Technology, the internet, and even social media can be wonderful tools for the singer…..until they are not.

Many of these tools have been engineered to distract and steal away your time and attention – leaving you less time and energy for singing and creative pursuits.

In this episode, John discusses how to control your digital distractions and how to stay focused on your vocal growth.


Deep Work by Cal Newport

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Episode Transcript

Episode 97 – Don’t Get Brain Hacked

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. Alright. Today, man, I want to talk about something that I’ve really been examining in my own life and I will tell you, I set aside time to do this podcast and just before I was scheduled to do the podcast, I needed to send an email and 10 minutes later I still hadn’t written the email because I saw some click-bait online about – now get how ridiculous this is – pictures of 20 failed shopping malls.

Yeah, it was pictures of malls that are deserted, abandoned, debris in them, etc. And for some reason I needed to look at all 20 pictures of abandoned shopping malls. Something in my brain told me I needed to see this, that this was interesting and this was important and 10 minutes later, as I’m looking at these dilapidated shopping malls, I said, what am I doing? And I kind of snapped back to the present and I wrote my email and then I came in here to do the podcast about 15 minutes later than I had scheduled myself. And that’s important because to be a singer, to be a creative songwriter, voice teacher, we have to put a lot into our craft. And the internet has opened up so much for us in terms of learning and knowledge. I’m hoping that this podcast is a good resource for you. I’m imagining that you found it online. You’re certainly listening online, whether on your phone or your laptop, desktop, etc. But there’s also a whole world of distraction, and the problem is we think we’re in control of what we are doing, and to some degree it’s an illusion.

Now, people will debate whether free will exists at all, but the brain is a very, very odd thing. Just do this. Hold your hands out in front of you, stare at your hands and clap. Now, that event all seemed simultaneous. The visual of seeing your hands come together, hearing the sound and feeling your hands come together. However, that stimulus all reached your brain at different times. The stimulus of the nerves so that your brain registered that you felt the pressure of your hands coming together was slower than the visual light image that was sent to your optic nerves, your eyes, and that whole process happens more quickly. So how does it seem that it’s all happening at the same time? Well, your brain does this amazing editing job of delaying your experience of the event until it can synchronize everything and then it delivers it to you.

So if you think about it, you’re actually experiencing life after it happens. You’re experiencing that event– the event is in the past when you experience it because of this delay that the brain creates. The mind does amazing, amazing things. And there are experiments and studies they’ve done that show that a vast number of decisions and thoughts that we make have actually been made before we are aware of them, and then we have this illusion that we are consciously in control of the thought when they’re happening beforehand. Now this gets into really heady stuff that I don’t completely understand and I will listen to podcasts with neuroscientists and people debating this and just the idea of freewill, etc. But suffice to say it’s a rather odd mechanism, our mind, and we’re not in control of it as much as we think we are.

And the mind is hackable. There are those who understand how this works, who understand that we’re not completely in control of our decisions even though we think we are, and they hijack our decision-making process and these very, very smart, well-educated people have been hired by companies like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube, and then they employ artificial intelligence to understand if you watch one thing, what are you more likely to watch the next? And if you enjoyed that, what can they offer you up the next? Now, artificial intelligence doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to know you absolutely well, and certainly when you’re on YouTube, they will serve up videos suggestions that you’re not really interested in. I always like when I have to search for something for a student, some odd thing, and then Amazon starts showing me other things. Amazon thinks I’ve turned into some other person.

I’m sometimes looking for music. Spotify will think I’m now a 13 year old girl. But this artificial intelligence just has to get close enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to get close enough to distract you, to hypnotize you, to pull you away. And what they are doing is they are stealing away your attention, and when they steal your attention, they’re stealing your time. And your time is precious. As I thank you for spending it with me on every podcast, this precious time is being taken from you. And there are starting to be whistle-blowers, people in the industry coming forward and saying, no, they are actually hijacking. They are systematically going in and using these technologies to steal your attention, to basically steal the building blocks of your life, which is time.

