Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Archive for the category “Control”

Oxygen, Glucose and the Brain: spend it wisely

JB comments on Will I? : The Frontal Cortex, ‘I have to question the opening statement of this post….”we can’t help but talk to ourselves”. While it’s true that our brain automatically reverts to operating “in the default mode” when we don’t give it something more demanding to do, it turns out this mental chatter uses as much glucose and oxygen as giving the brain a more demanding mental task. Mindful-awareness meditation trains the brain to just be present for whatever sense perceptions are happening without that ongoing commentary and when a decision about action is required, one automatically discriminates between the choices based on whether the action will be helpful to self and others or not. This is truly getting in touch with one’s intrinsic power and wisdom and compassion and saves energy’

The average amount of mental chatter is scary. However, when we consider our energy as a finite daily resource which is expended via lack of focus, our human interest in focus and attention starts to look like an evolutionary adaptation in action.

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The Management of our Attention

‘The ability to attend to our environment, to our own feelings, and to those of others is a naturally evolved feature of the human brain. Attention is a finite commodity, and it is absolutely essential to living a good life. We need attention in order to truly listen to others – and even to ourselves. We need attention to truly enjoy sensory pleasures, as well as for efficient learning. We need it in order to be truly present during sex or to be in love or when we are simply contemplating nature. Our brains can generate only a limited amount of this precious resource every day.’ – Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel

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Things Get Done When You Do Less

As a member of the human species, you are hard wired to achieve. You may not feel like that if you’re sat there: brain diffused from multitasking, web-thread-chasing and information channel hopping. The empty plate of cookies or pizza you can’t remember eating as you read about the latest thing you can’t remember reading on the screen five minutes ago: these things may feel a million years from hunting and gathering to achieve another day alive as your relatives did.

A counter-intuitive observation is that things get done when you consciously try to do less and have the will to stick to your commitment to do less. The more you even plan to do in an allotted period of time, the less you actually get done. Why is this? I often think of a computer to help me on this.

A computer has a hard drive to remember things – a bit like memories and knowledge in the human brain. A hard drive becomes fragmented when files and folders get broken down and spread out over the hard drive over time. This slows the computer down because it cannot process information as easily which is not held together. It has to read multiple places on the disk to piece together the information it needs. Defragmenting, or ‘defragging‘,  ‘reorganizes the hard drive by putting pieces of related data back together so that files are organized in a contiguous fashion’. Contiguous means any two or more objects that are very close or connected in space or time.

When you undertake multiple tasks – or even create a long ‘to-do’ list for the day, you similarly spread your mental processing power. Thoughts on other tasks get in the way of you having continuous thoughts on a subject, and thereby slow your ability to achieve your objectives of getting things done. Even if things do get done, often the quality isn’t there because you haven’t been able to hold your attention on one thing for a sufficient period of time to get to the really good or break-through thinking. Don’t confuse this with the use of the conscious to take in multiple inputs for the unconscious to percolate on. In this concept, you absolutely focus on related subject matter for a period of time to gather inputs or ‘ingredients’ for your thinking, and then deliberately turn your conscious attention away to something else to enable your unconscious to work away in the background.

The problem with spreading your mental processing power as a human is that you haven’t got a power cable. Read more…

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