Friday, 30 April 2010
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Monday, 26 April 2010
Selective ignorance – or, the low-information diet – is a term coined by Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week – and could be a helpful strategy in improving concentration levels.
It’s a simple concept: reduce the amount of time you spend grazing on information – online, TV, radio, newspapers, Tweets, you name it you've probably done it – because you won’t benefit from it, and it may even be completely counter-productive to what you are trying to achieve.
“Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence,” says Ferriss. “I challenge you to look at whatever you read or watched today and tell me that is wasn’t at least two of the four.”
Culturally, we have become information junkies. It’s akin to that adolescent fear of not being “in the know” whatever the “know” might be. We find it hard to say, “Oh, I didn’t know that” for fear of being seen as outside the loop, so we try and input everything and anything that may put us ahead of the game.
But the aim, says Ferriss, is to focus on output, not input, and it is this that leads to success. He talks about attention management being as important as time management, and says, “The only option is selective ignorance – one of the few common traits among top performers.”
Certainly something worth considering - but please read this blog first!
Sunday, 25 April 2010
Friday, 23 April 2010
Thursday, 22 April 2010
We all know that exercise is good for our physical health, but research has shown that physical exercise is also good for brains. Yes, getting physical raises the level of feel-good hormones called endorphins but it also raises levels of BDNF – brain-derived neurotropic factor to the uninitiated.
“I cannot over-estimate how important regular exercise is in improving the function of the brain,” says John Ratey, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard. “Exercise stimulates our grey matter to produce Miracle-Gro for the brain.”
This Miracle-Gro is BDNF. When we take physical exercise, our working muscles send chemicals into the bloodstream, including a protein known as IGF-1. Once in the brain, this stimulates the production of BDNF which helps new brain cells, and their connections, to grow.
In addition, levels of other neurotransmitters are increased after the sort of exercise session that will raise your pulse and cause a bit of a sweat (tiddlywinks players don’t qualify) for at least 20 minutes.
“Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine – all of these are elevated after exercise,” says Ratey. “So having a workout will help improve focus, help keep you calm and reduce impulsivity." He goes as far as to describe the effect of exercise as being like a natural dose of Prozac or Ritalin – but with out the deleterious side effects.
Ratey's gold standard, which needs to be built up to gradually, is: one hour of moderate exercise (power walking or jogging) four days a week; a shorter (45 minute burst) of intense activity (squash or running) twice a week, combined with strength training and balance drills.
What's more, the positive effect of exercise continues long after your daily session. So whatever your age, if this isn’t a good enough reason to get exercising – what is??!
Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John Ratey, Quercus publishing, 2008
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
So… brain training won’t help improve brain function in terms of general reasoning, memory, planning or visuospatial abilities, according to a new study which followed 11,430 people over six weeks – but would brain training help your concentration?
Certainly, with practice, participants in the study got better at what they were doing – proving something that every neuroscientist, top musician or sportsperson knows – if you practice, you will improve.
The same goes for concentration. Practice concentrating, using brain training games if you like: but if you want to improve your concentration, practicing really helps.
Concentration is the X factor that makes improvement of other skills possible - so train your brain to concentrate!
Monday, 19 April 2010
Sunday, 18 April 2010
Saturday, 17 April 2010
New research from Johns Hopkins University and published in Nature Neuroscience has looked at the benefits of caffeine to memory…
Trimethylxanthine, or caffeine, is the most widely consumed pharmacologically active substance in the world, and occurs naturally in tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate products and is added to soft drinks and a variety of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
So that's the science - but does caffeine help you concentrate?
Without the phosphodieterase brake, caffeine also stimulates the central nervous system: your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood circulation will all increase so it does have a temporary effect on how you feel, and can increase feelings of alertness which, in turn, can make concentration easier - but only in the short term.
This is the effect exploited in drinks like Red Bull, which contains a whopping 80 milligrams of caffeine per can.
But be warned, an excess of caffeine can make you feel jittery and sick, and because it takes around seven hours to leave your system, can interfere with your sleep, too.
In one experiment when a large dose of caffeine was given to a spider, instead of her web being a beautiful spiral, it was a random mess.
So enjoy your caffeinated drinks in moderation, but don’t expect it to compensate for any poor habits - like overwork, inadequate sleep, poor diet - that can impede concentration.
And if you want an alternative kick-start to caffeine, try a large dose of vitamin C - which also blocks phosphodieterase, and elevates levels of cAMP in the brain to similar effect! - but without the caffeine effect.
For more on the Johns Hopkins study
Saturday, 10 April 2010
The more relaxed you are, the better those brain waves work...
Each Mindball player wears a headband that provides EEG (electroencephalogram) feedback by measuring the electrical frequencies of the brain.
Certain frequencies of signal are associated with different mental activities--for example, gamma waves with a frequency above 26 Hz are associated with higher mental activities such as problem solving.
To win at Mindball, however, you need to produce theta waves (4-8 Hz) which are associated with drowsiness and alpha waves (8-12 Hz) which are associated with being relaxed. So the more relaxed you are, the better you're going to be at this game.
The benefit of these sorts of games is that they give you tangible evidence of what you can achieve. The trick is to register what you are doing and feeling, so you can work towards regaining this ability at will, even when you're not receiving the sort of feedback that a game like Mindball provides.
Knowing you are capable of this sort of concentration is very reassuring, and is relevant to many areas of life, from school to work, exercise to relaxation.
Even winning the game!
Friday, 9 April 2010
Thursday, 1 April 2010
Introduction - Why concentration matters
Chapter One - How the brain develops
Chapter Two - What inhibits brain function & concentration?
Chapter Three - What else is stopping you?
Chapter Four - Your concentration profile
Chapter Six - Learning to concentrate
Chapter Seven - Pay attention! Children & concentration
Chapter Eight - Techniques to improve concentration
Chapter Nine - Specific exercises to improve concentration
Chapter Ten - What else can you do?