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The focused strength of the tortoise
In a world where we often seem to praise the hares, don’t be afraid to be a tortoise. A tortoise goes about its tasks in a slow but focused way and, as the story goes, may make it first to the finish…
Multitasking is all around us and so we tend to forget the power of focused attention and practice. And yet, only when you focus on one task in depth, it results in lasting change. And there is another big benefit: at 85 years old, we have about 47% chance to get Alzheimer. We reduce this risk by focused attention and continuously learning new things.
So during this holiday period, I decided to focus on one task, in depth. Since it was hot like almost everywhere this summer, I wanted to find something that did not require too much movement. So I chose to study a book; not just read it but really study it.
I noticed how difficult this was at first. I felt restless, trying to wind down from the busy months before the summer. My thoughts kept wandering to my ‘to do’ list. My attention span was short. I was easily distracted by the dog who was chasing yet another lizard; I felt anxious almost ‘hearing’ time ticking by. But I was determined and stuck to it. I made a written summary, just like I did during my student days and the more I got into it, the more I enjoyed the focused attention.
The book I read was about the plasticity of the brain (Norman Doidge) and the book itself gave several reasons for the need for focused attention. Here are some of my reflections and tips:
- Honor the power of the tortoise and be aware that deep learning takes time and slows you down.
- Set specific time aside for learning something new, as much as possible away from all other distractions (eg put your phone far away).
- If it takes about a decade to become really skilled at something so make sure that you save your deep learning for those areas you really care about.
- When you learn something new, be really motivated. It helps if the learning has multiple benefits. For example, you learn Spanish because: 1) You love the language 2) You go there on your next holiday 3) You have a Spanish friend 4) It will benefit you in your job because of your dealings with Spanish customers…
- If you learn a new skill, practice! If you practice you get a more efficient use of neurons and you start processing things faster. Faster neurons ultimately lead to faster thinking.
- Think about the ‘reward’ for learning something new. Each time you receive a reward the brain releases dopamine which helps consolidate the learning.
And so as I am finalizing my reflections and re-read my notes, I ponder about the good things in life. Enough focused attention for today. Time for a swim or better… focused laps 🙂