Apple and the 2016 MacBook Pro are Working to Change Your Brain, and it’s Uncomfortable

What’s Up

As an Apple fan, I appreciate the thoughtfulness that Apple puts into integrating their hardware and software so that it gradually moves users in new directions (whether they like it or not).  Psychologically, this is a good move because there’s only so much change that people are willing to tolerate before they avoid the situation.  Well this year, Apple has pushed the envelope and it’s done it by reducing the ports and really changing up the keyboards.  Now ports have a relatively concrete solution (i.e., adapters), so resolving this issue for people is relatively easy, albeit annoying.  The keyboard, on the otherhand, requires that all Apple users make a significant neurological change if they’re to use the keyboard in the most efficient and quietest way possible.  Now I’m not talking about the Touch Bar, I’m talking about the actual keyboard and the keys.  I have to admit, the new keyboard has been driving me friggin’ crazy (crazy!!) because I’m used to the old 2011 MacBook Pro 15″ keyboard, which I love so much more at the moment.  Now, I believe that Apple is moving its users toward a keyless keyboard…like a touch screen or something close to it.  In the past, Apple has done well to move people down the road toward long-term improvement but they might want to keep in mind that they change needs to be paced out a little bit better.  If they are, in fact, going to the keyless keyboard then I think that people may need some more time…but we’ll see, right?  Regardless, if the new keyboard has been frustrating for you and you’re curious about why and what you can do about it, hang in there.

Keyboard Differences Compared

As many others have described, the old keys were smaller, taller and required more pressure and stability in order for them to be successfully pressed and registered with the computer’s circuitry.  What’s also a massive, though technically small, difference is that the total depth of the keyboard is different.  From the measurements that I’ve taken, the new keyboard is about 1/4″ shorter in depth.  Meaning, we lost about 1/4″ when you measure from the very front of the space bar to the very back of the last row (e.g., any number key).  Here are a couple of photoscomparing the keyboards of the old 2011 MacBook Pro and the new 2016 MacBook Pro w/ Touch Bar, and you can see there’s a small difference.  At first I wasn’t sure if it was my eyes were messing with me but sure enough, they are different…and this explains why I am constantly making a lot of small errors!

As other authors have noted, the new keys have a very small (around 1mm) distance to travel from the start of the finger press to the completion of it so that it registers with the computer’s circuitry.  This is a very huge difference compared the the previous generations keyboards.  Also, the keys are bigger and more stable, which means that your brain doesn’t have to be as focused on hitting the keys just right.  Instead, there’s a little more space in the keys so that everything is a little more forgiving.  A basic comparison of the two keyboards (the 2016 vs. the 2011) gives me the impression that the keys on the 2016 MBP are barely there.  Good for design, reduced weight and use of space, but not so good for your long-standing typing habits that our brain and our bodies are used to.

What’s Involved When You Type

Man, there’s quite a bit!!  I could totally geek out by breaking down all of the structures, but I won’t do that to you.  So let’s keep things relatively basic.  First, there are multiple areas of your brain that are used for typing.  The major areas are those that govern motor or physical movement (Parietal Lobe), memory and habit (Hippocampus, Basil Ganglia, Temporal Lobes, etc.), visual information and feedback (Parietal and Occipital Lobes), and language (the whole friggin left half of your brain).  What’s more is that these structures need to connect to all of the muscles, tendons and nerve endings in your hands, fingers and arms in order to work properly.  These connections are made possible by many crazy long sequences of nerves that go from your brain, into your spine and then they travel throughout your body.  So when you’re forced to change a habit like typing on a new kind of keyboard, you’re changing all of these structures inside of you even though you can’t see it happen.  I have to admit, it’s all so nuts but so cool!  And this is just about typing!

