Archive for August, 2019

Decrease Negativity

August 31, 2019

The following post is based on a book by a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” The first tactic is to dispute the negative thoughts you are thinking. First of all, learn what you can from the experience such as starting a project earlier so cramming will not be needed at the end. Find whatever negative thoughts are useful, and learn from them. Remaining negative thoughts, such as criticizing yourself and your intelligence, should be disposed of. What is useful use. The remainder should be sent to your mental trash folder. Learning to dispute nonproductive forms of negative thinking is at the heart of cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. The author writes that you don’t need to have a diagnosable mental illness to benefit from this skill. You can use it to keep inevitable negativity at bay.

Another technique is to break the grip of rumination. Ruminating involves the consistent thoughts that keep running through your mind over and over. The first step is to identify that you are ruminating, and if these ruminations are not offering anything helpful, then stop doing it.

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. So you need to do something that literally takes your mind off of your ruminations. Go for a jog. Go for for a swim. Fix your bike. Lift weights at the gym. Meditate or do yoga. Find some activity that totally absorbs you. You could call your friend and ask about his latest trip. Or you could read those articles you’ve been meaning to read for your next project at work.

You can become more mindful. You can meditate or engage in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Enter “mindfulness” “meditation,” or “MBSR,” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

You can ask yourself which circumstances usher in the most negativity. Is it your commute? Mealtime? Interactions with certain family members or co-workers? Once you’ve identified the cause ask yourself, Is this negativity necessary? Is it gratuitous? Is it both?

Assess your media diet. A rule of thumb for news broadcasters is “If it bleeds, it leads.” Years ago marketeers discovered that negativity grabs your attention, draws you in, and keeps you watching. Surveys show that the more people watch television, the more violent they judge the world to be. Those who watch a lot of TV are not better informed about the evils of the world. They’re not. They grossly overestimate rates of violence. People who watch less TV are more accurate judges of the degree of risk we all might encounter each day.

Find substitutes for gossip and sarcasm. When you talk about others, highlight their positive qualities and good fortunes, not their weaknesses and mishaps. When poking fun, poke fun lightly. Hurl puns, not barbs, Avoid hidden forms of verbal aggression that cause needless guilt, humiliation, irritation, or self-consciousness to you or conversation partners. Occasions for necessary negativity abound, so there’s little need to manufacture negativity with you daily banter. Doing so needlessly cripples your positivity ratio and crushes your odds of flourishing.

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Growing Positivity

August 30, 2019

This post provides an evaluation instrument for rating your own positivity. The remaining posts, all based on a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D, will provide advice and exercises for growing positivity. The survey below proves a tool for rating your own positivity:

Instructions: How have you felt in the past day? Look back over the past day (i.e., from this time yesterday up to right now). Using the 0-4 scale below, indicate the greatest degree that you’ve experienced of each of the following feelings.
0 = Not at all
1 = A little bit
2 = Moderately
3 = Quite a bit
4 = Extremely

What is the most amused, fun-loving, or silly you felt?

What is the most angry, irritated, or annoyed you felt?

What is the most ashamed, humiliated, or disgraced you felt?

What is the most awe, wonder, or amazement you felt?

What is the most contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful you felt?

What is the most disgust, distaste, or revulsion you felt?

What is the most embarrassed, self-conscious, or blushing you felt?

What is the most grateful, appreciative, or thankful you felt?

What is the most guilty, repentant, or blameworthy you felt?

What is the most hate, distrust, or suspicion you felt?

What is the most hopeful, optimistic, or encouraged you felt?

What is the most inspired, uplifted, or elevated you felt?

What is the most interested, alert, or curious you felt?

What is the most joyful, glad, or happy you felt?

What is the most love, closeness, or trust you felt?

What is the most proud, confident, or self-assured you felt?

What is the most sad, downhearted, or unhappy you felt?
What is the most scared, fearful, or afraid you felt?

What is the most serene, content, or peaceful you felt?

What is the most stressed, nervous, or overwhelmed you felt?

There are ten items that reflect positivity. These are the ones that begin with the words amused, awe, grateful, hopeful, interested, joyful, love, proud, and serene

There are ten items that reflect negativity. These begin with the words, angry, shamed, contemptuous, disgust, embarrassed, guilty, hate, sad, scared, and stressed.

Count the number of circled positivity items that you scored as a 2 or higher.

Count the number of underlined negativity items that you endorsed as 1 or higher.

Calculate the ratio by dividing your positive tally by your negative tally. If your negativity count is zero for today, consider it to be a 1, to sidestep the can’t-divide-by-zero problem. The resulting number represents your positivity ratio for today.
A ratio of 3 is regarded as the tipping point into positivity. This is also called flourishing. Of course, you can keep growing above this ratio.

You should also be able to take this test online by going to
PositivityRatio.com

You can take this test now or whenever you choose to begin the posts providing advice and exercises for growing positivity. This enables you to measure your progress as you master known positivity techniques.

Build Your Best Future

August 29, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in of a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. title “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” The beginning of this chapter follows:

“You are constantly changing—not just your clothes or your hairstyle, but your inner core, the very essence of your being. Change is the rule, constancy the rare exception. Consider the change under way within you at this very moment. What you know as “you” is actually trillions of cells living and working together. Most only live for a few weeks or months. When they die, they re replaced by new cells. This cycle continues for as long as you live.

The pace of cell renewal varies by body part. Your taste buds live only a few hours. Your white blood cells live about ten days. Your muscle cells live about three months. Even your bones are made anew time and time again. Considering these differences, scientists have suggested that you replace about 1 percent of your cells each day. That’s 1 percent today, another 1 percent tomorrow, amounting to roughly 30 percent by next month, and 100 percent by next season. Seeing yourself and your cells in this way, every three months you get a whole new you. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it takes around three months to learn a new habit or make a lifestyle change. Perhaps we can’t teach an old cell new tricks. Perhaps our best hope lies in teaching our new cells.

At one time scientists thought that your brain cells were different, that they didn’t change. Perhaps they even orchestrated the cycle of cell death and rebirth elsewhere in your body. Not so. Even key brain cells wither away and are reborn. Every part of you can change, and your brain is no exception.

More fascinating still is the discovery that the pace of cell renewal doesn’t simply follow some predetermined script. It varies depending on what you do and how you feel. A key signal tells your cells whether to decay or grow, for instance, is movement. A sedentary lifestyle hastens cell decay, An active lifestyle hastens cell renewal. This is true for both your body and your brain.

Your emotions are thought to be another key signal. Negativity prompts cell decay. Positivity prompts cell growth. At a very basic biological level, then, positivity is life-giving.

These scientific discoveries about the ever-changing nature of your body and brain are fully consistent with the second core truth about positivity: it transforms us for the better.”

Remember the metaphor presented in the Post, “Best Way to Think About Memory.” The metaphor is that the best way to think about your brain is as a corporate building. Your conscious mind resides in the executive suite at the top floor of the building. All of you memories and cognitive resources can be found at the floors below. Having positive thoughts and thinking about problem situations in constructive ways will have a profound beneficial effect on your memory, your feelings, and your sense of fulfillment as a human being.

Positivity

August 28, 2019

Positivity

Positivity is the title of a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” Do not be put off by the hype. This book offers guidance on developing a more positive outlook on life

Readers of the healthy memory blog should know that a positive outlook is key to both mental health and physical health as well as a fulfilling life. Healthy memory blog readers should also be aware that we humans have a negative bias, which leads us to a negative outlook. This can be good if it forewarns us of danger, but, for most of us, at least danger does not loom around every corner.

Our negativity is further exacerbated by the nature of the news, which tends to feature negative articles, as well as the internet, which can further exacerbate negativity.

Indeed, the current president of the United States campaigned on fear and negativity and continues during his presidency to promote fear and negativity among his base (nazis and white supremacists) to increase, in his mind, his chances of winning reelection.

Six important facts about Positivity follow:

Fact 1. Positivity feels good. This alone could justify being positive as that the simple state of being positive is a pleasant experience.

Fact 2. Positivity changes how your mind works. Positivity does not just change the contents of your mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of your mind. It widens the span of possibilities that you see.

Fact 3. Positivity transforms your future. Although good feelings will forever be fleeting, over time, positivity literally brings out the best in you.

Fact 4. Positivity puts the brakes on negativity. In a heartbeat negativity can spike your blood pressure, but positivity can calm it.

Fact 5. Positivity obeys a tipping point. Dr. Frederickson writes, the most stunning and practical fact to emerge from the science of positivity is that its effects are nonlinear. Effects that are virtually nonexistent at one starting point grow disproportionately large at a different starting point. A tipping point is that sweet spot in between where a small change makes a big difference.

Fact 6. You can increase your positivity. You have more to say than you think, just as does the potential for life-giving positivity.

Positivity broadens and builds. Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.

Positivity transforms us for the better. This is the second core truth about positive emotions. By opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being.

An Extremely Misleading Title

August 27, 2019

And that title would be “Heading off a concussion crisis” in the Sports section of the 21 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The author of this article is Roman Stubbs. The article is about Brittni Souder a soccer player who has ruined her health playing soccer. Now she is trying to help girls avoid a similar fate. No evidence is presented and there is no reason to believe that what she is teaching is of any value. That evaluation would need to take place over years to see if there is any evidence of a beneficial effect from Souder’s instructions.

There are about 300,000 adolescents who suffer concussions while participating in organized sports every year. In matched sports, girls are 12.1% more likely to suffer a concussion than boys, a 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found. It was also concluded that female soccer players are more likely to suffer a concussion than male football players—and three times more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury than male soccer players.

