Book House

How Bitfulness Meditation helps us in keeping calm in the digital world

Authors Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani (Picture Credit: Anushya Badrinath)
  • The book “The Art of Bitfulness” by Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani is a book on how to live with our devices, not how to live without them.

  • In this short, practical book, Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani describe a framework to tune out the overwhelming noise of the internet. They empower you with tools to take back your time, attention and privacy from those who want to capture and sell it. They reveal their own personal systems, and how they stay on top of a constant flow of information.

  • The book covers how we, as a collective, can take back control of our future. The authors even analyse the promise of web3 & cryptocurrencies to see where that alternative will take us.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

What is Bitfulness Meditation? It is easier to explain in comparison to the Mindfulness Meditation you are probably familiar with.

Both are tools to increase your self-awareness. Mindfulness Meditation teaches you how to ignore all stray thoughts in your mind. Bitfulness Meditation teaches you how to focus on a single train of thought in your extended mind. Mindfulness Meditation is about observing your thoughts without judgement and letting them pass. Bitfulness Meditation is about observing your thoughts without judgement and writing them down.

We recommend following along with this exercise.

1. Find a comfortable, quiet place

Being disturbed in the middle of this process will not help. So, find a time and place where you are sure you can commit at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time.

2. Create a space on your preferred device to write down your thoughts

This could be a text document on your laptop, the notes app installed by default on your phone, or some other app. You only need to make sure this space is easily accessible and what you write in it remains private. You can even change this later, so just pick one now to get started.

3. Clear your mind by writing about what’s on it

Start a timer for at least five minutes. Now, simply start writing whatever is presently on your mind, in a stream of consciousness style. Make it personal. You can try starting with ‘I think . . .’ or ‘I feel . . .’. Do not try to sound smart or even coherent. Ask yourself questions and then answer them honestly. No one is reading this but you.

Write without any judgement or edits on what you are writing. You do not need to fix typos. You don’t even have to stay on one topic. Simply focus on letting your fingers translate your current thoughts into keystrokes till the timer runs out. If you have more to say even after the timer is over, keep going. Many find this part of the exercise is the most beneficial in becoming aware of their emotional states.

4. Write about what you want to focus on

Once you feel like you’ve cleared your mind of all thoughts, you can now focus on one task, thought or intention you want to work on. In all likelihood, this worry would have featured in the text you just wrote down in Step 3. Simply start writing about that task. Describe what needs to be done in the same style of writing. If there are any problems or fears, write those down too.

In a fashion similar to Step 3, write without judgement or without correction. If this is hard for you, cover your screen as you write. This way you simply can’t read what you’ve written so far and will be less tempted to make corrections. You may go off topic, and your mind may begin to wander. Whenever you sense that you have gone too far astray, pause. Simply scan a few lines up, and pick up from where you left off.

You can use a timer to decide when to stop or simply write till you feel clarity of thought.

5. Step back and reflect on what you just wrote

Now that all your worries and doubts are out of your head, you should be feeling a slight sense of calm. Depending on how much you wrote, you must be feeling either a slight or great increase in your sense of control. You’re no longer in the grip of the ‘focussing illusion’. Read through what you’ve written and without editing or deleting, summarize for yourself what your thoughts are telling you to do.

Hopefully, the next immediate action for you to take is clear, and so is your motivation to do it.


Why does this work?

This exercise works because it is nothing but a form of journaling. If you tried it, you might have felt some clarity. If you didn’t, you’re probably skeptical that writing your thoughts for a few minutes is going to make a dent to the big problems in your life.

A lot of scientists were skeptical too so they put it to the test. Psychologists and neuroscientists alike have found that journaling correlates with tremendous health benefits, even if they are unable to ascertain why. Journaling reduces stress, helps you cope with anxiety, increases positive mood, reduces symptoms of depression, improves interpersonal relationships and even increases your ‘working memory’. Studies have shown that gratitude journals, where people record a list of things that they are grateful for, even when recorded only once a week, boost happiness.

Anyone who journals will readily tell you its mental health benefits. Where it starts to get eye-popping is when you see reports of expressive journaling being the difference that leads to lower blood pressure, significantly better quantity and quality of sleep, increased T-Cell count and even faster healing of wounds. The most probable explanation is that journaling lets you identify your own stress and helps deal with it better, leading to health benefits. Simply writing down what’s bothering you converts it from an abstract, all-consuming worry into something much more contained and manageable.

Every time you start to feel stuck, overwhelmed or stressed, your head is probably full of thoughts that you haven’t untangled yet. The brain has a working memory that works similarly to that of a computer’s RAM. Whatever we’re thinking about needs to be held in the working memory, and it has a limited capacity. Any form of journaling empties your working memory, making more room to think. Doing it digitally, like in Bitfulness Meditation, helps create a habit of being self-aware while being in front of a screen. It becomes a ritual that helps you ease into a state of relaxed concentration. It also creates a record of those thoughts, so that you can later analyse what’s happening in your own head to unstick yourself.

Often we try to plan our next move by thinking hard. We have a jumble of ideas and problems, and we think of an action but also think of a downside to that action. We think of other things we should be doing and other things causing us worry. All of these interweaving thoughts send us into analysis paralysis. We try to ‘think harder’, but we’re just doing more of the same incoherent mess.

However, writing is thinking. You’re not really planning unless you’re writing your plan down. To-do lists or business plans force us to crystallize our thoughts into actions before we write them down. Like O’Connor and Buffet, we too won’t know what our thoughts are trying to tell us till we write them down so that we can read them. By building the habit of Bitfulness Meditation and writing freely, we think about structure after we’ve emptied our mind of all our thoughts. Thus, letting us think clearly about what we need to do.

We can only guess why this practice works, but we can assure you that it does.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck, repeat this exercise. You can repeat it as often as you need, as many times a day as you want. But to really benefit from writing as thinking, we need to build this practice into a system.

Excerpted with permission from The Art of Bitfulness, Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani, Penguin India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.


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