Offset the High Cost of Outsourcing Your Brain to Apps With Mindfulness

Want to outsource your thinking and lose more of your cognitive functions? There’s an app for that! Tons of apps, in fact.

In the wonderful world of technology, we’ve all experienced the many amazing apps that help us outsource the need to think. If you think about all that has occurred in the world of mobile apps, the number of things that have increasingly freed us of the need to use our cognitive abilities are amazing—and somewhat concerning. Below are only a few examples.


An unlimited number of free GPS apps give us perfect directions, or close enough (looking at you, Apple Maps), to anywhere we’d like to go. Gone are the days when we needed to remember addresses, turns and street signs. We even get real-time traffic updates from live traffic feeds, gas station locations along our route, the nearest Starbucks drive-through to our destination and more. No spatial thinking skills required.

Addresses, numbers and special dates

Thanks to today’s digital address books (LinkedIn and other connectivity apps), we no longer have to remember phone numbers. Or addresses. Or birthdays. (Facebook has saved many a friendship thanks to this function.) You don’t even have to be aware of promotions or celebrations. They’re all delivered straight to you. We’re even served up the obligatory canned “congratulations” note to send to our social media connections. No short-term or long-term memory required.

Great food locations

Remember the days when you actually kept track of good restaurants in your address book? Today, Yelp, OpenTable and other apps have removed any need for personal note taking. They even suggest the best time of day to visit and what to eat. No taste recognition memory needed.


Just set your RSS feeds and get whatever news sources and topics you want via push notifications. You can even filter for the kinds of news you want (from politics to sports to celebrities). And forget reading the full article—just consume the headlines because being semi-informed is the new well-read. Comprehension skills are being sidelined.


These days, it’s common for a young doctor or nurse to welcome you, sit down at a desk and then ask you questions from a list on the computer. More than a few people think, I could have Googled my symptoms at home and saved myself a trip to the doctor’s office. Goodbye, human connection, active listening and problem-solving.

The good news about all these apps is that they’ve freed up a significant amount of thinking time for us to dedicate to higher-purpose endeavors. Even the wellness space realizes this and is turning to digital well-being solutions for their employees. The bad news is that most of us haven’t filled that available cognitive space with anything of value. In fact, most of us have filled that excess capacity with more time to check social media feeds, play video games, worry about the past, worry about the future, check social media feeds, regret our choices, let anxiety take over, check our social media feeds, and a full range of things that provide no benefit whatsoever, like spending hours on YouTube watching cat videos. (OK, not an entire waste of time.)

Science suggests that we become better at the things we do most. Increasingly, we’re no longer exercising our abilities to remember, recall and connect the dots to the basic information that drives our lives. We’re also no longer exercising the brain’s ability to do these things. In fact, a recent Microsoft study suggests that the human attention span has decreased from 12 to eight seconds (about the level of a goldfish). That’s concerning. For those of you unable to focus, I said a goldfish. That’s concerning.

Here’s an idea: Be mindful in the way you use your apps. Don’t over-rely on them. Don’t download every single app that looks cool. Find the ones that make you the most efficient and get rid of the rest. Most important, find new ways to keep your brain sharp.

Mindfulness helps us create new neural pathways and build up muscle memory in areas where we need it most. For most of us, that comes down to the ability to focus and be in the moment. This actually keeps our brain sharp, fresh and functioning at its best for things like recall, memory, and the ability to control our emotions and regulate our central nervous system.

As we continue to outsource more of our cognitive abilities, brain training encourages us to also think of ways to exercise our brains to keep our cognitive abilities intact. Our cognitive abilities are also necessary to ward off things like Alzheimer’s, dementia and a range of mental disorders.

Outsourcing feels great. We know there’s an app for that. But please think about insourcing other experiences to keep your cognitive abilities active. The mind is still a terrible thing to waste.

P.S. Good news for mindfulness and well-being training: Whil’s an app for that.

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Photo credit: Daniel Canibano, Unsplash