Do you still love to read? Or are you finding sustained reading more difficult these days? To resist having your attention constantly stolen, here are some ideas to increase your enjoyment and give your brain a boost.
Read a novel.
It could be a favourite from years ago or one that is getting rave reviews from regular people and/or from librarians today. I usually avoid novels recommended by literary critics because I don’t find them engaging enough.
Reading novels not only allows you to immerse yourself in a different life, giving you an opportunity to find flow. But it also improves your ability to recognize and understand other people’s emotions. And it boosts your empathy. In today’s complex world with so many complex problems, we need as much empathy as we can develop.
Watch a movie.
Watching a good movie, especially with a family member or friend, will also nourish your empathy and give you the experience of being in flow.
Fortifying a broad use of your attention will help you resist the constant distractions you run into at work. As I continue exploring Johann Hari’s book, Stolen Focus, I would like to share with you the idea of focused, concentrated attention compared to the equal importance of widening your attention.
Let your mind wander.
Here we consider the value of mind wandering. Yes, the value of mind wandering.
Since childhood, we have been discouraged from letting our minds wander. The impression we received from our teachers and our parents was that during mind wandering, we were wasting our time.
Dr. Marcus Raichle, a highly honoured neuroscientist who helped develop the PET (positron-emission tomography) brain-scanning machine, noticed something very surprising when he had some patients waiting in a PET scan machine. While their minds were wandering as they waited to be given a task, Marcus noticed that their brains were not inactive as his medical school teachers had told him they should be:
“Activity had shifted from one part of the brain to another – but the brain was still highly active. … Marcus’s findings led to rush of scientific research into why our minds wander at all, and what benefits it might produce.”
(source: Stolen Focus pp. 94-95)
Johann Hari interviewed two people who have studied this question in depth, Professors Nathan Spring and Jonathan Small, and found out that,
“In their dozens of scientific studies, they had discovered … three crucial things that are happening during mind wandering.”
(source: Stolen Focus, page 95)
These three crucial things happening during mind wandering were:
- Slowly making sense of the world, producing organized personal goals, increased creativity, and making patient, long-term decisions.
- Making new connections between ideas often produces solutions to problems.
- Roaming over the past, present and preparing for the future.
Granted there are times when our focus is required, but there are also times when letting our minds wander is also productive.