November 11, 2011

On again, off again

Smug monkey?
I've been all meta-focused: you know, focused on focusing?  And, I've come up with a little hypothesis.  Specifically, if I want to be as awesome as possible at my job, focus isn't just a matter of more is better.  Oh no, no, no, web-buddy. The name of the game is to attain an intensity of focus that is just right for the task: the Goldilocks Zone.... I couldn't come up with a better name.

I mean, sometimes we want to be a laser: when we're doing fine-motor work, or reading, for example.  During these activities, we want to pay some serious attention, because a wandering mind is a liability.  I've already talked about my experience with a wandering mind during fine-motor work, but I think more of us can relate to the effects of a wandering mind when we're reading: that sort of weird, absent-minded state where we "read" a whole lot of material, and then realize that we actually processed zero information.  I've had a similar thing happen to me when I'm driving where I won't remember much of the drive... What is up with that?!

However, at other times, we want our minds to wander.  A wandering mind is the kindling of the creative process.  (Nice metaphor, huh?) When we're trying to deal with complex decisions, or come up with new and inspired ideas, it's time to get our day-dream on.  It's in this state-of-mind where we incorporate all information at our disposal and we stumble on new ways of thinking about big-picture stuff.

So, what can we do, at a practical level, to take control of our focus?  My vote is meditation.  I can already predict what some of my college friends would say: "uh, why don't you get your pyramid-shaped crystals and your long,white robes and..."  You get the idea.

But meditation gets a bad rap.  Let's rename it "Thinking Practice", shall we?  Doesn't that feel better?  Now, we can practice thinking in different ways without feeling creepy and new-agey about it.  More and more, meditation is proving to be an effective way to improve attention control and emotional self-control.

So, in honor of "Thinking Practice" I propose the following Mind Game as an attempt to gain some metacognitive control over our intensity of focus:

On again, off again

Task: Count 100 breaths, then day-dream for 15 minutes.

Info: The purpose of this Mind Game it to practice switching between two levels of focus: high and low.  When we count 100 breaths, focus is critical: if we lose count, we have to start over.  Then, after being in a state of high focus, we should try to "let go" and let out mind wander.  Practice being in the two states in succession.

Goal: Get comfortable with both intense focus and relaxed, mind-wandering.

Further Reading:
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/2742/daydreamers-might-solve-problems-faster
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100714121737.htm
http://100breaths.com/index.htm - Just stumbled onto this website... Guess the 100 breaths thing has been "claimed"!

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