Wellington Hsu, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern who led the study said, “What was very surprising was that girls’ soccer was just as impactful as boys’ football. Girls who play soccer really need to be aware of these issues. These symptoms plus having a second concussion is sequentially worse than the first one.”

Former U.S. National team members Brandi Chasten and Michelle Akers announced that they would participate in a Boston University study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. No female athlete has been diagnose with CTE, which can only be confirmed through autopsy. Akers and Chasten have publicly expressed concern about memory loss since they retired from soccer.

HM thinks that any educational entity that sponsors sports that can damage the brain is hypocritical. Presumably the justification for sports is that they develop teamwork and build healthy bodies. But if the brain is damaged, this justification evaporates. Sports can be modified, or new ones developed, that preclude brain injury.

Brain Injuries of Tackle Football

August 26, 2019

This post is based on an article with a similar title by Robert C. Cantu and Mark Hyman in the Health & Science Section of the 20 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The authors ask that the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams post the following statement:
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Tackle football is dangerous for children. Children who play football absorb repeated hits to the head. As adults, they’re at higher risk of suffering cognitive deficits as well as behavioral and mood problems.
The authors suggest that this warning be placed on every youth football helmet and placed in bold type on all youth tackle football registration forms. A parent or guardian wouldn’t be able to sign up their children without seeing it.

Since 2015, Boston University’s (BU) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center has published three studies all leading to the following conclusion: Adults who played tackle football as children were more likely to deal with emotional and cognitive challenges later in life.

One study dug into the sports-playing pasts of 214 former football players. They found that starting as a player in a tackle football program before age 12 corresponded with increased odds for clinical depression, apathy and executive function problems—for example, diminished insight, judgment, and multitasking.

In another study, researchers zeroed in on the effects of head slams by comparing groups of adults who started in football before and after age 12 and who went on to develop CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive hits in sports. Those in the study who played before age 12 experienced cognitive deficits—also behavioral and mood problems—a full 13 years earlier than those starting at 12 or older. For every year younger that someone was exposed to tackle football, the start of cognitive problems occurred 2.4 years earlier.

All states have concussion laws, which acquire special attention for athletes when they suffer concussions. But concussions are not a necessary condition for cognitive and behavioral problems. In the BU studies, brain injury was not linked to concussion but to long-term exposure to repeated subconcussive hits. Long-term exposure to subconcussive hits has been associated with CTE. The problem with subconcussive hits is that they become a problem years after they occur.

Now is a good time to review the true virtue of sports. They develop teamwork and promote physical health. So, why then, do sports that injure body and mind continue? Perhaps adults might continue so they could prosper in professional sports. But why should they be allowed, much less promoted for, children.

Previous healthy memory sports have pointed up the obvious irony of playing of football in institutions devoted to learning and healthy brains. The obvious justification for continuing to play these sports is money. Some universities and colleges are nothing more than fronts for football teams that ooze money into the university. Unfortunately, there are too many alumni who care only about the success of their teams, and not the quality of education offered at their schools, nor considerations about the future brain and mental health of future alumni.

The MVP Machine

August 25, 2019

The title of this post is the first part of a title of a new book by Ben Lindburgh and Travis Sawchik. The remainder of the title is “How Baseball’s New Noncomfortists Are Using Data to Build Better Players.” Initially HM read this book purely for his own interest in baseball, and he would recommend this book to anyone interested in baseball. But HM encountered topics integral to the Healthymemory blog including fixed mindset, growth mindsets, deliberate practice, and GRIT. So this book could be regarded as applying principles in the healthy memory blog to baseball.

A good place to begin this post is with Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey is famous for recruiting the first black player into the major leagues. Rickey was the general manager of the Dodgers (then in Brooklyn). Even though this was a major breakthrough in Civil Rights, Rickey’s immediate goal was to build a contending major league baseball team. A further goal was to bring a higher quality to major league baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson, Rickey developed a minor league system to provide polished players to major league baseball. Prior to Rickey, baseball suffered from a fixed mindset. That is, they believed that good baseball players were born and not made, and the job was to find these fellows and sign them for major league teams.

But Rickey had a growth mindset. He thought that minor league teams were needed so that new players could learn and master new skills. That was the purpose for these minor league teams. Rickey told his staff not to criticize a player’s messed up play without telling them how to correct the error.

Remember that Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has researched and developed the concept of growth mindsets. Anders Ericsson developed the concept of deliberate practice which takes place out of one’s comfort zone and requires someone to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands new-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable (enter “deliberate practice” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.)

Angela Duckworth developed the concept of GRIT, which refers to the mental toughness required to develop and master important skills. Once again there are many healthy memory blog posts so just enter GRIT is the search block as described above.

The best-selling book “Moneyball,” described how sabermetrics were being used to develop a smarter type of baseball. This new book is moving beyond sabermetrics and using data to build better players. Much of this work is dependent upon new technology used to develop new metrics to capture human performance.

If you watch baseball on television, you are likely aware of some of this technology. When a player hits a home run stats on launch angle and speed appear on the screen. Technology has also been employed for pitching. Extremely high speed cameras enable the capturing of the spin rates and spin axis of the baseball. There had been an argument among pitchers whether they consciously released the ball when they threw it. The fast speed cameras revealed that pitchers don’t release the ball by moving their fingers. Rather, the hand accelerates the ball linearly forcing the fingers to extend or open. These high speed cameras not only allow for pitchers to improve their throwing, but also allow for the creation of entirely new pitches. Using a knowledge of physics, the study of speed, spin rate, and spin axis new pitches can be theorized. Then pitchers learn how to change their throwing to produce the pitches. The effectiveness of these new pitches can be tested against a range of batters.

These technologies are allowing for marginal players to develop their skills to make or stay in the big leagues. The skills of even highly paid players deteriorate, This results in teams being stuck with high salaries for non producing players. However, the new technology provides a means of correcting and upgrading their skills. An assembly line of players at different skill levels can be developed so the they can step into active roles when needed. This is true for both pitchers and batters.

However, pitchers are at somewhat of an advantage. They produce a pitch, which might be the first time that the pitch has been thrown in a game, and batters are forced to react. So even though that batters are able to produce more home runs, new developments in pitches might reduce the total scoring. Fans need to wait and see, but they should be aware that they’re currently watching a dynamic environment.

What the authors term “soft psychology” is playing a bigger and bigger role. The mind and mindfulness have important roles in baseball. First of all, there is the battle of the batter against the catcher and pitcher. This begins with the battle of minds in terms of what the batter expects and how the pitcher can foil the batter’s expectations.

For individual players, baseball is a game of highs and lows. Batters fall into slumps. Pitchers discover that batters are starting to hit them hard, For professional players this goes beyond simple succeeding or failing, as large amounts of money can be at stake.

In spite of the conspicuous roles of individual players, baseball is a team game. Consequently, getting along with one’s teammates is extremely important. It could be said that baseball calls for mindfulness all around.

If Only, Rapt Attention and the Focused Life

August 24, 2019

Please allow HM to indulge in a fantasy. That fantasy is what the world would be like if all humans engaged in rapt attention and the focused life. The previous fifteen posts were based on a book by Winifred Gallagher titled Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. If you have not already read these posts, then it is unlikely that this current post will make much sense to you.

First, all of humanity would be enjoying fulfilling, healthy lives. We would not be reading regularly of a gunman shooting strangers, then turning the gun on himself. Whenever one of these shootings receives coverage by CNN, Wolf Blitzer says they are investigating the shooting to understand why the shooting is happening. He never finds the answer and he never will unless he reads Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. These shooters are full of anger and hatred, and it is not anything that has happened to them. Rather it is due to how they are interpreting what their life is offering to them. They feel they are being cheated. Paranoia prevails and his mind is full of thoughts of all the enemies he has and all the evils in the world. His primary mental activity is rumination where he continues these thoughts and elaborates and grows them further. He lives in his own world divorced from reality. Many of these shooters end by committing suicide, and it is only by suicide, they think, they can escape the hell of their existence. Even if they don’t die by their own hand, one thinks they think that lawmen will finish the job. Rapt attention and the focused life is the best way of precluding this anger and hatred through positive thoughts and a fulfilling life.

It is also clear that had Donald Trump been practicing rapt attention and living a focused life, then the political nightmare being experienced in the United States would not be happening. Donald Trump clearly understands those with his mindset, and this understanding makes him a genius at exploiting this mindset. His total mindset consists of false information which he conveys in his messages. The threat that immigrants pose to the United States does not exist. Russia remains an adversary to the United States, but rather than defending against this adversary he recruits it in making him President of the United States. He ignores the intelligence he receives from the best intelligence service in the world. He ignores the best science being produced in the United States and dismantles regulations needed for the environment. What is good is what makes a buck and to hell with everything else. He admires totalitarian dictators and would very much like to be one of them. He finds democracy and the branches of government hampering him. He shows complete contempt for the Constitution and to the principles upon which the United States was founded.

One driving fear white supremacists have is that white people will soon become a minority. Why do they have this fear? Do they fear that what they have done to native americans, blacks, and another non-whites will be done to them? This is unlikely. And System 2 processing along with rapt attention and the focused life, leads one to the conclusion that whites becoming a minority is not only something to be feared, but also something that will lead to a better United States.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Meaning: Attending to What Matters Most

August 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the last chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The author writes, “Not coincidentally, the disciplines that direct your attention to something large and awe-inspiring, whether called God or universe, consciousness or commonweal, also focus on the improvement of your self and your world and on the appreciation of life. Indeed, philosophy, religions, and psychology advance many of the same kinds of behavior that account for much of our species’ success. At the very least, focusing on values such as altruism and forgiveness that stir positive emotions expands your attentional range, whether trained on your own possibilities or others’ needs, which benefits not only you but also the community.

