Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Directed Attention Fatigue: Coping and Defeating

Probably the greatest intellectual problem I've faced in self-improvement over these past several years is dealing with the problem of Directed Attention Fatigue. Oh! I kick myself for not researching it sooner, for a gigantic problem it is!

Directed Attention Fatigue, I've recently learned, is the phenomenon where one's powers of concentration and/or focus are depleted, and are either inhibited, lessened, or even totally unavailable until a recovery period has passed.

For me, this has been nearly the number-one obstacle to my desired cognitive improvements. During my fiercest autodidact days I would concentrate so hard that I would arrive at the point I literally could not concentrate any more regardless of any acts of will. I viewed this as an accomplishment, as I have a hypothesis that the greatest mental growth occurs when you push yourself to exhaustion, much like how properly intense exercise (such as BODY BY SCIENCE) leaves the muscles sore. I analogize it as “pushing” one's walls – one's limits – further and further away by actually hitting it, by actually hitting limits.

The difficulty is that after I had accomplished the feat my concentration would, surprisingly, be gone for several days. If I picked up a book I was trying to study my eyes would quiver left and right, my vision would go blurry, and the mind blank. It was literally gone for the duration of the recovery period, and I was forced to take a break.

That part I don't mind so much, as I'm still proud to have hit the limit and be stretching it, much like how I wouldn't mind the 1-2 weeks rest needed after an intense workout . . . but the problem is how long that recovery should take, and how to control it insofar as to speed it up! This has bothered me for years, for without any answers it has been impossible to make it a regular habit of hitting the point of fatigue since the recovery process is indeterminate, so by the time I've fully recovered I will not be aware enough as to put my limits to the test again.

Thankfully, I found an unusually helpful online resource. If you go here, there's a full, free book written on this subject published entirely online, the chapters and sections available in a multitude of links. It may seem overwhelming, but all the links are actually surprisingly short, and it's well-written to boot, so it ought to be a rather fast read, accomplishable only a fraction of an afternoon.

Hopefully this is the final piece to the fatigue puzzle, for now I'm empowered to actually control the recovery process and speed it up!

Though, I still have some of my own thinking to pile on top of it. Aside from what the book offers, here's what I think, together, speeds up recovery from DAF:

1.) Meditate

By and large meditation means many things to me. I primarily use it to train concentration, so often I do forms that require me to keep my eyes peeled open so as to make it more taxing, but for relaxing physiological effects I do the standard closed-eye form without mantras.

Interestingly, I find the closed-eye form is most alluring and effective when I'm mentally taxed. It feels like I'm gaining the benefits of sleep while awake, so it's going to be a subject of future experimentation to see if I can speed DAF recovery by doing extra meditation.

As for my technique: I like doing it in some kind of chair, as any floor sitting imparts too much strain or painful numbness, that has little to no back support. For whatever reason, posture is important, for if you were to, say, attempt meditation techniques while laying down you'd likely go to sleep, so it seems to impart its unique physiological benefits if you're upright and supporting yourself. Beyond that, I don't do mantras since I dislike the vibration in my throat and mouth, but in focusing on my breath I may count or mentally chant character qualities I admire (like “perseverance” or “fortitude”.)

2.) Switch Senses

Sometimes the DAF may not be so complete as to tax all of the brain, so if you think you've worn out only one sense, change it up with fresh tasks stimulating something else.

For instance, if you're taxed by lots of reading, try looking at something heavily visual, like a comic book, or else resort to watching videos or listening to podcasts.

3.) Do “Mindless” Activities

Sometimes it'll feel best to simply let the mind off the leash and let it do what it wants to do. When I'm exhausted, I love going to the nature park and daydreaming for hours and hours. Very therapeutic.

- - - - - - - - - -

That's the limit of my remedies on the subject, though hopefully it'll stockpile in time.

From future research I'd be interested in hearing estimates as to how long it takes to recover, since such estimates can be made for muscle recovery, after all, and to see if further advances are made at speeding it up.

Hopefully now this is the end of the only obstacle limiting how often I can squeeze myself for my optimal and absolute potential for performance. This sort of self-testing is key to becoming the absolute most anyone could ever be.  


  1. So I realized I think I may have this. It started to happen after I was getting really close to fixing my anxiety and overthinking. Then bam! Just hit me like a ton of bricks, change started to happen and I had to help my dad from not killing himself. Ever since then I've been so fatigue. Some days are better than others. Usually when I'm overthinking is when it's worse. Or at work. It's been probably 2 months I've had it (on and off) and with these practices, have you noticed an improvement? I'm am worried that it may not work out. I would like to feel me again. Thanks! Ashley.

    1. Ho boy, it's been a long time since I've looked at this blog.

      I have to admit that directed attention fatigue is still a conundrum for me. I still don't have a firm grasp on how to cure/treat it, and even more so how to reliably induce it.

      However, Ashley, it doesn't sound like you're suffering Directed Attention Fatigue, but perhaps some other emotional and health issues related to your circumstance.

      I don't think I'll be able to help you effectively, but I would recommend reading and doing the exercises in the book *Mind Over Mood*, which is the single best mental health book I've ever read, and REALLY transformed my own emotions for the better.

      And on the other side, consider troubleshooting your health issues with a functional medicine specialist, or perusing Chris Kresser's website. Health conditions such as adrenal fatigue can make it difficult to manage your thoughts or to prevent your mind from wandering to dark/anxious places. When my own adrenal fatigue was at its worst, I simply could not stop agitating myself with terrible throughts and worries. Great peace came to me when I got my health under control.


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