ‘next’ can result in anxiety, dissatisfaction, and a disconnect from the present. It’s also a habit that can quickly become addictive. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Sciences, our environment cues up anticipation of rewards when we experience a sensory signal (for instance, when we see an ad, smell something familiar, or even spot a word choice), and this leads to the activation of dopamine, creating a habit formation cycle that’s difficult to break. It’s also why we might be adding unnecessary items to our carts on a shopping website.
So, what’s the antidote to this issue?
According to the Psychology Today report, mindfulness can serve as a powerful counter to nexting. By owning the present moment, by being fully present and aware, we can help decrease the activation of the brain’s default mode network – which is related to a wandering mind and angsty, anticipatory thoughts. A December 2011 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, worked with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which showed that consistent and brief mindfulness sessions can tamp down pressured thoughts, such as ‘if only…’ or ‘I have to get…’.
With mindfulness, you’re not erasing such thoughts altogether, but you’re choosing which thoughts to give attention to, and focusing on owning the moments just as they are, rather than what you wish they could be.
Here are some steps to inculcate mindfulness in your daily routine:
- 1. Tune in: When you have an urge to see what’s next – for instance, when you’re waiting in a line, or getting bored in a meeting – just pause. Know that you’re feeling that itch, and just hit the mental brakes.
- 2. Breathe and observe: Take a deep breath to centre your mind on the present. Witness your thoughts from a distance by taking on the position of an observer.
- 3. Anchor: Focus on a tangible thing, like your feet on the ground or your hand on your chest – anchor yourself in the moment.
- 4. Own it: Embrace the moment exactly as it is. Don’t rush or think about the future, or try to control the circumstances. Show up and engage in the moment, because your life is happening now – not next.