- Our brain habitually anticipates rewards and leans us toward the future.
- By "nexting" too much, we miss opportunities to connect, create, and impact the moment we're in.
- Owning a moment with mindfulness helps us engage and harness the present without the suffering of nexting.
Go on, admit it! You refresh your social media feed like you're expecting either a winning lottery number or an IRS audit notice. You binge-watch like you’re training for the Stream-a-lympics. Congratulations, you've been caught in the tantalizing trap of "nexting"!
In a world characterized by instant gratification and constant stimulation, nexting is the premiere, modern habit. This phenomenon revolves around the compulsive anticipation of what's to come, fueling the release of dopamine in our brains. But what if there was a way to break free from this cycle and find solace in the present moment?
Science suggests that mindfulness-based practices, what I like to refer to as "owning the moment" may hold the key to overcoming the allure of nexting.
Nexting can be likened to a continuous scroll of possibilities, where the excitement lies in what lies ahead rather than what's happening right now. It taps into our brain's dopamine pathways, creating a cycle of anticipation and reward. Yet, the constant pursuit of the "next" can result in anxiety, dissatisfaction, and a disconnect from the present. There’s a pervasive sense in your mind that what is shouldn’t be what it is; it should be what’s coming!
The Science Behind It: Dopamine's Role in "Nexting"
Research, such as that reviewed by Taber et al. (2012), has delved into the neural underpinnings of this behavior. The research suggests that the environment cues up anticipation of rewards (through some sensory signal like a smell, an ad, a notice on our phones, even a single word choice) and this activates the brain's dopamine system, fostering a cycle of habit formation because of the reward this chemical release provides. This neurochemical response explains why "nexting" can become "addictive," as the brain associates the mental (“I want that” or “If I could just…”) or emotional (i.e., felt urges) or behavioral (e.g., adding unneeded items into your Amazon cart) acts of anticipating with a pleasurable reward.
The Mindful Antidote: "Owning" the Present Moment
Mindfulness, with its emphasis on being fully present and aware, offers a powerful counter to the grip of "nexting." Instead of merely possessing or controlling outcomes, adopting a mindset of "owning" allows us to engage the present moment in a nonjudgmental way—embracing only the moment at hand, without all the mental and emotional junk cluttering you up and compelling you toward what's next.
Studies like the work of Brewer et al. (2011) suggest that mindfulness practices can decrease the activation of the brain's default mode network associated with mind wandering and angsty, anticipatory thoughts. Recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies show that consistent, brief mindfulness practice can tamp down the activity in this network of brain structures that tend you toward pressured thoughts of “if only __” or “when I get __” or “I have to get __."
It's like taking the wheel away from your brain's daydreaming and doom-scrolling tendencies. With mindfulness, you're not erasing thoughts; you're choosing where to steer attention toward owning moments just as they are.
Meet Lisa: A "Nexting" Survivor
Picture this: Lisa, a master "nexter," a mythological hero of multitasking. She was always onto the next thing—text messages, emails, social media posts—all in hot pursuit of her obsession with becoming the next (pun intended) Mr. Beast-like YouTuber. It's like her life was an endless game of tag with the future.
But, then, Lisa decided enough was enough. Family and friends were dope-slapping her with the pain of rejection from her obsession with “content creation.” “It’s like the Lisa we knew and loved was kidnapped by YouTube,” her best friend told her.
She stumbled around looking for help for a while and, ultimately, on the recommendations of friends and her therapist, embraced mindfulness. One day, she sat in her backyard and held her phone in her hand, feeling the weight of it as an object, hearing the wind in the trees, and tasting the metallic flavor of bile in her mouth. She noticed, seemingly for the first time, how much stress all the YouTube nexting was creating. That's when she realized “when” her real life was—now. A wave of sadness swelled in her, and she cried for a long time about the damage done to herself and others. She set her phone down without opening any apps, felt her bare feet in the grass, and realized it needed cutting!
“Damn,” she thought. “This is messed up. I’m done missing so much!”
She was an owner of that moment. And though it would be ridiculous to say she was “cured” of all nexting, she now had a tool for working with it instead of being its servant.
Here's Your Power Move: A Mindfulness Practice
Let's put this into action:
- Tune in: Notice when the urge to "next" comes knocking. Maybe it's during a dull meeting or when you're in line. When the itch to "next" strikes, pause. Just hit the mental brakes.
- Breathe: Take a deep breath. Feel it, the inhale, the exhale—your invite to the present.
- Witness: Observe your thoughts from a distance. You're not your thoughts; you're the observer.
- Anchor: Feel your feet on the ground or your hand on your chest. This is your anchor to the moment.
- Own it: Embrace now, exactly as it is. No rushing, no future-tripping. Just owning what's happening. You’re not controlling it; you’re not anticipating or worrying. You’re showing up and engaging. That’s true “ownership.”
Breaking the Cycle
As we navigate a world inundated with distractions and the allure of "nexting," embracing mindfulness-based owning can help us reclaim our sense of presence and connection. By understanding the science behind the dopamine-driven cycle and practicing mindfulness, we empower ourselves to break free from the habit pattern and find contentment in the richness of the present moment.
So, next time you're tempted to binge-watch until sunrise or keep scrolling until your thumb cramps, pause. Embrace ownership, because life's happening now, not next.
Taber, K., Black, D., Porrino, L., & Hurley, R. (2012). Neuroanatomy of Dopamine: Reward and Addiction. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Sciences, 24(1), 1–4.
Brewer JA, Worhunsky PD, Gray JR, Tang YY, Weber J, Kober H. Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 13;108(50):20254–9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112029108. Epub 2011 Nov 23. PMID: 22114193; PMCID: PMC3250176.