Train Your Brain to Focus
Paul Hammerness MD and Margaret Moore, Harvard Business Review
Next time you are sitting in a meeting, take a look around. The odds are high that you will see your colleagues checking screens, texting, and emailing while someone is talking or making a presentation. Many of us are proud of our prowess in multitasking, and wear it like a badge of honor.
Multitasking may help us check off more things on our to-do lists. But it also makes us more prone to making mistakes, more likely to miss important information and cues, and less likely to retain information in working memory, which impairs problem solving and creativity.
Over the past decade, advances in neuroimaging have been revealing more and more about how the brain works. Studies of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) using the latest neuroimaging and cognitive testing [PDF] are showing us how the brain focuses, what impairs focus — and how easily the brain is distracted. This research comes at a time when attention deficits have spread far beyond those with ADHD to the rest of us working in an always-on world. The good news is that the brain can learn to ignore distractions, making you more focused, creative, and productive.
Here are three ways you can start to improve your focus.
To read the full story: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/01/train_your_brain_to_focus.html
A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond
Patricia Cohen, The New York Times
IN 1905, at age 55, Sir William Osler, the most influential physician of his era, decided to retire from the medical faculty of Johns Hopkins. In a farewell speech, Osler talked about the link between age and accomplishment: The “effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of 25 and 40 — these 15 golden years of plenty.”
In comparison, he noted, “men above 40 years of age” are useless. As for those over 60, there would be an “incalculable benefit” in “commercial, political and professional life, if, as a matter of course, men stopped work at this age.”
Although such views did not prevent the doctor from going on to accept a post at Oxford University, one he retained until his death at age 70, his contention that brainpower, creativity and innovation have an early expiration date was, unfortunately, widely accepted by others. Until recently, neurologists believed that brain cells died off without being replaced. Psychologists affirmed the supposition by maintaining that the ability to learn trudged steadfastly downward through the years.
Of course, certain capabilities fall off as you approach 50. Memories of where you left the keys or parked the car mysteriously vanish. Words suddenly go into hiding as you struggle to remember the guy, you know, in that movie, what was it called? And calculating the tip on your dinner check seems to take longer than it used to.
Yet it is also true that there is no preordained march toward senescence.
Some people are much better than their peers at delaying age-related declines in memoryand calculating speed. What researchers want to know is why. Why does your 70-year-old neighbor score half her age on a memory test, while you, at 40, have the memory of a senior citizen? If investigators could better detect what protects one person’s mental strengths or chips away at another’s, then perhaps they could devise a program to halt or reverse decline and even shore up improvements.
As it turns out, one essential element of mental fitness has already been identified. “Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life,” says Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist at Brandeis University who specializes in aging. For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education — for young students as well as those thinking about returning to school.
6 steps to stop over-thinking your life
Amy Maclin, Fox News
You share an elevator with your boss and she doesn’t say hello. Do you tell yourself that she’s quiet because it’s the end of a long day? Or is this your mental ticker tape?
She’s disappointed because my morning report had a typo. Why wasn’t I motivated enough to go to medical school instead? Because my parents never encouraged me. That’s why I’m so insecure, which is probably why my marriage is in trouble.
When Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” this is most likely not what he had in mind. Persistently dwelling on distressing situations from the recent or distant past (called rumination, as in that thing a cow does when it constantly rechews food) can be one of the most destructive mental habits. It’s closely linked to depression, and it can sap our confidence, our ability to solve problems, and our sense of control over our lives.
“Ruminators repetitively go over events, asking big questions: Why did that happen? What does it mean?” says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the chair of the department of psychology at Yale University and the author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. “But they never find any answers.”
This isn’t quite the same thing as plain old worrying: When we worry, we think about the future and what might happen. When we ruminate, we’re usually fixated on the past and what we’re certain has already happened, says Nolen-Hoeksema.