The following is taken from the AFTERWORD: …”I’ve come to feel that paying rapt attention is life, at least at its best.”

and

“Some of what I’ve learned about attention has very practical applications. Aware of our limited focusing capacity, I take pains to ensure that electronic media and machines aren’t in charge of mine. When I need to learn and remember certain information, do difficult work, or acquire a new skill, I shield myself from such distraction for at least ninety minutes at a stretch. If I tense up over a big decision, I remember the fortune-cookie rule: nothing is as important as I think it is when I’m focusing on it.

Confronted with a seemingly dull chore—say, the laundry—I recall James experiment with the dot on the piece of paper and do it a little differently. (One day last summer, when I decided to hang the clothes on the line outdoors instead of just sticking them in the dryer, I saw a double rainbow). When I can’t fathom something that a dear one has just said or done, I try to remember that he or she focuses on a different world, and ask for some illumination.”

Healthy: Energy Goes Where Attention Flows

August 22, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The chapter begins, “Where your physical and mental health are concerned, it’s hard to exaggerate attention’s
importance in shaping you immediate experience and seeking your long-term well being. Strengthening your ability to direct your focus away from negative ideas and events when such cognition serves no purpose and to reframe setbacks as challenges or even opportunities helps you handle stress and approach life as a creation rather than a reaction.”

Research shows that the depressed routinely focus on the negative thoughts and feelings guaranteed to make them feel hopeless and helpless—the cognitive and emotional ingredients of the blues. Even when asleep, the melancholy tend to focus on futility. The prevalence of this bleak mind-set among the depressed—about 10% of Americans in the course of their lifetimes leads one to believe this nourish “selective abstraction” is a crucial element of this disorder. These individuals focus on whatever experiences they had, to the exclusion of positive ones or the larger context. Even when looking back into the past, they tend to recall negative events.

But to succeed in the rough-and-tumble game of life you can’t afford to focus on the dark side. In order to keep going up to bat, you have to believe, that if you press, sooner or later you’ll hit the ball. It’s hard to keep swinging if you’re convinced you’ll strike out.

The correction of chronically misdirected attention is a public health issue. Depression costs the American economy about $44 billion a year in lost productivity due to affected employees’ reduced ability to concentrate, remember, and make decisions. Maladaptive patterns of attention aren’t limited to depression but obtain across the spectrum of behavioral disorders. Just as the melancholy focus on negative information, the anxious and paranoid home in on the threatening sort. Some troubled individuals selectively attend to negative physical rather than psychological cues. Victims of panic disorder fixate on medical catastrophe, hypochondriacs on bodily symptoms, and insomniacs on the consequence of insufficient sleep. As with depression, effective cognitive-behavioral treatments for these disorders aim to correct the distorted attention patterns that underlie them.

The theorist Beck notes that William James would be pleased with cognitive therapy for several reasons. First, he says “because it emphasized consciousness, which provides many of the clues to understanding psychiatric disorders as well as normal psychology. Secondly, cognitive therapy is pragmatic, and James was a pragmatist.’ The truth is what works.

Medical treatments that harness attention are not limited to mental health. The ability to control attention and channel it in affirmative directions can improve longevity was evident in an intensive study of the School Sisters of Notre Dame born before 1917. Researchers found that 9 out of 10 nuns from the quarter of the group who focused most on upbeat thought, feelings, and events lived past the age of 58, but only 1 in 3 of the population’s least positively minded quarter survived that long.

The work of Kabat-Zinn is discussed, but as his work has been reviewed in prior posts, it will not be presented again here. This work can be found by entering “Kabat-Zinn” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. Meditation and mindfulness can greatly assist in focusing on positive thoughts, an there is an enormous number of healtymemory posts on these topics.

In closing it needs to be noted that not just anxiety and depression, but also cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction can be bound up with what we focus on and how. The chapter concludes, “Learning to shift your attention away from unhelpful thoughts and emotions and recast negative events in the most productive light possible is one of the most important of all “health habits” to cultivate. The recognition of the role played by skewed attentional patterns in mental disorders is one of modern psychiatry’s greatest advances. As research blurs the distinction between many mind and body problems, increasing numbers of people who suffer from hypertension, infertility, and psoriasis as well as from stress add a regimen of paying rapt attention to their medical treatment, which at the very least increases the feeling of control over one’s own experience that’s essential to well-being.”

Motivation: Eyes on the Prize

August 21, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. When you decide to lose weight we experience an interaction between attention and motivation. The term motivation comes from the Latin movere, meaning “to move.” Depending on our motivation, we may decide to wolf down a piece of pie or stick to a new low-carb diet. Once we choose our goal, our focus narrows, so that the pie a la mode or fitting into our jeans again dominates our mental landscape. Addiction is the most dramatic example when the motivation to get high restricts attention to the point that the drug seems like the most important thing in the world.

A Northwester University neuroscientist, Marsel Mesulam scanned the brains of research participants while they looked at images of tools and edibles after they had fasted for eight hours. Later, after feasting on their favorite goodies until full, they went back under the scanner to inspect the pictures again. When the twists of scans were compared, it was clear that the amygdala, a brain structure one of whose functions include gauging whether something is desirable or not, reacted more strongly to the images of foods when the subjects were hungry, but not to those of the tools. So depending on your motivation, a certain part of your brain can respond to the same visual experience in vastly different ways.

Obesity epidemics provide stunning illustrations of what can happen when motivation and attention become disconnected from daily behavior in general and each other in particular. Reasonable people would say that their nutritional goal is to stay healthy and eat right, many simply don’t focus on their food and how much they actually consume. In Mindless Eating, Cornell marketing and nutritional scientist Brian Lansink offers numerous examples of how this lack of focusing helps pile on the pounds. As if still motivated by childhood’s Clean Plate Award, moviegoers will gobble 53% more nasty, stale popcorn if it’s presented in a big bucket than they would if given a small one. A third of diners can’t remember how much bread they just ate. People who stack up their chicken-wing bones at the table will eat 28% fewer han those who clear the evidence away. We’ll snack on many more M&Ms if they’re arrayed in ten colors rather than seven. We consume 35% more food when dining with a friend—and 50% more with a big group—than when alone. Considering these statistics, it’s not surprising that simply by paying attention to your food and eating it slowly, you can cut 67 calories from each dinner and seven pounds in a year.

To reinforce the link between motivation and attention Gail Posner suggests “mindful eating.” Mindful eating involves focusing on our food—on its smell, taste, and feel—which lets your brain know that you will soon feel full and satisfied. The toughest dieting problem is the overeating that’s motivated by using food to fill an emotional hole caused by frustration, anger, or sadness. To focus on what’s really driving your desire to eat, Posner suggests placing your hands where you’re hungry. If you put them on your head, she says that your upset about something; on your mouth, you just want to taste something; on your stomach, you’re actually running on empty.
Duckworth’s important research on grit and motivation is discussed. But since there are at least a half dozen posts on this topic, it will not be discussed further here. Go to the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to find these posts.

According to William James the idea of cultivating willpower is “the art of replacing one habit for another.” The author adds, “Through most of history, gluttony, concupiscence, drunkenness and sloth were regarded as vices rather than sicknesses, and replacing them with temperance, chastity, sobriety, and enterprise required an act of the will.

Disordered Attention

August 20, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There is a glaring need for more information about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One major discovery—that ADHD isn’t a single problem that springs from a single cause is itself an important, hard-won advance. For ten years while at the NIMH, Castellanos and a multidisciplinary team intensively studied 150 children with attention problems who were enrolled in a special school set up just for them. Castellans said, “We really, really knew this kids from the results of their spinal taps and blood tests to their psychological profiles. The big thing he learned was that almost none of the kids were like any others. It was almost as if there were a hundred and fifty types of ADHD.

The chapter notes, “Just as ‘epilepsy’ turned out to be perhaps two hundred different seizure disorders, ADHD is an umbrella term for a variety of problems that have some symptoms in common. As they did for epilepsy, new tools such as fMRI are helping identify certain broad categories of attention difficulties, which is the first step toward developing appropriate treatments for each.”

ADHD usually involves a collaboration between nature and nurture. That it’s six times likelier to affect children who have been sexually abused offers tragic proof that experience can cause the disorder. Schools as well as troubled homes can fuel attention problems. The “perceptual load” theory say that you’ll experience more distractions when your task is not very engaging. This is a circumstance that often obtains even in an average, much less subpar classroom. Castellans says, “As long as a child has the full attention of an adult, he has no attention issues.” Unfortunately, there are not enough adults to go around.

That genes often play a role in ADHD is clear from the fact that one obvious risk factor is maleness. (Girls who have the disorder are not only far fewer in number but also rarely as hyperactive and disruptive as the boys; their poor concentration at school is often overlooked or ascribed to daydreaming or “Not trying hard enough.”) About 25% of the biological parents of diagnosed kids are affected, compared with 4% of the adoptive parents.

Genes that influence not just attention but also a child’s activity level, impulsiveness, and other traits may contribute to ADHD. So a certain student may have trouble focusing on math or Spanish less because of some cognitive deficit than from a thrill-seeking temperamental inclination to tune out what bores him and look for real action.

Dopamine’s role in the brain’s reward circuitry may explain why individuals who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD are also likelier than others to smoke, drink, and use drugs. Combined with an attention problem, this tendency toward substance abuse might indicate that they’re perhaps motivated less by the desire to “get high” in a recreational sense than by the wish to feel and function better—to feel “okay” or “normal,” if only temporarily.