So, when you go to type something right now, all of the nerves in your brain and body fire in a specific sequence and this makes it relatively easy to do.  This is because the nerves and muscles have had a lot of time to adapt to all of the practice that you’ve done.  The way that your typing speed increased was the result of your brain, nerves and body working together to alter all of the small structures underneath your skin…and this is what led to you being able to type faster.  Now we don’t see any of this taking place and we don’t even know that it’s going on, but it’s important that we know it.  When you first learned to type it wasn’t on this new Apple keyboard and the only reason that the keyboard is to blame for how funky this feels is because our biology can’t adapt quick enough.  This means that even the smallest of changes can mess with the complex neurological and muscular system that is called, “your ability to type.”  My body’s reaction to Apple’s change from the 2011 MBP to the 2016 MBP has been strong, and there have been times that I want to destroy my new MBP because I’m so frustrated with my body taking so long to adapt to the new keyboard!

As a side note, I’d like to acknowledge that Apple has been probably tried to be smart about deciding when it was going to force certain changes on us.  This is a tough balancing act and I don’t envy them in trying to determine how much to push the consumer while trying to balance strong stock prices and investor confidence.  That just seems like an impossible formula.  So how do you pump out quality products that push the boundaries of tech while also working with humanities biggest weakness: adapting to change.  It’s a tough call but let’s stay focused on the topic at hand and save that for another blog post.

Why Learning Something New Can Be Biologically Uncomfortable

Basic Brain Stuff:  When we’re under 25 years old, it’s easier for us to change because our metabolism is higher (which promotes quicker growth and protein synthesis which is needed for neurological changes) and our brain has a greater influx of newly created brain cells or neurons.  Beyond 25, we continue to get some new neurons but it’s like a trickle-charge because it’s happening at a really slow rate.  This means that older adults depend more upon existing neurons to rewire themselves (aka, neuroplasticity) than on new cells jumping in to create new pathways and connections.  Generally speaking, rewiring takes more time, practice and energy…and this can be uncomfortable and frustrating.  At 40 years old, I’m pretty frustrated by this new keyboard because all of the changes have slowed me down, increased the number of typing errors and now I have to be stupid deliberate about typing…and I feel like I’m having to learn this all over again.  However, I know that I need to force myself to practice because my neurons need some time to rewire themselves.  The worst thing that I could do is throw my arms up in the air and return my new MBP and buy some old machine.  But we all know this is the coward’s way out…and what way to better solidify my old-man stature by refusing to adapt to change, right!?  Anyway, I know I have to be patient and to rethink how I press each key with each finger.  This is just how it’s going to be for a bit.  If I do this, I’ll be able to be more precise when I type and not be so damn loud on this new keyboard.  So far (it’s been a touch over a week since I’ve had the new machine), my brain and muscles have adjusted a little bit but the old habit is pretty strong because I can feel that my fingers want to pound on the keyboard with more force.  The fact that I’m having to hold back and to change this brings about a weird feeling in my hands…which I find massively annoying…and fascinating at the same time.

Proximity of Change:  Another reason that this is so annoying is that the difference between how I used to type on the old keyboard and what I need to do now is close I can easily imagine the new way of doing it.  Even though I can imagine typing in this new, quiet and softer way, my biology hasn’t caught up.  Emotionally, though I’m not thinking about it in this way, this is the most frustrating part of the entire thing.  So even though I can imagine the change and am aware of how it feels so close to what I normally do, I have to slow down and be patient with the number of errors that I make.  Also, that 1/4″ of inch difference in the keys is really messing with my precision.  Now I have to track my fingers whereas before, I just typed as I always had.  Such a simple thing is bringing up such strong reactions.  It makes me think of people who have suffered a stroke or nerve damage that has limited their mobility.  If I’m so frustrated about this, I can’t imagine the difficulty that these individuals experience as they try to recover their mobility.  I have a new found empathy for them, though it’s based on something that’s ultimately pretty ridiculous by comparison, and my heart goes out to these people.  The one thing that’s helped me progress through this frustating time is maintaining an awareness of what comes up emotionally.  As I’ve observed myself, it’s important to keep things in perspective so we don’t get too pissed off and start blaming the keyboard for our failures (though I’ve wanted to break my new laptop during some moments of frustration).

