Get out of a stupor: advice from a Japanese neuroscientist
Practices how to
What to do if at the height of the working day you realize that you can’t get down to any business? If you re-read a letter from a client for the umpteenth time and still cannot understand its meaning? We are forced to adapt to the demands of the time, which requires us to multitask, maximize focus, attention, and the ability to quickly switch from one problem to another. Sometimes it’s too complicated. The recommendations of the neuroscientist Takashi Tsukiyama will help you mobilize the hidden resources of the brain and keep working.
1. Start with something
When you don’t want to work at all, you still need to sit down at the table and try to do what seems interesting and / or simple. I start with simple tasks: I look through the receipts and expenditures of our hospital, sort emails. All this is done in order to stimulate the activity of the nucleus accumbens. The psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin called the principle in which some activity brings the brain into a state of emotional arousal, “stimulation by action.”
2. Set a time limit
Do not force the brain to pore over one task for a long time – it quickly gets tired of it. Divide the work into short periods of time. What is needed to make the restriction work even more efficiently? Be sure to give the result. You can’t sit and think for two hours on a solution to a problem. It is necessary to extract information from the brain, at least sketching the main thoughts on the draft. Since you have created conditions similar to an exam, be so kind as to pass the work on time, even if it is not perfect.
3. Take care of what does not require a long concentration of attention
When you do something for a long time and understand that you are at an impasse, be distracted by tasks that can be quickly completed. Only those who do not require any mental effort, such as brushing your teeth or doing laundry, are unlikely to help. Choose only those activities where you do not need a long concentration of attention and which you can quickly cope with, focusing only for a short time. You can put things in order on the table, sort documents, do some arithmetic calculations. Fast action puts the brain in good shape.
The brain is lazy and strives for idleness. Determine exactly what you want to spend his energy on. For example, sketch out a plan for today, in the morning, for the next hour. When you feel that you are losing concentration, look into it. Clearly let the brain understand what you are going to do next.
5. Make the task “visible”
“Make visible” means not trying to organize your thoughts exclusively in your head. It is necessary to bring information out of the brain, clothe it in a visible form, solve the problem objectively, physically interacting with the information – for example, writing everything on paper. When we “don’t see” our “enemy”, we overestimate its danger and feel panic. Separate information from emotions by verbalizing it.
6. Decide right now what can be solved quickly
Often, unresolved issues that can be dealt with in five minutes become a source of our concern. They steal our ability to reason soberly. For example, we had to pass on some information to someone, but we didn’t. This includes promises to contact, requests, replies to emails. Either solve these questions right away, or write them down on a piece of paper and put it in a prominent place. When you are done with them, cross them out of the “List of Things That Bother”. So you get rid of some more fears.
7. Change your approach or atmosphere
If you have to think about the same tasks for a long time, periodically change your approach to work or your environment. For example, if you spent the first half of the day at the computer, pondering the solution alone, in the second half try to share your ideas with other people, find out their opinion. Then transfer the ideas to paper.
Or, for example, in the first half of the day you worked on a task, creating text, then in the second try to draw diagrams and illustrations. This will allow you to use different areas of the brain. For example, I often do this. Much depends on whether you are sitting in the office or walking in the park. In different situations, the brain works a little differently. Therefore, it is useful to leave the office and take a walk.
8. Focus on one specific task
Trying to make ourselves think of two things at the same time, we miss both and become distracted. To prevent this from happening, you need to be able to deftly switch attention from one to the other. It is not as easy as it may seem. What will help? Take away all things and documents that you don’t plan to work with right now and that remind you of a “different matter”.
9. Place order
Sorting things is also sorting the information contained in the brain. For example, if you removed document “A” and document “B” in one folder, it means that the brain decided that they have some common points or that these documents are somehow connected. If you put the “A” folder and the “B” folder on the same shelf, then you saw the similarity of the information that they contain. Carrying out such sorting every day, you yourself will notice in what harmonious order your thoughts will soon appear.
10. Make an effort by remembering the information.
It is not enough just to read or hear something to make this knowledge yours. You definitely need to make a conscious effort to remember them. A simple way to help make someone else’s knowledge their own is to output information from the brain.
Summarize what you read or heard verbally or in writing (or better in both ways), write down what you come across, or try to retell it as if you were telling someone. You will understand whether information has been deposited in your head only when you try to reproduce it.
11. Extend the “expiration date” of information
No matter how much valuable knowledge you acquire over the years of study, at some point you will no longer be able to extract it from your brain on your own and use it if you have not repeated what you have learned at least from time to time. Information that you have never used will sooner or later become invalid. It is better to update it in different ways: write, speak, put into practice.
This will help to better understand the essence of the acquired and effectively extend the “shelf life” of the memory, as well as share your knowledge with people. It seems to me that the practical application of one’s knowledge is one of the greatest pleasures in our lives.
Read more in the book by Takashi Tsukiyama (Bombora, 2019).
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