Castellanos notes that many kids who have trouble paying attention in school, perform well on athletic fields or when hunkered over a computer game. This apparent inconsistency reflects that fact that Homo sapiens evolved both the genetic variations that’s associated with ADHD and the variation that protects against it. In our sedentary school-and-office culture, the tendency to shift focus rapidly and to act first and ask questions later is regarded as a problem. Yet that behavior has persisted in the population because it’s a real advantage in certain situations, from NASCAR races to war zones to the floor of the Stock Exchange. On the savannah, where we evolved, someone who focused too long and hard on a particular bird, flower, or thought could end up as a predator’s dinner.

Summing up the state-of-the-art knowledge about ADHD, Castellans says, “We’re part of the way into the problem. We know a great deal more than ten years ago but are just starting to step on solid ground in terms of understanding the underlying mechanisms. There will be new, very different drugs and treatments. I’m hugely optimistic, but we have to hurry up, because people are waiting.

Focus Interruptus

August 19, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.” William James described two common attentional styles. He pictured the mind as an archer’s target. Some people naturally focus on the bull’s eye, “sink into a subject of meditation deeply, and, when interrupted, are “lost” for a moment before they come back to the outer world. For others, however, the target’s outer rings are “filled with something like a meteoric showers of images” that flare at random, distracting attention from the bull’s eye and carrying thoughts in various directions. Such persons “find their attention wandering every minute, and must bring it back by a voluntary pull. It sounds as if James is describing two different attentional styles that vary among individuals. It is more likely that all of us can and do display both styles, but different individuals might illustrate a preponderance of one style over the other.

James did make clear that neither the “bulls-eye” nor “meteoric” mode of using attention is necessarily good or bad per se” “Some of the most efficient workers I know are of the ultra-scatterbrained type.” The reason, he says, is that a person’s total “mental efficiency” derives from the combination of his faculties, the most important of which is not attention, but “the strength of his desire and passion.” Compared to a more naturally focused but less motivated person, the individual who really cares for a subject “will return to it incessantly from his incessant wanderings, and first and last do more with it, and get more results from it.”

In a typical scenario, the brain’s executive cortex first bears down on the the problem with all of its double-barreled top-down concentration, advancing as far as cognitive processes can. Then you get tired or fed up, shove back your chair, say to yourself, “Enough of that!” When you head to the cafeteria or gym and start paying attention to something else, non consciousness parts of your mind slow-cook your earlier insights into the problem and supply associations. Walking to work, you see the whole solution and the problem is solved.

Consider how the preceding paragraph corresponds to the metaphor of a corporation for your mind. You and your conscious attention work in the executive suite. But when you leave for lunch your cognitive agents on the lower floors continue working. They solve the problem during lunch and present the solution when you return from lunch.

There have been so many posts on the dangers of multi-tasking and on social media, no further discussion will be done here with the exception of research done by UCLA psychologists. Using fMRI imaging they found that when you focus on a demanding task, your brain’s hippocampus, which you should know from previous posts is critical to memory storage and retrieval, is in charge. However, if you try to work while distracted by instant messaging or something similar, the striatum, which is involved in rote activities, takes over. Consequently, even if you manage to get the job done, your recollection of it will be more fragmented, less adaptable, and harder to retrieve than it would be if you had given it your undivided attention.
So how to improve your capacity to pay attention? The best and easiest way is to have an interesting topic. But if the content is dull and not interesting, James urges us to enliven dull work with “frequent recapitulations, illustrations, examples, novelty of order, and ruptures of routine,” When you write a report or the like, James recommends if the topic be inhuman, make it figure as a part of a story. If it be difficult, couple its acquisition with some prospect of personal gain. Above all things, make sure that it shall run through certain inner changes, since no unvarying object can possibly hold the mental field for long.”

University of Oregon psychologists Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart have shown that special exercises can markedly increase the capacity for executive attention, thus improving memory, self-regulation, and the ability to plan and reason. One would hope such material would be available.

Meditation is designed to better control our executive processes, those in the Executive Suite of your corporation. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com for many posts on this important topic.

Creativity: An Eye for Detail

August 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The founder of American psychology William James provides this simple experiment on how to improve your ability to pay attention. First, make a dot on a piece of paper or a wall, then try to stay focused on it. In short order, your mind will wander. Next, start asking yourself questions about the dot: its size, shape, color, and so on. Make associations with it: its existential pathos, perhaps, or the dot as yang to the paper’s yin. Once you’re engaged in such elaboration, you’ll find that you can focus on the negligible mark for quite a while. Observing that this ability to attend to and develop even the humblest subject is a cornerstone of creativity, James says. “This is what the genius does, in whose hands a given topic coruscates and grows.”

On the more immediate level, creativity also involves focusing on you target that turns a spark of inspiration into a burst of fireworks. In a fortuitous circular dynamic, whenever you engage in a creative activity, you boost your level of positive emotion, which in turn literally widens your attentional range, giving you more material to work with. James says, the generative mind is “full of copious and original associations,” so that attending to the germ of an idea soon leads to “all sorts of fascinating consequences.”

The Johns Hopkins Hospital ear, nose, and throat specialist Charles Lamb is also an amateur jazz saxophonist. He asked six pianists to play a keyboard while undergoing fMRI scanning. When they improvised on their own, which is keystone of all kinds of creativity, the musicians’ brains went into a “dissociated frontal activity state, a.k.a.”being in the zone.” Neurological activity associated with self-monitoring and inhibition decreased, which increased their ability to process new stimuli and ideas. When they played a standard tune, however, the musicians brains didn’t respond in this way. Lamb suspects that other forms of improvisation, even conversation, involve the same type of brain activity as playing jazz, and plans to investigate the possibility with subjects who aren’t artists.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer says that the term mindfulness wouldn’t be necessary if most people didn’t have an impoverished, static understanding of what “paying attention” means. She has asked children and instructors in very different kinds of schools a simple by telling question: “What does it mean when a teacher asks students to pay attention, focus, concentrate on something?” Invariably, the answer is something like “To hold that thing still.” In other words, most people think of attention as a kind of mental camera that you keep regally, narrowly focused on a particular subject or object. This realization led Langer to two important conclusions: “When students have trouble paying attention, they’re doing what their teachers say they should do. The problem is it’s the wrong instruction.”

In contrast to this fixed, tunnel-vision mode of focusing, the creative, mindful attention described in James’s dot exercise is an active probing exploration of a target that becomes more interesting as you search for new facets to consider. Mindful attention helps you work more efficiently and creatively, and also makes life more fun.

The tyranny of evaluation can be a major road block on the intertwined paths of mindful attention and creativity. Instead of focusing on the creative activity you can get sandbagged by the fears that the result might not be perfect or appreciated. Flaws and mistakes are neither bad nor good, but “just things you do.” Because it also focuses on assessment rather than experience, praise is as bad as blame.

The concluding sentence in this chapter is, “When you pay rapt attention, your spirits lift, expanding your cognitive range and creative potential, and perhaps even poising you for that personal renaissance.

Decisions: Focusing Illusions

August 17, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is among the developers of “bounded rationality”. To choices concerning quality of life, we are reasonable-enough beings but sometimes liable to focus on the wrong things. Our thinking gets befuddled not so much by our emotions as by our “cognitive illusions,’ or mistaken intuitions, and other flawed, fragmented mental constructs.

Kahneman makes a distinction between two concepts of self. There is our hands-on “experiencing self,” which concentrates on just plain being in the here and now, is absorbed in whatever is going on and how you feel about it without doing much analysis. However, our evaluative “remembering self,” looks back on an experience, focuses on its emotional high points and outcomes, then formulates thoughts about it, not always accurately. Much research shows that memory is biased and unpredictable—more like a patchwork quilt than the seamless tapestry of reality we likely imagine. We don’t so much recall something that happened as reconstruct a facsimile of it. This mental artifact is likely to be either more positive or negative in tone than was the actual event.

The differences in how our experiencing and remembering selves pay attention to may account for seeing paradoxes in our lives. For example, most subjects say that having children is one of life’s greatest satisfactions. But subjects’ diaries show that actual roll-up-your-sleeves parenting was among women’s least enjoyable activities. This apparent contradiction and others likely are explained by the divergent focuses of a person’s two selves. The experiencing self of a tired woman who’s contemplating the wreckage of her slovenly adolescent’s room might well give mothering a poor rating at the moment. However, if parenthood comes up later at a party, her remembering self zeroes in its emotional highs and long term results—that sweet poem on Mother’s Day, the soccer trophy, the college diploma.—rather than on momentary vexations like dirty socks and old pizza crusts. It’s just as well for their progeny that when adults make choices about how to live, they pay more attention to the remembering self’s judgmental voice than to the experiencing self’s “whispers, which say more about their own daily satisfactions.

In a much cited example of the focusing illusion, Kahneman asked some people if they would be happier if they lived in California. Most people thought so because of the climate. Californians assume they’re happier than people who live elsewhere. However, when Kahneman actually measured their well-being, Michiganders and others are just as contented as Californians. The reason is that 99% of the stuff of life, relationships, work, home, recreation, is the same no matter where you are, and once you settle in a place, no matter how salubrious, you don’t think about its climate very much. However, when prompted to evaluate it, the weather immediately looms large, simply because you’re paying attention to it. The illusion inclines you to accentuate the difference between Place A and Place B, making it seem to matter much more than it really does, which is marginal.