Why You Should Strategically and Purposefully Change Your Habits

While it’s uncomfortable to deal with this change that’s been forced upon us, it’s good that we have to focus on how we can deliberately create a new habit or skill in the most effective way.  Ultimately, I’m driven by laziness and so I put a lot of effort into creating habits that are as efficient as possible.  This way, the efficient habit will lessen the potential problems and work that I have to deal with later on.  In order to reduce this work down the road, I need to really think about what I’m going to do.  In this way, I’m putting more effort upfront so that I can consider the impact that my actions and inactions may have on others, my environment and my future goals.  I know that this is just about typing but I’d encourage you to adopt a similar approach in your own life so that you can reep the benefits of doing things really well (for the short-term and long-term) and with the least amount of energy.

Now, if we don’t take care to analyze the situation and just haphazardly adjust to the new keyboard, then we’re likely to develop a new habit that’s not optimal.  Once we establish this new habit we’ll be less likely to enhance it later on because we’ll be able to get by even though it’s sloppy.  Unfortunately, I think many people are probably going to type very loudly on this new keyboard, which will annoy the shit out of a lot of people, and this is because they didn’t know how to approach the development of a new habit.  The problem with habits is that we humans are pretty resistant to change and we tend not to make an effort to improve something when it’s small and when we don’t believe that it really matters.  While this is true for the majority of us, there are many people who are exceptions.  In this current keyboard situation, this is likely to occur because I doubt many people are going to think to themselves, “Hmm, I need to type differently.  How can I do this so that I only have to relearn this once?  Also, I can tell this is going to annoy the hell out of a lot of people so how do I go about typing quietly?”  Yeah, most of us are probably not going to be this deliberate about the whole thing.  So, this means that we’re going to have a lot of people who are going to type very loudly with the new Apple keyboard because they didn’t go through the painful week or two that it takes to deliberately adjust in an ideal way.  So I’m alreay thankful for my noise cancelling headphones!

Ways to Help the Change Happen Quicker and With Less Discomfort

  1. Slow Down.  Remind yourself throughout the day, everyday, that you’re going to type a lot slower than you used to because your mind and body has to make a lot of small adjustments in order to regain the typing precision that you once had.  The keys have all moved and it’s going to take a little bit before you instinctually feel just the right level of softness and pressure that you need to use on the keys.
  2.  Relax. As you remind yourself of the above, let yourself relax and give yourself more time to complete any emails, papers, etc..  Your enemy in this situation in impatience.  And it’s good to practice becoming more patient with yourself, even though it’s really friggin’ hard to do.
  3. Practice.  Try to type as much as possible so that you get in a ton of practice.  This will help things move along and your neurons and muscles will change at a quicker rate.
  4. Eat Protein.  When your brain is changing and adapting, it needs a bit more protein than normal because it’s literally creating and moving neurons in your body.  These neurons need protein in order to alter their structures so be sure your diet is well balanced.
  5. Be Deliberate About This New Habit.  Don’t just adapt without thinking about why and how you’re adapting.  Work to type in a way that really fits with this new keyboard and in a style that you want for yourself and the people around you.  Ultimately, how do you want to feel when you’re typing?  The new keyboard wants you to type with more precision, with a smoother flow and with a gentle touch.  Also, people don’t want to listen to or watch you hammer away at the thing like you’re super pissed.  It’s really annoying to be on the observing end of this so consider putting some serious effort into customizing your new habit for you while also considering everyone else.  We’ll thank you for it!

Wrapping It Up and Predictions for Apple’s Future Changes

The new Apple keyboard is ultimately really good and pretty cool.  I’m liking it more and more as I get used to it, but it’s going to take just that.  Do I wish that Apple had made in quieter?  Absolutely, the amount of change is challenging and I want to be lazy like everyone else.  This change is pretty significant and honestly, I’m really not enjoying it so far but I’m hopeful that this will change as my brain, nerves and muscles adjust with practice.  It’s hard to not be overcome by my frustration and not to blame it all on Apple…but the reality is that our bodies can’t adapt as quickly as we would like, especially when we’re a bit older and our neurons want to be lazy.  Now, if I set this change component aside what is my evaluation of the keyboard?  I don’t think it’s the greatest thing but I can see where they’re going.  Ultimately, I think they want us to get used to using a totally different kind of keyboard…one that’s only a touch screen and has no moving parts at all.  This new keyboard design is a great way to move us in this direction, though I really don’t want to go in that direction at all.  My brain and my body really like how things have been…but I know it’s good for me to adapt and change my habits, so I’ll suck it up and move forward with the changes…