And it can become as natural as breathing. “My patients often do it on autopilot,” says Stephen S. Ilardi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and the author of The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs. “It's like driving a well-known route and then suddenly finding yourself in the driveway with no idea how you arrived there.”To read the full story: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/01/14/6-steps-to-stop-over-thinking-your-life/#ixzz1jwULqDUE
How Music Affects the Brain and How You Can Use It to Your Advantage
Music can often make or break a day. It can change your mood, amp you up for exercise, and help you recover from injury. But how does it work exactly, and how can you use it to your advantage?
Recently, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffordsused music therapy to help her learn to talk again. The still unproven theory revolves around the idea that music is represented in multiple parts of the brain and therefore accesses deeper pathways between neurons. Music then helps patients connect the stored knowledge of words through songs and helps create the new connections needed for speech. This same idea has been used for stroke victims in the past, and has been referred to as the Kenny Rogers Effect.
You don't need to have suffer from brain damage to get the benefits though, lets take a look at how music affects the brain in a more casual sense, and how you can use it to enhance your day-to-day.
You might remember reports back in the 1990s that said that studying while listening to Mozart increases the likelihood of performing well on a test, but that has been disproven in some studies, and in turn, studies have shown some music has a negative affect on fact retention if you're studying numbers or lists. Still, performing music has been proven to increase memory and language skills, but for listeners, it's better used as a means to recall memories. It has been shown in Alzheimer's patients to help with memory recall, and even restore cognitive function. It works for Alzheimer's patients in the same way it works in everyone else.
Look Out Kids: Competitiveness Peaks in Middle Age
New research finds middle-aged men are most willing to engage in competitive risk-taking.
Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune
In our culture, competitiveness is usually associated with youth. Think of sporting contests, music competitions (both of the classical virtuoso and pop diva varieties), or the pressure-packed process of applying to prestigious universities.
It now appears watching eager young performers in action may have skewed our view of the competitive urge. Newly published researchsuggests the instinct to bet on the superiority of one’s skills peaks around age 50.
A research team led by University of Oregon psychologist Ulrich Mayrreports this pattern holds true for both men and women, although the willingness of women to compete is consistently lower than that of men throughout the age span.
To read the full story: http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture/look-out-kids-competitiveness-peaks-in-middle-age-37998/
How Exercise Benefits the Brain
Gretchen Reynolds, The New York Times
To learn more about how exercise affects the brain, scientists in Ireland recently asked a group of sedentary male college students to take part in a memory test followed by strenuous exercise.
First, the young men watched a rapid-fire lineup of photos with the faces and names of strangers. After a break, they tried to recall the names they had just seen as the photos again zipped across a computer screen.
Afterward, half of the students rode a stationary bicycle, at an increasingly strenuous pace, until they were exhausted. The others sat quietly for 30 minutes. Then both groups took the brain-teaser test again.
Notably, the exercised volunteers performed significantly better on the memory test than they had on their first try, while the volunteers who had rested did not improve.
Meanwhile, blood samples taken throughout the experiment offered a biological explanation for the boost in memory among the exercisers. Immediately after the strenuous activity, the cyclists had significantly higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is known to promote the health of nerve cells. The men who had sat quietly showed no comparable change in BDNF levels.
To read the full story: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/how-exercise-benefits-the-brain/?src=me&ref=general
Mindful Minutes: A Simple, Effective Way to Manage Stress at Work (or Anywhere)
Iternational Business Times, ibtblogs
Having written an entire workbook teaching people how to reduce the “frazzle” of life, it always surprises me when I stumble on a new stress management technique that actually works. Sure, there’s always some new fangled idea floating around. Unfortunately, more often than not, I find such ideas are full of promise but lack the substance to really make them worthwhile.
This is why I’m so excited to share my latest discovery and how it came about. Here’s the story:
I caught a radio interview with Goldie Hawn the other day. Yes, she’s the stunningly beautiful blond actress who appears to be aging backwards in a Benjamin Button kind of way. But she wasn’t sharing beauty tips. Instead, she was talking about a new children’s education program her foundation is supporting called Mind Up.
This program seeks to incorporate mindfulness strategies into traditional classroom education. The research of positive psychology shows that teaching children strategies for focusing their attention and monitoring experience without immediately reacting has the potential to impact brain function as well as improve social and emotional well-being and balance.
Page 4 of 8