Because our remembering self pays attention to our thoughts about our life, rather than to the life itself, it can be difficult to evaluate the quality of our own experience accurately . Social psychologist Norman Schwartz asked one group of subjects, “How much pleasure do you get from your car? Not surprisingly, there was a significant correlation between an autos value and its owner’s perceived enjoyment, so that the remembering selves of BMW and Lexus drivers were more satisfied than those of people who drove Escorts and Camry’s. Then Schwarz probed the immediate reality of the experiencing self by asking another group of subjects a different question: ”How much pleasure did you get from using your car today?” The correlation between the owners’ satisfaction and their cars’ worth vanished. What determined their answers was not the quality or price of their vehicles but of their actual commute that day: whether it was marked by good or bad weather, traffic conditions, or even personal ruminations— in short the experiencing self’s quotidian ups and downs.

The focusing illusion predicts that we’ll exaggerate the importance of a thing just by thinking it about it, as when we ponder a big purchase. Kahneman says, There’s probably much less focusing illusion with pleasures like fresh flowers or a glass of wine.” Because it gives you more fun and bang for you buck, spending five hundred dollars a year on bouquets or Burgundy is a better investment in your well-being than upgrading a major appliance.

Based on recent research on well-being, Kahneman says, “I can imagine a future in which, just as many of us exercise physically, we’ll also exercise mentally for twenty or thirty minutes a day. That’s the kind of world ‘positive psychology’ is looking for. Whether its principles work or not in the long run, I don’t know. All the data aren’t in yet. But it’s clear that getting people to pay attention is a good thing. There’s no question about that.”

As to the ability to focus on this rather than on that gives you control over our experience and well-being, Kahneman says that both the Dalai Lamai and positive psychologist Martin Seligman would agree about the importance of paying attention: “Being able to control it gives you a lot of power, because you know that you don’t have to focus on a negative emotion that comes up.”

Productivity: Work Zone

August 16, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. A hallmark of the focused life is blurring the distinction between work and play. We can do this by actively choosing endeavors that demand our total focus and skillfully use attention to make even inevitable rote chores more engaging.

To the founder of American psychology, William James, rapt attention required a target that offers just the right combination of novelty and familiarity. Imagine that after a long, grey winter, your bleary eye lights on the red breast of the year’s first robin. Then, your attentional system kicks in with a memory to add meaning to the new feathered stimulus: robins come in the spiring, which has always been your favorite season. Suddenly, you’re not just glancing at some humdrum bird but focused on a winged Mercury come to herald good times.

Like a robin in July, writes James, “the absolutely old is insipid.” Similarly, because you’d had no associations with some drab little bird you’ve never seen before, “the absolutely new makes no appeal.” It’s the convergence of the robin’s unexpected appearance and its cognitive and affective resonance that makes its debut the stuff of poetry.

Claremont psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has developed and expanded upon the concept of flow. He says this state of optimal human experience kicks in when we’re completely focused on doing something that’s both enjoyable and challenging enough to be just manageable. Either attention or motivation—the drive that impels toward a goal—can jump-start flow, but both of these major psychological processes must converge to sustain it.

Occasionally and, unfortunately, sometimes frequently the most productive person is hard-pressed to concentrate on the job, much less enjoy it. For example consider draining a flooded driveway doesn’t sound interesting, but it can be made fun if you try to make the water go here or there. Csikszentmihalyi says with some thought, effort, and attention you can make even an apparently routine job, such as assembling toasters or packaging tools, much more satisfying. He says the trick is to turn the work into a kind of a game, in which you focus closely on each aspect—screwing widget A to widget B or the positions of your tools and materials—“and try to figure out how to make it better. That way, you turn a routine activity into an engaging one.”

Psychologist Gilbert Brim, a strong advocate of just-manageable difficulty, high achievers can avoid burnout, depression, and perhaps even self-destructiveness by focusing on a new vocation or avocation along with their business as usual. Baruch Spinoza’s day job was making spectacles, and William Blake was a printer by trade, used their free time to advance philosophy and the arts.

For some reason, inexplicable to HM, “working hard” is an honorific phrase. If the answer to the question, “are you working hard?, is yes, the reply is almost always , ‘good!’ But hard work is not in and of itself good. It might be stupid and nonproductive. The query should be, “Are you working smart?” To the extent possible, work should be productive and fulfilling. The main distinction between work and leisure, is that one is paid for working.

Keep in mind, the following paragraph from this chapter. “IN THE SHORT term, whether it’s writing an epic or building a birdhouse, choosing work and play that call for fast focus and all of your skill, provides satisfying, productive experience. Whenever you squander attention on something that doesn’t put your brain through its paces and stimulate change, your mind stagnates a little and life feels dull.”

Relationships: Attending to Different Worlds

August 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Much research shows that simply paying attention to someone else, which is the essence of bonding, is highly beneficial for both parties. Having social ties is the single best predictor of a longer healthier, more satisfying life.

The author writes, “At the very least, paying attention to someone else confers the big psychological benefits of structuring your experience and distracting you from the self-referential rumination that so often takes a negative cast.” Research by psychologist Joanne Wood indicates that if you want to feel better about who you are, you should concentrate on someone of lower status. But if you’re trying to motivate yourself, you should focus on a person who outranks you. A message we don’t often hear from the therapy and psychopharmacological industries is that paying attention to the other guy often helps us more than the other guy.

MacArthur ‘genius award” winner and director of UCLA’s Center On Everyday Life of Families, Elinor Ochs has researched how children are socialized and learn languages in parts of the developing world as well as in white middle-class America. She defines attention as “a focus on a point of orientation that can be at once perceptual, conceptual, and social,” and identifies two broad cultural variations in the way it affects family relationships.

In it-takes-a-village societies such as Somoa, from very early life people are encouraged to direct their attention outward to others. Children are cared for by friends and relatives as well as parents and are actively taught to notice other people and their needs. When they are carried, babies are held outward on the hips or perched so they can peep over the caregiver’s shoulder. Even before they can talk, these tots are primed to attend to what others are doing and feeling. Ochs says, “In their culture, the priority is to be relational and person-oriented.”

In contrast to this outward, other-directed focus that prevails in much of the world, people in the highly individualistic West are encouraged early on to concentrate on their own needs and desires. Instead of mostly being carried, babies are held at arm’s length in strollers, high chairs, car seats, or other devices; they sleep in their own cribs and even rooms, which would be unthinkable elsewhere. As if to reinforce their highly personalized experience, Western children are encouraged to pay lots of attention to objects. Ochs says, Even little babies have toys, and they’re taught to pay attention to their shapes and colors.” (Despite the claims made of products marketed to hopeful parents, one study showed that rather than creating infant geniuses, focusing babies aged eight to sixteen months on “educational” videos, actually impedes their verbal development; each hour of viewing per day actually impedes their verbal development; each hour of viewing per day correlated with a child’s knowing six to eight fewer words than unwired peers).

By the age of four Samoan children contribute to society helping to care for younger siblings and carrying messages for adults. That tots should work for the commonweal sounds like abuse to most Westerners, who assume that young children either can’t or shouldn’t have to respond to others’ needs.

This same UCLA research team finds that, even when they get together, families often undermine the desired feeling of fellowship by focusing on the wrong things. Mothers tend to pick the subject—“Tell Dad what happened at school”—and fathers provide the judgment: “That’s a very good grade” or “You should have practiced harder.” Fathers almost never focus on their own daily experience, however, and when they do, their narrative style doesn’t encourage feedback. In contrast to the moms’ and kids’ open-ended participatory approach—“How should I deal with this situation?” the men go for “Hers’s how I’m handling it.”

Bradbury, the director of the UCLA family project’s “marriage lab,” is concerned about the implications for adults’ well-being, because “marriage seems like the last bastion of relationships in which people are still committed to attending to one another.” Bradbury continues, “A profound focus on your partner is, was, and always will be the distinguishing characteristic of an intimate bond such as marriage. Nevertheless, I’m continually impressed by the inconsistency of sustained attention in relationships. Partners complain about this all the time, and kids probably would to, if they could. We’ve evolved with the capacity to attend to each other but it’s not exactly dominant in our lives. Imagine a world where it was!”

Nurture: This Is Your Brain on Attention

August 14, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There have been many healthy memory posts on the research of neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin (Enter “Davidson” into the search box at
healthymemory.worpress.com or go to his website https://www.richardjdavidson.com).

He uses EEG and fMRI in showing how experience in general and attention in particular affect your brain and behavior. He says this physiological as well as psychological shift sounds dramatic, but shouldn’t be so surprising because your nervous system is built to respond to your experience. He writes, “That’s what learning is. Anything that changes behavior changes the brain.” The mental-fitness regimens that he and colleagues in a half-dozen labs around the world are working with are based on meditation. Various Eastern and Western religions have used it over the past 2,500 years to enhance spiritual practice, but meditation is easily stripped of sectarian overtones to its behavioral essence of deliberate, targeted concentration that invited a calm steady psychophysiological state.

The point of a secular attentional workout is the enhancement of the ability to focus, emotional balance, or both. The author writes in the mindfulness meditation that’s the most widely used form, you sit silently for forty-five minutes and attend to your breath: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. When thoughts arise, as they inevitably do, you just shift your awareness back to breathing, right here and now, without distraction from the tape loops usually running in your head. Davidson says, “A complete atheist can use these procedures and derive as much benefit from them as an ardent believer.”

The healthy memory blog has many posts on meditation. Enter “relaxation response” in the search block. Benefits can be attained with as little at ten minutes a day meditating. Moreover, epigenetic benefits have been found . You might also want to try entering “loving kindness” into the search block.