What Meditation & Mindfulness are Really About

 

As a long-time meditator and Buddhist, I am increasingly concerned about the level of appropriation of meditation practices.  I am especially frightened by people and professionals who claim to others that they are knowledgeable on the subject, to the point of calling themselves teachers, but who clearly promote a harmful and grossly misguided version of meditation.  What concerns me the most about this situation is the harm that these unqualified individuals can do to those who aspire to learn.  Not only can it result in the worsening of people’s internal difficulties, but it has the potential to turn them off to something that could otherwise be immensely beneficial.  Consequently, this article is going to be corrective and informative in nature, and it’s my attempt to counter the harmful information that too many are promoting.

Our Addiction to Happiness is the Problem

One of the biggest mistakes that people make coming in to meditation is that they believe that it’s all about feeling amazing…but it’s not.  Meditation is about developing certain mental capacities and this sets the stage for us to, possibly, experience greater satisfaction in our life.  I can’t say it enough, meditation is not about sitting and being happy…but we have the potential for feeling positive and uplifted during or after a meditation session.  Though, we might end up feeling scared, sad or even angry.  In the end, it doesn’t matter how we feel as a result of the meditation session because it’s like exercise.  Sometimes we don’t have a “good” workout or feel like exercising, but we know it’s good for us, right?!  Meditation is the same way.  Meditation is not about our addiction to happiness, it’s about learning how to fully utilize our human abilities and to enhance them.

When we have an addiction to happiness, we are constantly trying to experience higher and higher levels of it.  This is akin to an addict, and addicts have a very hard time experiencing or tolerating what they don’t want or like.  The stronger our addiction is to happiness, the greater our unhappiness will be and the more we’ll experience it.  As is taught in many traditions from the East that utilize meditation, this addiction is highly problematic and the source of the problem.  So when I see or hear of people promoting meditation and espousing that we should be addicted to happiness I feel disgusted.  My first thought is, “You’re poisoning them by telling them that the source of the problem is the solution!”  When I see and hear these messages, I cringe and wince with a deep disappointment and sadness, and I urge you to reject them or at the very least, question them thoroughly.

Contentment is the New Happiness

Happiness is typically thought of, at least within the dominant culture of the U.S., as a constant state of elation or joy.  We imagine people always smiling, engaging in life with energy and intensity, and they never experience any problems that shake their ever present good-mood or positive view.  We see this depicted in television and people often present themselves this way on Facebook.  Unfortunately, all of it’s a big fat fiction, and we would all do well to disregard it all.  However, we shouldn’t swing to the other end and become completely cynical or crotchety.  The middle ground is what we need…and this is where we find contentment.

Contentment is amazing.  It’s not only very possible to experience a state of contentment, but it’s better than elation and joy because it has immense staying power.  This is because contentment doesn’t require anything or any energy.  In fact, it can be quite rejuvenating.  Joy and elation are peak experiences in response to changing internal or external conditions.  Contentment, on the other hand, is based on nothing except for our consciousness and it requires no energy.  Yep, all you need to be is alive and have the capacity to be aware.  The reason that meditation can help you experience contentment is because it’s practices are deliberately aimed at doing things so that you can hang out in your most basic awareness.  The natural by-product of our basic awareness is contentment and a sense of feeling spacious, warm with a cool mist, light as a feather and even subtly fluffy.  But be aware that these sensations aren’t the goal and that meditation is not about contentment, but we may experience it as a side-benefit.

