Sunil Jain

January 26, 2024

Input muscle vs Output muscle

For those of you trying to minimize the impact of phone(apps on the phone) and other digital distractions that suck you in, I have come up with a new way to frame the problem. I am assuming, by now, you have already read enough articles and books on this topic. Perhaps listened to some podcasts as well, on "how to make oneself indistractable". This reframing can provide another toolkit in your armor.

When I framed the problem in terms of input/output, it really clicked for me. 

We can think of two modes of operations for us - input vs output. 

During our waking hours, either we are putting something inside us, or producing something. For example, watching something on youtube or TV,  scrolling social media feed or chatting on phone; reading an article or eating something - these are examples of input activities. Examples of output activities - doing dishes(output is cleaned dishes), having human to human in person dialogue/conversation(output is social bond), programming/writing code or writing an article or book, playing sports or music (output is betterment of a move/music in that session), making a  dish, working on artwork(drawing/sculpting/woodwork etc). These are just examples and not an exhaustive list.

Reading book I would say is an output activity and not input, as your output is the more strengthened focus muscle. This is where reading a book differs from reading an article or watching a clip - you need to stay focused for some decent period of time to read a book, even few pages. You need to be in that relaxed, yet focused space, in order to read a book, even few pages. That builds your focus muscle.

There is a neutral mode as well. Sleeping or meditation probably fall under that. And we all would agree that both these are invaluable modes for our well being. For the purposes of this writeup, let us stick to input and output mode.

Best way to view phone(and apps on them) is, as an input device. Using phone, you will not be creating any meaningful output. Only use of phone is mostly as an input device. 

It is a great convenience gizmo, whether making your next payment or hailing a cab. In that regards it is super valuable. 

Still you can never make progress towards being an output oriented person if you are excessively using phone. In the end, whatever philosophy  or religious outlook  one may have, I think we all would agree - when we look back at our life, most of us would wish, we should have spent more time  with our loved ones and we should have created/built/produced something more of value. To that extent even laptop/ipad would fall mostly in the category of input device, if used like a phone for input activities only. In that way, phone, I am using as metaphor for input device, which includes laptop/ipad as well, when used primarily for input activities.

Every time you touch that phone you just strengthened your input muscle. Even if you just looked up phone for 1 second, you made input muscle more powerful. Not to mention danger of getting distracted and going down a rabbit hole for extended period of time.

Which means your mind will have to work harder to to get into and stay in the output mode. Because that input muscle is much more stronger as you have used it frequently day in day out. It would constantly pull you in input mode. Very similar to how we increase our stamina by running more, or building our biceps by lifting weights regularly. You have strengthened that input muscle a lot by using it constantly, repeatedly and frequently.

To make your output muscle strong you need to exercise it more. On the flip side, you want to reduce use of already strong input muscle. You want to make output muscle strong, if not stronger, than input muscle. Currently input muscle is way stronger than output muscle for most of us. 

Next time you pick up that phone, remind yourself that there is nothing meaningful that can be produced by picking that phone. Even if you are picking up momentarily out of boredom or a quick entertainment, you will end up strengthening that dangerous input muscle. Go find some other way to entertain yourself - how about a simple walk outside by yourself, may be an in person conversation with your friend or loved one. Or any of the output activities I listed in the beginning.

I am not suggesting to become a robotic output machine. Just making you aware of, and provide tools to release from, tentacles of already strengthened input muscle.