Another area of Davidson’s interests is the way in which temperamental features, such as an inclination toward positive or negative emotionality, affect and even drive attention—an interaction that is vitally important to the quality of your experience. Davidson says, “One of life’s challenges is to maintain your focus despite the continual distracting emotional stimuli that can capture it.” Certain lucky individuals are born with an affective temperament that naturally inclines them toward an upbeat proactive focus, but research increasingly shows that others can move in that direction through attentional training.

Davidson says that although many other regions of the brain are also involved, “people who have greater activation in very specific prefrontal regions—not the whole hemisphere—report and display more of a certain positive emotion—not simply ‘happiness’—that’s associated with moving toward you goals and taking an active approach to life. Average subjects who had completed an eight-week meditation course showed significantly increased activity in the left prefrontal regions that are linked to this optimistic, goal-oriented orientation.

Not only how you focus, but also what you focus on can have important neurophysiological and behavioral consequences. Just as one-pointed concentration on a neutral target, such as your breath, particularly strengthens certain of the brain’s attentional systems, meditation on a specific emotion—unconditional love—seems to tune up certain of its affective networks.When monks who are focusing on this feeling of pure compassion are exposed to emotional sounds, brain activity increases in the insula, a region involved in visceral perception and empathy, and in the right temporo-parietal junction, an area implicated in inferring and empathizing with others’s mental states. These data complement research done by Barbara Fredrickson and others showing that concentration on positive emotions improves your affect and expands your focus. Davidson thinks that deliberately focusing on feelings such as compassion, joy, and gratitude may strengthen neurons in the left prefrontal cortex and inhibit disturbing messages from the fear-oriented amygdala.

Training your brain to pay more attention to compassion for others and less to the self’s narcissistic preoccupations would be a giant step toward a better, more enjoyable life. When you aren’t doing anything in particular but are just “at rest” our brain’s default mode kicks in. This baseline mental state often leads to inward-looking, negative rumination that tend to be, as Davidson says, “all about my, me, and mine,” Before long, you find yourself thinking, “I actually don’t feel so great,” or “Maybe the boss doesn’t really like me.” Davidson is investigating whether the brain areas associated with this “self-referencing processing” may be much less active in the monks, whether they’re meditating or not: indeed, he speculates that super advanced practitioners may perceive little of no difference between the two states.

His research increasingly shows that just as regular physical exercise can transform the proverbial 110-pound weakling into an athlete, focusing workouts can make you more focused, engaged with life, and perhaps even kinder. Davidson says “My strong intuition is that attentional training is very like the sports or musical kinds. It’s not something you can just do for a couple of weeks or years, then enjoy lifelong benefits. To maintain an optimum level of any complex skill takes work, and like great athletes and virtuosos, great meditators continue to drill intensively.”

Nature: Born to Focus

August 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.” University of Oregon neuroscientist Michael Posner has developed a three-part model of the brain’s attentional system. He describes alerting, orienting, and executive networks, each with its own neurophysiology and function, as nothing short of “the mechanism through which we have experience and control the sequence of our ideas. Along with University of Oregon psychologist Mary Rothbart, who’s well known for her research on temperament, Posner has been studying how the attentional networks get organized in early life. He finds significant neuropsychological differences among children that share their different ways of focusing and aspects of their identities, from the capacity of learning to the control of thoughts and emotions.

Posner has a computerized Attention Network Test, which is designed to gauge the strength of an individual’s three networks. Biological differences in brains can account for different attentional and temperamental profiles, but nurture as well as nature plays an important role. Rothbart’s research is on cultural differences in executive attention and self-regulation, she finds that the capacity for effortful control is a good thing for both American and Chinese children. In the United States, children who have this ability focus keeping a lid on feelings like anger, fear, and frustration—an important skill in our gregarious society. On the other hand, in China, self-regulating children concentrate on curbing their exuberance and trying not to stand out, which is an equally desirable attribute in their Asian culture. Depending on social or genetic differences, or both, says Posner, “the same behavior of focusing on a dimension of self-control seems to be involved in creating quite different personalities.”

A single individual, biologically based behavioral disposition doesn’t operate in isolation, but in concert with the person’s other qualities and environments. Posner points out that whether the small child’s innate temperament is sunny or stormy, parents will intuitively draw the tot’s attention to smiles, laughter, and hugs, thus reinforcing the desirability of positive emotion.

It is good here to focus how important it is for a child to be loved. Absent this love a child’s emotional and behavioral development is at risk. Other healthy memory posts have elaborated on these risks. Whenever HM reads about some act of violence, his first thought was that this person was an unloved child.

To help children who are not naturally inclined to focus on their schoolwork—or life’s little pleasures—Posner and Rothbart have developed exercises that significantly improve the executive attentional skills of four— and six—year olds. Such training could help the millions of schoolchildren who struggle with attention, mood, and self-control problems.

This chapter concludes: “Nature and nurture have combined forces to find you a characteristic way of focusing that’s part of who you are, but research on the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections through life, proves that your identity isn’t written in stone. Posner is speaking of the children he works with, but his observation increasingly seems to apply to people of any age. “Kids have strong genetic make-ups, but you can also shape them through experience.”

Outside In: What You See Is What You Get

August 12, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There is impressive research that shows that “looking at the bright side,” even in tough situations, is a powerful predictor of a longer, happier, healthier life. In a large study of 941 Dutch subjects over ten years, the most upbeat individuals, who agreed with statements such as “often feel that life is full of promise,” were 45% less likely to die during the long experiment than were the most pessimistic.

Research reveals that the cognitive appraisal of emotions, pioneered by psychologists Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus confirmed that what happens to us, from a blizzard to a pregnancy to a job transfer, is less important to our well-being than how we respond to it. Psychologist Barbara Fredickson says that if you want to get over a bad feeling, “focusing on something positive seems to be the quickest way to usher out the unwanted emotion.” This does not mean that when something upsetting happens, we should not immediately try to force ourselves to “be happy.” First, Fredrickson says you examine “the seed of emotion,” or how we honestly feel about what occurred. Then we direct our attention to some element of the situation that frames things in a more helpful light.

Unfortunately, people who are depressed and anhedonic—unable to feel pleasure—have particular trouble using this attentional self-help tactic. This difficulty suggests to Fredrickson that they suffer from a dearth of happiness rather than a surfeit of sadness: “It’s as if the person’s positive emotional systems have been zapped or disabled.”

With the exception of these anhedonic individuals, Fredrickson says, “Very few circumstances are one hundred percent bad.” Even in very difficult situations, she finds, it’s often possible to find something to be grateful for, such as others’ loving support, good medical care, or even our own values thoughts, and feelings. Focusing on such a benign emotion isn’t just a “nice thing to do,” but a proven way to expand our view of reality and lift our spirits, thus improving our ability to cope.

William James said wisdom is “the art of knowing what to overlook.” And many elders master this way of focusing. Many studies show that younger adults pay as much or more to negative information than to the positive sort. However, by middle age their focus starts to shift until in old age, they’re likely to have a strong positive bias in what they both attend to and remember.

Research has shown that older brains attend to and remember emotional stimuli differently from younger ones. In one study, compared to younger people, they remembered twice as many positive images as the negative or neutral sort. Moreover, when the experiment was repeated using fMRI brain scans, the tests showed that in younger adults, the emotional center, the amygdala, reacted to both positive and negative images, but in older adults, only in response to positive cues. The author suggests, “Perhaps because elders use the “smart” prefrontal cortex to dampen activity in the more volatile amygdala, their brains actually encode less negative information, which naturally reduces their recall of it and its impact on their behavior.

The final paragraph to this chapter follows: “WHATEVER YOUR TEMPERAMENT, living the focused life is not about trying to feel happy all the time, which would be both futile and grotesque. Rather, it’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grown there. Your ability to function comfortably in a dirty, germy world is just one illustration of your powerful capacity to put mind over matter and control you experience by shifting your focus from counterproductive to adaptive thoughts and feelings. In this regard, one reason why certain cultures venerate the aged for their wisdom is that elders tend to maximize opportunities to attend to the meaningful and serene, and to the possibility that, as E.M. Foster put it in A Room With a View, ”…by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes—a transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes.”

Inside Out: Feelings Frame Focus

August 11, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. One of contemporary psychology’s most important discoveries is the inextricability of thought and emotion.

According to “negativity bias theory” we pay more attention to unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, and sadness because they’re more powerful than agreeable feelings. A survey of which topics we spend the most time thinking about, problematic relationships and troubled projects are at the the top of the list. We’ll work harder to avoid losing money than we will to gain the same amount. If we hear both something positive and something negative about a stranger, we’ll take the negative view. Even if something good happens, if something bad happens too, we’ll feel dispirited. We’re likelier to notice threats than opportunities or signs that all’s well.

The main advantage of paying attention to unhappy emotions is that it attunes us to a potential threat or loss and pressures us to to avoid or relieve the pain by solving the associated problem. A pessimistic focus is helpful when we’re stuck in a tough, let’s-get-to-the-bottom-of-this situation. Looking at the dark side of things can confer a certain objectivity. According to one school of thought, the depressed person’s bleak focus on life tends to be more realistic than a sanguine person’s upbeat view.

Nevertheless, focusing on negative emotions, especially when they don’t serve their primary purpose of promoting problem-solving, exacts a high cost: we spend a lot of time feeling crummy even if our life is pretty good.

Additional studies show we tend to put a positive spin on neutral situations, focus hard on upsets because they’re relatively rare, and forget unhappy events faster than pleasant ones. From this perspective, barring a profound blow such as losing a loved one or getting fired, whether we get a flat time or a raise, we’ll soon return to feeling pretty good.

