This week’s writing challenge via The Daily Post wants bloggers to delve into something we see as a lost art. Vague thoughts about over-reliance on technology immediately popped into my head, danced around for a bit, and then choreographed themselves into the idea that we have nearly lost the art of concentration.
Or rather, we have lost the art of not being distracted.
- When was the last time you went out with friends when one of you didn’t pull out your phone to text, check email, take a non-urgent call, etc.?
- When was the last time you sat down and truly focused on a project for more than 20 to 30 minutes?
- When was the last time you fully read a blog post or news article that was more than 250 words long? And I mean FULLY read, no skimming.
- When was the last time you went somewhere without some form of “connected” technology in your pocket/purse?
If you can’t remember the last time for most of these, you may have lost the art of not being distracted. Those distractions are bad for your brain.
Research from many sources including UCLA has shown that a distracted brain has trouble learning new skills, memorizing, performing well in cognitive tasks, and making decisions.
As a former neuroscience researcher, I fear for our brains.
When you learn, when you memorize something, your brain makes new connections. It strengthens your brain just as going for a walk strengthens your heart and pumping a bit of iron strengthens your muscles. And we all know what happens if you don’t strengthen something. You lose it.
You don’t want to lose your mind.
Think about how much our brains have already changed. Now, I’m not saying the written word is bad (after all, without writing and books, I’d be out of a job), but before books and literacy were common, people memorized.
And boy did they memorize. Bards could learn endless hours of poetry, merchants memorized their accounts, farmers memorized astronomical events in relation to agricultural events. People’s brains were not bigger than ours, most people were far less educated than us, and yet, they could memorize and learn far greater amounts of information than we do.
Tell me, how many of your close friends’ phone numbers do you know by heart? How many lines of poetry can you remember after only hearing a poem once?
I’m not saying we need to give up our technology. After all, it’s fun and handy. But I am saying we need to learn to use our brains a bit better before we all turn into the characters from the film Idiocracy.
What can you do? You have several options to pick from (or do all for a real brain boost):
- Sit down to read (and only read) for at least 20 minutes a day. Reading taps into the language center of your brain as well as the visual portion as you picture in your mind the story you’ve chosen. Plus, it’s relaxing which is very good for your brain.
- Learn something new that is not tech related. It doesn’t matter what. A new language, knitting, woodworking, whatever. Learning something new forces your brain to make new connections.
- Interact with real people. Talk to a (non-creepy) neighbor, chat with the cashier at the grocery store, have a conversation with your friends over the phone or in person (not via text). Talking to people and responding to questions requires brain flexibility and quick thinking. When you are out with friends, leave your damn phone in your pocket and focus on your buddies.
- Solve puzzles. Crosswords, memory games, Sudoku, and other puzzles and games are the equivalent of a weight set for your brain.
- Put your technology aside (far aside) as you do something. Even I have to do this. If my iPad is within arm’s reach as I’m writing, I will end up checking my email, Twitter, etc. instead of writing. After all, if you keep temptation out of the way, you’ll cave in less to that temptation (same goes for cookies).
- Use a map to get somewhere. Finding your way using a map instead of a GPS system requires a huge amount of brain power and cognitive skills. And if you get lost, you’ll get a chance to interact with someone to ask for help.
- Relax. Our brains are constantly activated. Give your brain a break by setting all technology aside (or turn it off) for at least five minutes a day and just sit quietly trying not to think of anything. Call it meditation, call it zoning out, it will refresh your brain.
So, how’s your brain today?