Bill Maher was talking about it and he commented that, you know, the tobacco industry only wanted your lungs, whereas Apple and Facebook want your soul. And even in the hyperbole, there is some truth in that, and I want you to be really aware and on guard for this because your time will slip away. And your time to get better as a singer, to launch a career, to invest in this hobby, to do something that’s going to refresh your mind, refresh your spirit and make you feel better about life is going to be sucked into this void of social media that really doesn’t make people happy. And in fact, studies are starting to show that social media can cause depression and unhappiness, and what they’ve done is they’ve gamified the whole process. You know, Facebook alerts– when you get that little red number up in the corner, that used to not be red, but people didn’t notice it.

So the Facebook engineers and scientists figured out that red would grab your attention. Facebook has spent millions and millions of dollars on facial recognition technology so that when you post a picture with somebody, Facebook will ask you, “would you like to tag Billy in this photo?” And of course you say yes, and why do they do that? So then Billy gets a message that you tagged him and of course Billy’s going to click on it. So now Facebook has sucked you further in, as well as brought Billy back. And why? To sell your attention to advertisers. Not that that’s inherently bad, but the way that they’re doing it– and you have to understand when you put up a post, when you say, “Hey, I just did something.” Well as human beings we like to be liked and what they’ve done is they’ve gamified these likes. It’s like pulling a slot machine.

You put that up and you get a couple of likes and go, “Oh, I guess people don’t really like it.” But every once in a while you post something that goes your own version of viral, and it makes you feel good, and it makes you go back and check it again, and check it again. And the next thing you’re doing is you’re checking it over and over and over. We’re all susceptible to this. You think you’re not. You think you can go onto Facebook and just check it and quickly get back off and write that email or practice that song you’ve been waiting or get to your vocal workout, and 20 minutes will go by and you’ve done nothing and you don’t even know what you’re looking at. I will end up on the most ridiculous things. I should almost just set a timer. I’ve actually gotten to the point – I’m going to suggest you do this too – where I am scheduling the time that I allow myself to be online and just fritter away time with this low quality rest time. And it’s low quality because it’s not giving me anything back.

It really isn’t. As opposed to if I sat down and worked on my guitar playing, learned to do a new hobby, did something that’s really mentally stimulating, that makes me feel better. But no, I fritter around, and the next thing I know is I am looking at pictures of dilapidated shopping malls. It’s ridiculous. So here’s what I’m doing. I’m reading a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Cal Newport is one of my current favorite non-fiction writers. His other book, Deep Work, is an absolute must read, and the two go hand in hand because in order to do deep work– and learning to sing and becoming a better voice teacher and a better songwriter and a better artist is deep, deep work, and deep work needs to be uninterrupted. It needs to be focused. What I am doing right now as I’m speaking to this microphone, is a form of deep work. I cannot be interrupted as I do this in order to interrupt the flow. Believe me, my brain is interrupting me enough. I know enough about myself that my brain ping pongs around. So I need to eliminate distractions. So deep work, I highly recommend, but then he has a book. It’s a newer book, Digital Minimalism, and it really is breaking this habit and it’s examining the apps that we have in our life and the technology that we have in our life in order to protect this sacred deep work that you are going to need to do, even if you’re a hobbyist singer, and I don’t say that as in a disparaging way. People that sing for fun, I absolutely love working with. I don’t really differentiate between professional singers other than the pressures that professional singers have on them and sometimes we have to work in a quicker manner.

But if music is something and singing is something that you’ve embraced in order to enrich your life and to bring beauty to your life, absolutely. That is as high a value as anything. So you need to have this deep work, but we need to examine technology. Is it helping us? Or is it hindering us? And I’ve been going through and I’ve been taking apps off of my phone. I’ve been taking news apps off of my phone because I would just blindly just check news headlines constantly and what they are doing. Are they enriching me? No, they’re just frustrating me. I now have taken off all alerts on social media on my phone. All alerts. I get no Facebook alerts. I get no email alerts. I get no Twitter alerts. I get no Instagram alerts. Any new apps that come up, I really have to examine and say, “do I need this? Is this going to help or hinder me?” And the answer is almost always no. I do not need this. Twitter is now something that I rarely post on, but I will just check occasionally. I allow myself, I’m trying to allow myself once a day because Twitter will just suck you into this vortex of frustration where you want to engage and argue with people, and that I have absolutely stopped in my life. I do not argue with some people on social media ever. Period. No more. It does nothing.