If these results sound contradictory, remember that people vary both in dispositions and in their fortunes. The important point is that we have the power to interpret and change our situation. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has conducted research showing that paying attention to positive emotions expands our world, while focusing on negative feeling shrinks it. This is something we can control.

According to cognitive scientist Donald Norman’s conceptual model, the brain has three major parts, which focus on very different things and sometimes conflict. The “reactive” component, which handles the brain’s visceral, automatic functions, concentrates on stuff that elicits biologically determined responses, such as dizzying heights and sweet tastes. The “behaviors,” or routine component, attend to well-learned skills, such as riding a bike or typing. According to Norman, these two “lower” modes of brain functioning handle most of what we do, and mostly without requiring conscious attention.
Norman’s “reflective” element of the conceptual brain is consciousness. Consciousness handles the “higher” functions at the metaphorical tip of the very top of that complicated organ. Since consciousness pays a lot of attention to our thoughts, we tend to identify it with cognition, However, if we try to figure out exactly how to run our business or care for our family, we soon realize that we can’t grasp that process just by thinking about it. Norman writes, “Consciousness also has a qualitative, sensory feel. If I say, ‘I’m afraid,’ it’s not just my mind talking, My stomach also knots up.”

According to Norman’s conceptual model, the brain’s reactive, behavioral, and reflective elements pursue their own agendas, yet they also constantly communicate with each other. When an alarm triggers an argument over whether to roll over or get up and go to the gym, we experience a mild version of the kind of conflict that occurs when two or more of these networks insist that you focus on different things Offering a more complicated example, Norman says, “Take jumping out of an airplane.” On the reactive level, our brain attends to the bottom-up imperative of the earth far, far below and goes, “What the hell are you doing?” In order to proceed, we have to pay top-down attention to messages from its behavior component, where we’ve stored our routine skydiving skills, and to the reflective voice that says, “You’ll be okay, and think of how much you’ll enjoy this experience afterward.”

The chapter concludes as follows: “Thus, the first step toward getting on with your work despite a financial setback or repairing a relationship after a nasty quarrel is to direct—perhaps yank—your attention away from fear or anger toward courage or forgiveness. Thanks to positive emotion’s expansive effect on attention, your immediate reward for that effort is not just a more comfortable, satisfying affective state, but also a bigger, better world-view. Where the long-term benefits are concerned, you’ve come closer to making a habit of the focused life.”

Pay Attention: Your Life Depends on It

August 10, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. One of the two basic ways of focusing that enable us to tune in on what is most interesting in our world: involuntary “bottom-up” attention. This passive process is not driven by us, but by whatever thing in our environment is most salient, or obviously compliant. Thanks to evolution, bottom-up attention has hard-wired us to zoom in on brightly colored flowers, startle at a snake’s hiss, wrinkle our nose at the smell of spoiled meat, and detect and react to things that could threaten or advance our survival.

Bottom-up attention automatically keeps us in touch with what’s going in the world, but this great benefit comes with a cost, particularly for postindustrial folks who live in metropolitan areas and work at desks rather than on the savannah: lots of fruitless, unwelcome distractions. Women want to focus on our book or computer instead of a fly that keeps landing on our arm or an ambulance siren, but evolution has stuck us with attending to these insistent stimuli.

Top-down attention asks, “What do you want to concentrate on?. This active, voluntary form of focusing takes effort, the harder we concentrate, the better we’ll attend, but the longer we persist, the likelier we’ll fade. Top-down processing has advanced our species, particularly by enabling us to choose to pursue difficult goals, such as nurturing the young for extended periods or building and operating cities. When the individual is concerned, this deliberate process is the key to designing our daily experience, because it lets us to decide what to focus on and what to suppress.

Many extraordinary achievers have an ability to pay rapt attention. Psychologist David Lykken observed that these individuals have base stores of “mental energy,” which he defined as the capacity “to focus attention, to shut out distractions, to persist in search of a solution” for a challenging problem over long periods without tiring. One of his exemplars is Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson who helped save Britain from Napoleon. In one diary entry he observed: “I have been 5 nights without sleep (at work) and never felt an inconvenience.”

Another example was the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. After a colleague remarked that he had just ridden in a taxi identified as #1729, which seemed like dull digits, the genius immediately took exception. “No, it’s a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressive as a sum of two cubes in two different ways.” His peers noted that Ramanujan regarded numbers as “friends” and focused on them all the time.

William James noted that such an extraordinary individual more than likely, “breaks his engagements, leaves his letters unanswered, neglects his family duties incorrigibly, because he is powerless to turn his attention down and back away from those more interesting trains of imagery with which his genius constantly occupies his mind.

Johns Hopkins Neuroscientist Steve Yantis draws an analogy with a control panel that takes the five sensory systems that collaborate with our attentional networks to construct our model of the physical world. Dials can be twiddled as one goes from one activity to another. By turning the volume down on smell or by switching from the touch to the taste circuit, we can tune in the information we want and but out the competing stimuli.

Anne Treisman, now deceased, but the wife of Daniel Kahneman and a distinguished psychologist in her own right distinguished between the narrow attention paid to a particular part of a scene and the broad sort required when we must rapidly take a complex new scene.

Steve Yantis says, “I like the notion that attention is key to awareness, the essence or center of our mental life as we go through time. That makes all kinds of sense. Where attending to ideas and emotions rather than sights and sounds is concerned, he says, “To the degree that you can control what enters your awareness, you have the ability to focus on some things, let other things go, and move on, or your thoughts can control you.”

The chapter concludes, “In short, to enjoy the kind of experience you want rather than enduring the kind that you feel stuck with, you have to take charge of your attention.”

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

August 9, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Winifred Gallagher. Remember the post “Best Way to Think About Memory” where it was proposed that the best way to think about memory is as a corporate building and the corporation is you. At the top level is where the executive offices reside. On the lower floors are offices holding your experience, your knowledge, your thinking and performance capabilities. The whole shebang is run by you corporate offices, where your consciousness resides. Attention is needed to run these offices and due to limitations in our attention focus is required. Consequently, the key to living is a focused life.

Five years before Ms. Gallagher finished her book she had a common-enough crisis that plunged here into a study of the nature of experience. This experiment led her to cutting-edge scientific research and a psychological version of what physicists trying to explain the universe call a “grand unified theory” or a “theory of everything”: your life—who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.

She continues, “Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience from mood to productivity to relationships.”

Continuing further, “…what you focus on from this moment will create the life and person yet to be. … If we think in terms of the present and future, we might encounter an intuition lurking in the back of your mind, as it was in mine: if you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something that you create: not a series of accidents, but a work of art. My interest in attention goes back to childhood, when I ran the usual experiments on its effects on behavior. I saw that by focusing on one thing, you could ignore another. If you concentrated on some enjoyable activity, you could make time simultaneously race and stand still. Staying focused on a goal over time might not guarantee you’d achieve it but was a crucial step in that direction.”

She writes, “In midlife, an attention experiment of a different magnitude set me on the path that led to this book. Walking away from the hospital after the biopsy from hell—not just cancer, but a particularly nasty, fairly advanced kind—I had the intuition of a highly unusual blue-white clarity. This disease wants to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.”

It worked. She was successful. By skillfully managing your attention, you’re able to experience in both a balanced way and stay oriented in a positive productive direction. She quotes John Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell , a hell of heav’n.”

Ms. Gallagher notes that the German physician Wilhem Wundt officially discovered attention, but the founder of American psychology, William James is its philosopher king. James argued that because the mind is profoundly shaped by what it imposes on itself, where you choose to focus it is vitally important. This conviction underlies many of his best maxims, such as “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

In James major work, “The Principles of Psychology” he wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Localization of consciousness is its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to eat effectively with others.”

Ms. Gallagher writes, “Neuroscience’s truly groundbreaking insight into attention is the discovery that its basic mechanism is a process of selection. This two-part neurological sorting operation allows you to focus by enhancing the most compelling, or ‘salient,’ physical object or ‘high-value’ mental subject in your ken and suppressing the rest. Outside an elite scientific circle, however, this finding’s implications for everyday life have been stunningly unremarked.”

“Rapt” is the term that describes being completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated experiences that underlies life’s deepest pleasures, from the scholar’s study to the carpenter’s craft to a lover’s obsession. Research shows that with some reflection, experimentation, and practice, all of us can cultivate this profoundly attentive state more often. Paying rapt attention, whether to a trout stream or a novel, a do-it-yourself project or a prayer, increases our capacity for concentration, expands our inner boundaries, and lifts our spirits, but more important, it simply makes us feel that life is worth living.

Deciding what to pay attention to is critically important. We must resist the temptation to drift along our default mode network, reacting to whatever happens next and deliberately select targets, from activities to relationships, that are worthy of our finite supplies of time an attention.

Your Brain is Leading You Astray

August 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Professor Abigail Marsh in the 7 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. She is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown University.

In reality, most people die of diseases of old age, such as heart disease and cancer. However, more than half of news coverage is devoted to homicides and terrorism, which account for less than 1% of actual deaths. People disproportionately buy, click on and share scary stories about people killing other people. Professor Marsh says we can blame this fact on our brain. She writes, “Your brain’s most important job is to take information about the messy, confusing world we inhabit, find patterns embedded in the noise and use them to make predictions about the future. Brains particularly like actionable intelligence—and the most useful information pertains to threats that can be avoided, thus increasing your odds of survival.”

She continues, “Heart disease and strokes don’t provide much fodder for this prediction machine. We know why they happen: because we get old. Talk about unactionable intelligence. The best you can do is to stave them off for a while by doing things we already know are healthy: Eat well, exercise, and don’t smoke. You can almost hear your brain yawning.”