At this point you might be thinking, “but I can’t meditate all of the time, so what’s the point?”  Exactly, and great question.  There are many different meditation methods that are aimed at helping people improve the relationship that they have with their own mind, body and emotions.  Through meditation and various contemplations, we come to understand how the human mind works, how we get caught in our mind’s BS and how we can continue to hang out in our basic awareness while we go about our day.  This means that meditation takes some effort.  The better we are at focusing our awareness, learning and growing, and hanging out in contentment, the better able we are to birng our practice into our entire life.  So the ultimate point of meditation is to always meditate, regardless of what you’re doing.

 

It Takes a Little Work in the Beginning

All of this may have popped your bubble, but hopefully it doesn’t discourage you from going down the meditative road because it’s well worth it.  In the beginning, meditation can be tough and it’s important to be curious about your practice and your experiences (on and off the cushion).  As meditation becomes more familiar to you, it’ll be a place that you’ll want to go more frequently.  Initially, it can be uncomfortable and very confusing, but everyone gets the hang of it if they keep with it and maintain an open mind.  Just be careful not to assume that you know everything about meditation and yourself.  The finer points and deeper insights (even into simple things) can take some time to get down.  As a therapist and meditator, I’ve experienced many people who claim to know everything about meditation and their own mind…these are typically the people who are the most ignorant, poorly practiced, misguided and unaware.  So don’t fall into the trap of arrogance, but don’t go to the other extreme.  Lastly, remembered that it’s called practice and like exercise, you should always do at least a little every day to maintain your health.

Clarifying Mindfulness  |  It’s not Meditation

Mindfulness is only one aspect of consciousness and simply put, it’s our natural ability to be self-aware.  To use it to the fullest potential we need to max out our ability to concentrate and deliberately pay attention to a specific thing.  The most effective way to do this is to concentrate on something that is extremely simple, small, boring and constantly moving.  This is why the breath is the wisest choice.  Our breathing is extremely simple and it is ever flowing, which requires us to maintain our focus from moment-to-moment.  So when people say that they practice Mindfulness, I always ask about their specific practices because too many people use it as an avoidant technique.  In fact, people are taught to use it as a way to avoid…which I strongly discourage.  Yet the question remains, how can we recognize mindfulness or the lack of it in our own experience?

Imagine that you’re sitting and meditating.  You just started and your awareness is on your breathing and various thoughts are coming and going.  You continue to practice but then all of a sudden you realize that for the past few minutes you were off in some though, fantasy or even falling asleep.  Where did you go?  Where you went was the realm of the automaton (aka, automatic human being).  You were physically there…but you weren’t mentally there.  Then there was a flash of mindfulness where you were “fully” aware of what was happening.  In that instant, you recognized that your attention had drifted away.  At the same time, you recalled your meditation method (e.g., posture, breathing) and re-engaged it.  In this example we can see where mindfulness was and where it was not.  The trouble is noticing when you’re away during the day.  The hardest part is noticing when we’re acting on habit but our mind tricks us into thinking that everything is deliberate…that’s a tough one!  And so you know, nearly all humans are not completely mindful throughout the day and this is because we, like other animals, run on habit and automatic in order to conserve energy.  We often trick ourselves into thinking that we’re mindful but that’s usually because it’s psychologically scary to think that we don’t do a lot of things for very specific reasons and within our awareness.

Final Thoughts

So as you approach a possible meditation practice, equate it to an exercise regimen.  Ease in to it, learn as much as you can, and try to make it a lifestyle change rather than a temporary thing you do.  Keep in mind that sometimes it’ll be great and feel really good, but that there will be plenty of times where it might really suck.  The biggest difference between exercise and meditation is that your underlying psychological stuff can creep up and potentially freak you out when you meditate.  If you’ve experienced traumas in your life, tread lightly and get some good support before you venture into it.  This just ensures that you have a bit of a safety net before you decide to jump in, and it can’t hurt to have it.  Even if you haven’t experienced any traumas it can be extremely helpful to enlist the help of a seasoned and knowledgeable meditation practitioner.   And finally, remember that meditation is not about forcing happiness.  Rather, it’s a way to tap into your innate human potential and when you do this, you just might experience a greater amount of contentment and enjoyment that’s only based on living.