It doesn’t convince them of anything and for me, what am I doing? I’m just reiterating something I already believe or I’m just grandstanding for people who agree with me so they can cheer me on so I can get some cheap ego boost from that. No, I’m saving my energy for what I’m able to do, the highest quality content I can do. This podcast I’ve started. On Instagram, I’ve started the short 1-2 minute tips. So if you follow me, @johnhennyvocals on Instagram. There I go. I’m sending you to social media. But, of course if you watch my stuff, it’s not a waste of time. But no, I’m doing these to help grow my audience. I’m doing these little quick videos, but then I actually have someone else post it for me. I send them the raw video, they edit it, and then they post it for me. At most, I will go in once a day just to kind of see the reaction it’s getting, make sure that what they’ve put, and sometimes I have to correct the little description that they’ve put. And other than that, I’m off. I’m gone. Facebook, I will engage a little bit.

But again, I do not argue with anyone. I don’t jump in into these voice teacher arguments. I will occasionally go in there just for some research to see what people are talking about, what people want to know. There are certain people that I do check to see what they’re talking about because they’re incredibly brilliant and I want to know what they’re discussing. Otherwise I’m off. And what I’m doing is I’m spending my time in deeper work, laying out courses that I wanna do. I’m pretty knee deep, getting ready for lectures that I’m going to be doing and so I also do a monthly training for my online Voice Teacher Academy, and I really spend time making sure these training’s are incredibly valuable. I want the value of these trainings to be many times what the monthly cost of my Academy is. I want it to be hundreds of dollars worth of information. So for me to be able to do that, I can’t be bouncing around online and in nonsense. So here’s what I’d like you to do. If you’d like to read Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, I will put a link in the show notes. Just go to for episode 97. Then I want you to take the alerts off your phone and this may be painful, but go ahead and do it. Take those alerts off. They’ll be there. Trust me, you will check your email. You don’t need to know every time an email comes in cause what does that make you do? You get the ding, you open your phone and then when your phone is open, let me tell you my thumb will wander over to Instagram or wander over to Twitter and press it and the next thing I know, half hour’s gone.

So no more of that. Turn off the alerts. Give yourself a time in the morning that you’re going to check it and a time in the evening if you are going to check it. If part of your business is getting on and interacting and posting, set that time and stick to that time. Set aside 45 minutes or an hour at a certain period of the day and just stay with that. And if you really want to get hardcore and you don’t need to be on social media for your business, why don’t you try at 30 day break? Take them all off your phone. You don’t have to close your accounts, but just get off your phone. Let your close friends and family know that you’re doing this, and they can always text you. I mean you gotta– your phone has to be on to get a text from your mom, and you need to respond to that. But otherwise you just need to clear this out. Do some, well, it’s turning into summer, but do some spring cleaning of your time and your mind and your energy and don’t let these people get in there and hijack your brain. You are not in control of this and there are those who know this. That’s why you don’t go to these free weekends where they’re trying to sell you a timeshare, because chances are you’re going to walk away with a timeshare. They know how to wear you down. They know how to get inside your head. They know how to hack you. So do not allow yourself to be hacked any more. Okay. That ends my sermon.

Hey, if you want more information about me, what it is I do, possibly studying with me, go to If you want to know more about my online Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy, just go to and click on the voice teacher training. Sorry, teacher training, a tab up in the menu that will give you all the information. If you sign up right now, I’m actually including, at no extra cost, a higher level of my Academy called CVTA Elite. And in this part of the Academy, I will analyze lessons that you send in to me. I will critique them. I will also work with your students for free. You can set up a time and I’ll get on video and I’ll work with a student, maybe you’re having trouble with. And I will also do one-on-one coaching with you for your business, for your studio business to grow your student base, or maybe you want to create a product, possibly write a book. Whatever it is, I will coach you via a special email address I’ve set up. One-on-one. And that’s all included in the monthly price for now. That’s actually going to be a much more expensive option, but since I’ve just introduced it and I’m making it free. Well, you have to pay the monthly fee, but there’s no additional cost for that. Again, just go to and look for the teacher training tab. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.