She proceeds, “Now consider a gunman mowing down a crowd of innocents. Acts like this are rare, vivid and unexpected. The combination sets your brain whirring, whirring, generating a red-alert signal called a ‘prediction error,‘ a surge of activity deep in the brain’s emotional core. A prediction error signal screams: ‘Look for a cause! Prevent this next time!’ This leaves you craving even more information about such attacks, in the vain hope you can predict the next one.”

The article notes that we are not good at intuiting the minds of others, even those we know well. There is no way of intuiting the mind of a mass murderer. Most people would never commit an act like this. Prof. Marsh has spent more than a decade conducting research on rare populations such as altruistic kidney donors and psychopathic teenagers. She has come away convinced of two things. First, we are all not the same. and some people have much more (or less) capacity for compassion than average. And second: The average person is really pretty nice. Study after study bears her out. Most people return lost wallets, share resources, donate to charity and help strangers as a default response. She writes if people weren’t, on average, pretty compassionate, we wouldn’t need a label like “psychopath” for the small group of people who aren’t. She concludes,”Thus, the average person is totally unable to understand or predict why anyone would want to kill innocent people. And so the brain’s prediction machine draws the worse possible conclusion: If we can’t predict who among us is capable of heinous violence, it’s best to assume anyone could be. From there, it’s just one step further to conclude: Everyone could be. Translation: Trust no one.

She writes that up to 1 in 5 of us is genuinely paranoid. HM would consider the percentage of people who are Trump supporters. Trump’s entire campaign is based on fear. He claimed that there are many thousands of immigrants trying to enter the United States to sell drugs and commit crimes. Although one cannot argue that there are a few immigrants that do this; they constitute a distinct minority. The majority of these immigrants are leaving homes they no longer regard as safe, to go to that former safe harbor for immigrants, the United States. Most of our forebears came by this same route. Moreover, Trump supporters raise no objections about separating children from their parents and of forcing people to live in inhumane conditions. All this is the result of unfounded fear.

Fortunately, Prof. Marsh does no imply that we are victims of our brains. We can think and correct what our brain initially tells us. She concludes, “People who are trusting have more money and more friends. They are also happier, perhaps because their social lives are more rewarding. Trust also makes the world a better place—it’s the basis of all cooperations and social capital.”

In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, we must use our System 2 processes to override unwarranted fears from our System 1 processes.

The Reason for the Preceding Seven Posts

August 7, 2019

The healthy memory blog is finishing its tenth year, with the hope of continuing for many more. All previous posts are still available (but you must go to
healthymemory.wordpress.com.) And all previous posts are still valid.

So newcomers to this blog just need to plunge in and try to piece matters together. The purpose of these seven posts is to provide some orientation for newcomers. However, this is not for newcomers only. Unless you’ve been with HM from the beginning, starting this post is like entering a movie after it’s started. These seven posts are intended to provide some orientation to the reader.

All posts are dedicated to building and maintaining a health memory. For some posts, this goal is obvious. Other posts provide relevant scientific information. Some posts provide some ideas as to how concepts in this blog are relevant to politics.

Early posts heralded the tremendous potential of the internet. Unfortunately, this potential has been subverted with efforts to control attention for monetary and political purposes. Many posts also address this problem.

But the goal is obviously to build and maintain a healthy memory, which should also result in growth mindsets yielding a more fulfilling life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Importance of Attention

August 6, 2019

This is the seventh post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory.

System 2 processes require attention. Our attention is limited. So it is a poor idea to waste attention on social media or on multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is inefficient as time and effort is involved in switching between tasks.

Remember the analogy of the corporation. Attention resides in the executive suite, but it is a limited resource. The way you allocate attention is critical to the health and efficiency of the mind.

Meditation is central to gaining control of your attention and to controlling and using your attention to its best value. There are many posts on meditation.

Use the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter: relaxation response

That should hold one’s attention for quite some time. Subsequent searchers can be made for
meditation
mindfulness

The Brain Can Do Very Much with Very Little

August 5, 2019

This is the sixth post on a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. The defining characteristics for Alzheimer’s are the accumulation of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. So if you have these characteristics, you have this disease. However, autopsies have revealed people with these defining characteristics who never exhibited any cognitive or behavioral symptoms. The explanation offered is that these people developed a cognitive reserve as a result of their cognitive activities.

A man with only 10% of his cortex earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. People with the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, but no behavioral or cognitive symptoms likely develop new routes for storing and retrieving information. We generate new functioning neurons (we continue to generate neurons until we die.)

Healthy memory strongly supports the contention that System 2 processes are central to building this cognitive reserve.

So the healthy memory blog strongly recommends:

staying cognitively active to the very end by engaging in heavy system 2 processing

having a growth mindset that pursues continuing to learn until the very end

living a healthy life style

There is one more activity that is important that will be discussed in the next post

Thinking Fast and Slow

August 4, 2019

This is the fifth post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. “Thinking Fast and Slow” is a best selling book by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman makes an important distinction between two types of mental processing. Not surprisingly he names them System 1 and System 2. To illustrate the distinction between these two types of processing, he asks the following question:

Together a bat and a ball cost $1.10.
How much more does the bat cost than the ball?

The most common answer to this question, the one made by majority of students from prestigious colleges is $1.00

However, if this were the case then the bat and ball together would cost $1.15.
So 5 cents more is the correct answer for the ball. The bat costs $1.05.

System 1 is our most common mode of processing. It is fast and efficient. Unfortunately, this speed is paid for by a cost. Although the failure to think critically was trivial in the present example, it can be disastrous in more important decisions. Cognitive neuroscience, which conducts brain imaging studies, has a term for mental activity which is the typical norm, called accordingly default mode processing. This mode can be identified in brain images. The default network of interacting brain regions is known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. These regions are negatively correlated with attention networks in the brain.

Normal conversation and well performed tasks are System 1 activities. Thinking and learning are System 2 processes and they involve cognitive effort. Most of the time spent on social media involves System 1 processing primarily.

What Happens As We Age

August 3, 2019

This is the fourth post on a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. Simulations have been done that support the notion that the vast amount of new information acquired over the years slows down our accessibility to information.

So rather than evidence of cognitive decline, senior moments can be regarded as evidence of all the information, and hopefully wisdom, seniors have acquired over their lifetimes.

Healthy memory posts on this topic can be found by entering “cognitive decline” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P., & Bayan, H. (2014). Topics in Cognitive Science, 6, 5-42, presents the scientific evidence on this topic.

Misconceptions About Memory

August 2, 2019

This is the third post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. One common misconception is that memory is a complete recording of our experience. Only certain information is stored. Mnemonic techniques (on which there is an entire category of posts) and effective study techniques are ways of increasing the likelihood of information being remembered. But other information remains, some of which one might like to forget.

Memories can change over time at the subconscious level. Remember the analogy of the corporate headquarters. This information is held on the lower floors and we are unlikely to be aware of these changes. Moreover, memories tend to be cleaned up over time in an effort to make them more coherent. HM frequently has the experience of encountering new information which reminds him of previous information or studies, some of which he might have personally conducted. His typical finding is that the conclusions of the study are remembered correctly, but the evidence, although supportive, is not as strong as he remembered.

It is also important to remember that most failures to recall are due to information being available in memory, but inaccessible at the time of recall. If you try hard to recall the information, but still fail, it is likely that at some time in the future, the next day for example, the information will suddenly pop into consciousness.

The corporate building metaphor for memory provides a helpful means of thinking about memory failures. The failure of your conscious efforts to recall this information indicates to the cognitive staff on the lower floors that this information is important to you and needs to be recalled. So at a subconscious level retrieval continues. It is likely that these subconscious efforts to recall are healthy because they strengthen previous memory connections that had been weakened through nonuse.

So, what should be done when a senior moment is experienced? Not only seniors experience senior moments. All humans have them. It’s just less likely to have them the younger we are. So when you cannot recall something you want to remember, persist in trying to recall. Try to retrieve for a reasonable amount of time. This signals from the executive suite (remember we are talking about the corporate metaphor for memory presented in the previous post of this series) for the cognitive staff on the lower floors to continue to look for this information. The search will continue at a subconscious level. At an unexpected time, the result is likely to pop into consciousness.

There are many stories about scientists and mathematicians who worked for long periods of time, sometimes many years, on a problem, but failed to solve it. Then, unexpectedly, the answer suddenly appears in their conscious mind. There is a name for this phenomenon and that name is incubation. It is the result of large amount of subconscious processing conducted after the conscious mind decided to rest from the problem.
© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Best Way to Think About Memory

August 1, 2019

This is the second in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. The best way to think about memory is as a corporate building and the corporation is you. At the top level are the executive offices where your consciousness resides. On the lower floors are offices holding your experience, your knowledge, your thinking, and performance capabilities.

Just as in a corporation you are unaware of the vast majority of activities occurring on the lower floors. But it is on these lower floors where most of the activity of memory occurs. If you run this corporation carefully, your conscious mind instructs these lower levels as to what you want and how to prioritize these activities. Sometimes the feedback from these lower floors comes quickly, but at other times it is greatly delayed.
The actual working at these levels is below the level of consciousness until the product pops into consciousness. Then depending on the nature of the product you accept it or provide further instructions to the lower floors to keep on working and try to nudge the work in additional directions.

In your executive office only a small amount of information can be conscious. The vast amount of cognition occurs below the level of consciousness. Work continues to occur there, even when you are sleeping. Part of the advice provided by the healthy memory blog is how to best communicate to these lower levels so that they can best serve you.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.