Friday, March 22, 2013

Sensory Balance Equals Mental Balance?

Believe it or not my new year's resolutions actually aren't that important. Sure, they're all about improving my life for the rest of my life, but they're still more or less specific goals to be focalized on for a particular year, hopefully setting up lifelong habits, changes, or at least good memories, and then the next year a new set is established.

Art by Ripnel Patricia
The most important thing for me to tackle this year is a set of questions I've asked that my new year's resolutions revolve around in some way. After the general let-down of my 2012 resolutions I asked myself what went so wrong, and I've noticed that there were some fundamental perplexities that have actually followed me around most of my entire life, inherently hindering or making more difficult one goal after the next, so my main goal this year is to answer these questions in the best possible manner, for, if solved correctly, I think they'll solve the fundamental obstacles that has made each new year's resolution more difficult to solve than it should be, and, really, any goal I set for myself.

We'll be tackling these questions one-by-one throughout the year at intervals, and for now I think I may have an answer to one, about mental balance. 

One huge problem I've faced in my productivity is that I noticed that I can only engage my concentration in a particular activity for a certain amount of time, after which my effectivity and ability to pay attention totally dives down, until it is no more. That really throws a wrench into the system if there still remains much of the activity to do, like reading a book, and my ability to effectively engage myself in it has practically disappeared. It doesn't seem to be a matter of energy or taking a break, but rather one of balance. 

What I've found is that oftentimes when I engage myself in an activity to the extent that I wear out my ability at it that it helps to switch to an activity of a different nature. Until now, I've been figuring it might be what I call an input/output problem, the former denoting intaking material (such as reading or memorizing) while the other entails creating it (such as making a video or writing). I figured that if I've read too much my brain merely needs to be squeezed like a sponge, having been filled up, and that I just need to switch to something like writing to restore my effectiveness. In other words, to switch from input to output, and vice versa.

Frustratingly, this hasn't worked, and it really hampers my ability to get stuff done when I get into an ebb like this and can't efficiently restore my capacity, which isn't as simple as taking a brea since I don't really need one. But now I may have figured it out: Sensory difference. 

Last night I was listening to a podcast and remarked at how easily it captivated an intense form of attention from me. That was an oddity since I'm not a big podcast listener and wouldn't generally consider myself a liker of podcasts. Yet, in this one I was engrossed. At that moment of noticing my intense attention it struck me: I generally don't stimulate myself auditorily, so the experience was fresh, novel, and different. I also noticed that as I kept listening to podcasts my attention eventually waned and that I wanted to do something else.

So, my new hypothesis to be tested, could achieving mental balance for optimal productivity really be a matter of balancing out the activity level of the different senses and capacities?

In examining my memories I noticed that the essay I read about New Zealand was unique too, in that generally I don't have a habit of looking at or enjoying photographs, and yet this set was able to utterly captivate me. I tried looking at other photo essays on the website and they didn't entice me nearly as much. Perhaps it was again because I was stimulating a temporarily neglected sense.

In practical terms, could the ultimate lesson to be derived here be, aside from other productivity techniques such as taking breaks, that once ability level at one activity starts to wane, that it might be effective to switch to an activity that stimulates a different sense?

There's some evidence to chew on in regards to this. For example, I like to talk to myself in the car as a special thinking method. However, there's lots of times when I'm virtually clueless as to what to say and am either utterly silent or have to push myself to talk in spurts. There's a direct correlation of my ability to talk after I read; the more I read and the more intensely I read, the more likely I am to be able to speak, speak well, and at length. It's absolutely consistent that a pre-work morning of reading leads to me being a blabbermouth on the way to my job, and then on the way home I go back to silence. If I don't read intensely before work then I seem to be silent both on the way there and back; I can't engage the speaking method of thinking very well.

So, could it not follow then, that once I exert myself at an activity that stimulates a particular capacity (reading) that I steadily get better at and more desirous to engage another (speaking)?

In summarized terms, if I'm really petering myself out on an activity, the most practical thing to do may not be to switch from variation to variation of the activity -- such as switching from reading one book to another -- but rather switching from an activity that tests one capacity to another, or a different sense. If I get tired of reading I could try introspecting via talking or writing. If I peter myself out at talking it may do well to go to listening to podcasts. If I get tired of all those, then perhaps it may do well to go look at beautiful paintings or photographs.

Although I'll have to experiment with this it seems to be a more practical difference other than merely changing around the style of an activity. In studying, for instance, they say it helps concentration to switch from one subject to another, but that's never really helped me because, in the context of this issue, I'm simply switching from reading one book or another. The change may have to be more drastic: I may have to go from reading to writing (which is a switch from analyzing and integrating material to being creative), or do something like switch what senses are being hit, such as going from reading to podcast listening (which is a big shift in what senses are being stimulated).

Makes sense, no?

However, there's still some trickiness. As noted above, when I do a lot of reading my ability, desire, and effectivity at speaking tends to increase, so I always have the most to say and best ability to say it after I do a lot of reading, and oftentimes it's not about what I've read either; it's just that general reading generally boosts my general ability to speak. The question is whether this correlation is totally a predictive causation. If I want to speak well should reading always come prior, or do I speak better simply because it's different? Meaning, after the act of reading would I be equally enhanced at podcast listening, photo gazing, and so forth, or is there a direct line saying that I should speak after reading?

In other words, after petering myself out at a particular activity is there a certain logic that will tip me off as to what to switch to next? Tired of writing: listen to podcasts. After podcasts: Read or look at paintings. And so on.

I don't know, but this is something I'll be playing around with, as I've always wondered why something that's usually way outside my routine will suddenly become a huge enjoyment at odd intervals, such as that New Zealand essay. I never look at or admire photos in any habitual way, and yet there I was engrossed for a half-hour or more in those. Same for the podcast: I never listen to podcasts except on a irregular basis, and yet there I was engrossed in that too. Then suddenly both photos and audio programs didn't interest me, and that moment of easy concentration became a mystery.

To experiment, I'm going to try keeping consciously in mind that various activities engage the mind and brain in different ways, and that if I'm ineffective in one -- again, aside from taking a break -- it may be most effective for me to stimulate another. I'll try out these categories to estimate which activity fits where, and where I should switch to next if I can't pay attention effectively:

Symbolic concepts (meaning any sort of reading, from novels to symbolic logic or math)
Creativity (writing, making a video, coding, etc.)
Audio (podcasts, music)
Visual (paintings, photographs)
Videos (combination of audio-visual)
Speech (talking to myself)

Taste is simply meal/snack time, and touch -- well, we won't mention that. My first action will be to document various resources that would satisfy the different capacities I'm trying to stimulate, such as art websites for the visual side, educational Youtube channels for audio-visual, podcasts for audio, and so on, and when I'm working like crap I'll rethink whether something is wrong with my method (such as not thinking an article through enough), if I need to boost my concentration, or if I need to switch to a different capacity stimulus as lined out above.

Hopefully this works, for if so, that's a major productivity problem solved.

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