Just Seven Things

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

Archive for the category “Happiness”

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

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Advertisements

Why Do We Really Have a Brain?

A human’s answer to this question will, I think, always naturally bias towards more ‘intelligent’ or sophisticated interpretations. Like an onion with many layers, I’m sure that most things we come up with as explanations have a place and play a part in the overall picture.

Arguments about how early human’s brains developed further within a social/ community context to help them interact, plan and understand the mental worlds of others (and thereby understand intentions) feel like a solid layer toward the centre of the onion.

So too is our ability to plan for future needs, fantasising about future scenarios and creating an ‘inner world (which) develops into a ‘mirror of the future’ in which we can simulate the consequences of alternative paths of action instead of proceeding by trial-and-error, which is far less effective.’ [Eva Krutmeijer text in an article about philosopher Peter Gärdenfors on the Carl Linnaeus website]

I have sometimes marvelled personally at the gap between my own personal plans and intentions and the actual physical action to make them real. The role of energy and physical movement or action to catalyse a planned process is obvious, but I think telling; I can remember times in the past when I’ve sat in a comfy chair or lain in bed, with the act of standing up and doing all the things I need to do to leave the house and enact the day’s plans seeming like an insurmountable mountain of activity. There is an interesting correlation between mental health, the symptoms of depression and tell-tale signs in prolonged periods doing nothing/ staying in bed, as well as reduced social interaction.

I had stalled in reading Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell’s book, Human Givens. Reviewing my notes before restarting the other night, I came upon my early highlighting of ‘movement is fundamental to the very existence of brains, which developed primarily to control movement, to predict the outcome of movement and remember the result of past movements’. They use the example of the tiny marine sea creature, the sea quirt, which early in its life swims like a tadpole with a brain and nerve cord to control its movements. When mature it attaches to a rock, stays in one place, and digests its own brain and nerve cord because it no longer has a use for them.

Over the last 3-4 years the amount of physical activity I do has increased significantly. So too have my levels of happiness and contentment. I find myself structuring my days to front load physical exercise and activity as a real kick-start to the day. Even without physical sport, I now find that what feels like an internal binary switch of satisfied/ not satisfied with my day is directly connected with being out and about and active.

Energy, and the food intake to fuel it, obviously plays an important supporting role in this whole discussion, but I wanted to leave this piece with the following couple of areas of thought:

  • ‘The mental faculty for controlling movement is crucial to daily life. It is involved in conceiving and idea of what to do, planning a response, and then carrying it out. (Literally, when we think about getting a book down from the shelf, our brains stimulate the movement’ [Griffin/Tyrell, Human Givens]. This highlights two things: first, when we mentally plan and visualise something that we create as a goal, we prime the same areas of the brain to engage in the activity to deliver into reality: ‘the primary motor cortex and the premotor cortex are both located in the frontal lobe…..which…determines where we direct our attention. It also appears to direct our consciousness itself’ [Griffin/Tyrell, Human Givens]. The second is that, arguably, we have the ability to kickstart our journey towards our plans and goals by just starting. The very act of movement and action should very quickly overcome any mental resistance to the enormity of any task
  • The above isn’t rocket science. And that’s kind of the point that ties me back to my opening line. We are endowed with a higher level of consciousness that bestows many benefits, but I would argue a tendency to overassess the complexity of what’s really going on in our brains, and under-estimate how easy it is to ‘hot-wire’ or hack ourselves to achieve our desired results. Movement is increasingly feeling like a universal ‘backdoor’ or master override key or code to ourselves.

Talking to Myself Again

Yep. I’m talking to myself more and more these days. I’ve even started emailing myself. The onset of madness, or management for a healthy mind?

In fairness, I’ve not yet got to the stage that others I know have. I’m not giving myself pep talks or motivating myself with inspirational statements. I’m not even really chastising myself for thinking unproductive/damaging thoughts.

No, it’s more of a pressure release valve. For the last year or two I’ve been trying to listen to myself. I’ve been trying to get good at picking up on the signals (for me, normally tension or lightness in my middle chest: the place you feel when you breath in deeper than you normally do….)

Why am I doing this? Mainly because I’ve realised that I’m a very simple creature. I’ve spent the last few years putting in place trusted systems, and learning some perspectives and processes (plus the pop-neurological background….), that have enabled me to strip myself back to my kind of core ‘operating model’

Sounds a bit up it’s own arse I know. It’s just meant to highlight my view that certain things work for certain people. For me, if I take an action when the middle chest place feels blocked or tense, I immediately get back to lightness in that place. That lightness stops me being distracted from the here and now. And as long as I make sure I spend the here and now doing as many of the things that I really want to do, then my happiness is optimised.

The actions I need to take to alleviate the tension are invariably for the future, rather than immediate. Using the trusted systems, I give myself an action, send myself a message (or send someone else a message or action)

So. My advice? Talk to yourself more often.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: