Posts Tagged "attention"

Hyper-Stimulated World

Posted on Aug 18, 2015 | 0 comments

Hyper-Stimulated World

As the cool water envelopes my feet I sense my continuity with the water, indeed with all of life. I am home exactly where I am. This was a thought I had yesterday while out rock climbing on the river near where I live. This was not some kind of mind-blowing spiritual revelation. Just a simple moment of uncomplicated awareness. What did strike me on reflection though was how much this is related to why I am doing the Slow Project and Way of Nature retreat guiding. While I consider such moments at once profound yet also ordinary, I remember that this was not always the case and truly appreciate the effect this quality of awareness has had on my life. Let’s take a step back and have a look at our senses in today’s world. Most of human history has been spent in times where there were immediate physical dangers. Our nervous systems have adapted accordingly. We are hardwired to react to novel stimuli because, as far as our nervous system knows, it might indicate a threat. These days most people do not live in situations where danger might lurk around every corner, however the quantity and intensity of sensory input has escalated off the charts. Consider the changes to the human habitat since the industrial revolution; increasing density of urban living, cars, advertisements, marketing materials, loud speakers, artificial light, etc. It is a ‘hyperstimulated’ world that we live in. You might be wondering what is the problem with this stimulation. We do have positive association with the word ‘stimulated’ and I agree that intense sensory input cannot be glorious in itself, but everything is about balance. “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom” – Francis Bacon Some people are particularly prone to adverse reactions to excessive stimulation. I became interested in sensory processing during my time as as an Occupational Therapist. I learnt about how our nervous systems must filter through and modulate incoming stimuli in order for us to be able to function. Efficient sensory modulation is the ability to effectively regulate the degree to which one is influenced by various sensory inputs. For many people, and especially children as their nervous system is still maturing, sensory processing poses a challenge and disorders result. We all have different ‘sensory profiles’, sensing and letting in different quantities of stimuli from our various sense organs and then filtering it differently through our systems of perception. Even if it is not at a ‘disorder’ level, we have our own sensory challenges. I also wonder if the changing sensory environment of the modern world is leading to an increase in sensory processing disorders because it is not what our nervous systems evolved to live in. Too much sensory stimulation results in a stress response and sometimes a ‘shut down.’ Sensory overload has actually been used as a method of torture. Bit of a side note – but it was too interesting not to mention – in my research I discovered that creative people tend to have reduced ‘sensory gating’; letting in more stimuli than others. However when our prefrontal cortex is activated, creativity is suppressed. The prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, cranking itself up for new stimuli and moving your attention to the source of the stimuli.((http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/modern-world-bad-for-brain-daniel-j-levitin-organized-mind-information-overload)) Creatives often advocate for the need for silence. This bombardment and relentless activation of the prefrontal cortex also fractures our attention, switching our focus over to the source of the new stimuli. This is a disaster for efficiency and also delivers a double stress-whammy. Multitasking increases the production of the stress hormone...

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Foundations of Focus

Posted on Feb 25, 2015 | 0 comments

Foundations of Focus

The ability to focus is absolutely crucial to being able to live Slow. For the last month, myself and a small group lightly held the intent to inquire into the nature and mechanisms of focus. Here is what I discovered to be foundational to my ability to focus: 1. Health Crystal clear thinking benefits greatly from the energy flowing through a healthy body, along with escaping the distractions of physical complaints. As we know, physical and mental health go hand in hand and it works both ways. I chose this month as a focus month because of the many challenges life is passing my way at the moment. In the ‘less centred’ moments that come along at such times, my old neck injury flares up, leaving me stiff, in pain and fuzzy-headed. Ah yes, there’s the reminder to dedicate some of your focus to self care and compassion! I did a 1-day juice fast to give me body space to reset and it did wonders. 2. Routine Routines work wonders for focus because you are not wasting any of your attentional effort on the little things. It works for me to consider appropriate rest cycles; work in rounds of 50 minutes on, 10 minutes rest and have one day a week which is more rest than work. It also helps at the end of each day to think about the 3 most important things to do the next day to help set boundaries by eliminating choice. Take a brief moment to plan how to go about your day ahead before launching into the work. BUT be prepared to give all the above up and just do. I noticed myself spending so much attention on wondering if I had my schedule right, caught in expectations I had set for myself, that it was better just to release that expectations and just start. 3. Ritual Begin the day with a small ritual to centre on your intent. Meditation plus visualisation is great, although I found a shortcut of simply verbalising my intent was better than nothing! In the evening reflecting on what you are grateful for is an alchemical powerhouse, helping to melt the internal contractions that would only serve as distractions. A little prayer before bed is a nice implant into the subconscious also. 4. Fun Connect with what excites you about your work. Amazing how distractions disappear when you play! 5. Fear  Reflect on what you are avoiding by choosing not to focus. That fuzzy abyss between where you think you want to be and where you are is probably due to things you are avoiding. 6. Environment Consider how you can set up your surroundings to aid focus. Decluttering, having a dedicated work space (in my case as opposed to the kitchen table next to the refrigerator), visual prompts to remind you of your 3 most important ‘to-do’ tasks and turning off email and social media notifications is a good start. Also consider not checking email except at certain times of the day. My rule was no email or Facebook until after midday, leaving more space for my most important work at the most productive time of day. 7. Training There is simply no avoiding the fact that if you want your mind to focus better, you MUST train it. Modern life is so full of distracting stimuli that clamber against each other for your precious and limited attention. If we allow the mind to switch-task or engage in continual-partial-attention constantly, it wires itself for distraction. Conversely if we train it through meditation, our attention becomes a tool...

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Why spreading yourself too thin is such a beguiling trap (thanks FOMO) and what to do about it

Posted on Feb 3, 2014 | 0 comments

Why spreading yourself too thin is such a beguiling trap (thanks FOMO) and what to do about it

As I make my own Slow transition, I have been reflecting on just how thin I had been spreading myself, the detrimental effects of this, why it occurs and how to correct it. Along the lines of my habit, intention and routine blog posts, I’ve had to face the fact that trying to do everything, no matter how awesome those things are, leads to only half doing everything. which is frustrating at best, and can be depressing. Carl Honore describes this as doing everything hurriedly and nothing well, a symptom of Fast culture. Slowing down in order to regain a sense of control1 and mastery2, both fundamentally important to health and happiness, was certainly one of my motivations for the project. Here is a saying that has stuck with me for years: “Happiness is simple, simplicity is difficult” Life is amazing and there’s so much cool stuff to do! Yes but spreading yourself too thin leads to half-finished tasks, multitasking (which is not actually multitasking it is dividing and losing your attention) hobbies you never master and stay stuck at the ‘beginner’ level, not being able to fully get in the moment with these activities, and grass is greener thinking which leads you to switching activities in case something else is better, and the cycle continues. Remember this: if you don’t have attention, you don’t have time3  How does this occur? We live in a hyper connected world where we are constantly presented with options and choices, and moreover we can see what other people are doing so much more than ever before. We are social creatures and are hardwired to compare ourselves to others which has a significant effect on our happiness. Consider this point from Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less; when you consider or are presented with more options you experience more buyer’s remorse and the outcome is less fulfilling. I’m pretty darn sure this transfers over to experiences not just material objects. Heard of FOMO before? That is the twitter-friendly acronym for ‘fear of missing out.’ FOMO has become quite a phenomenon in itself, noticeably aggravated by heightened awareness of how much is going on thanks to social media. But thanks to the acknowledgement of this as a phenomenon, a distinct backlash against it has been enabled. Check out this article on the Joy of Missing Out. This is the double-edged sword of the privilege; there is so much we could do, how do you content yourself with only a small fraction of the buffet? It doesn’t help that we live in a Fast-dominated culture where we are groomed to take on a ‘do everything’ mentality. What happened to down-time?! The value of rest and reflection has been somewhat forgotten along the way. What can we do about it?  Some people I know really seem to be able to take on a significantly larger number of things and thrive. So I’m not trying to say just do less full stop (Slow is about ‘just right’, not extremes), but in our Fast-dominated culture there is certainly a tendency to err to the side of too much. There is no magic formula determining how many hobbies you should have, how many times per week you should see your friends etc; it is up to you to be true to yourself, reflect (a lot, I’m realising) and make the changes, even if initially uncomfortable, that bring meaning and happiness to your life. Although there is truth in it, “learning to say no” is overly simplistic. Teasing out what are the things to devote time to...

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