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I have a problem.

The kid who lives in my house is fifteen and with that, he has his internet chats, his face-time, his rock music – all happening while he is studying or doing his homework. He says that he can’t concentrate on his studies unless there’s all those things happening at the same time (or at least the music going on in the background).

That set me thinking. A classmate in university did the exact same thing when he was preparing for his tutorials. He would either listen to the radio real loud or he would sing – also real loud. Given that he was tone-deaf, he drove us literally nuts. I have no idea whether he succeeded or failed in later life as I lost touch with him.

But here’s the thing – A podcast I have been listening to right now – an interview with the author of The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin, a neurologist who researches on the best way to channelize our minds toward concentrating on the work at hand.

Here are some of Dr. Levitin’s titbits (shortened and edited by me)……

The study of the biology of the brain is the study of the neurons that are actually doing the work of making decisions in my life. They are living cells with a metabolism and they require nutrients in order to function. They require oxygen carried by the blood and glucose – the fuels for the brain. And these neurons don’t distinguish between making a momentous decision and a trivial one, in terms of the amount of energy they use. It is almost the same amount.

So, if I’ve got an important decision to make, like whether to put my retirement money into stocks or bonds. Or if I have a cancerous growth – whether to get the radiation or the surgery or the chemo – those are important decisions that have a big impact and the brain uses up just as much energy making those decisions as – whether I should wear a red baseball cap or a floppy hat when I’m going out in the sun.

I have a certain number of decisions that I can make before my brain starts getting tired. Every email or text message or face-time ping that comes in while I’m trying to concentrate on something, represents a bunch of decisions. Do I look at it now or later? Do I forward it? Is it spam? Do I file it away? Do I get somebody else to help me with the answer? That’s five decisions right there. Or take the music I am listening to while I try to do my homework – my favorite song in the playlist just got over – Do I replay? Do I switch to something else in the play list?

Decisions decisions decisions – which are the important ones? which are the ones that’ll make me succeed?

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Here’s what I did – I sat down and wrote an email to the kid….

“Dearest Boo,  (***I call him Boo***)

The link below is a podcast. You just have to sit back and listen to an eminent neuro-scientist talk about the effects of multi-tasking, with regard to doing any work, like studying, with TVs, Emails, texting, facetime, background music on, while you study……

The organized mind

I have read quite a few articles and listened to another podcast on the very same issue. Speaking to friends, face-timing, chatting, listening to music – all these might give you the feeling that they help you concentrate, but they are an illusion. They actually prevent your brain from functioning efficiently.

The reason for that is that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MULTI-TASKING. The human brain actually does one thing at a time. So when you talk, chat, facetime, what your brain does is switch back and forth between your study and those other things very quickly.

Very quickly – Yes, but that is when you are young. As you grow older, your habit of this switching solidifies and you can’t do without it. But at the same time, your brain slows and cannot take the fast switching. That is when you start suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

ADD means that when you are in university or at work later in life, your brain will be incapable of concentrating when it really needs to, for all the complex tasks ahead of you.

I am sorry for the way I delivered my message to you last night but my message was not wrong in any way. (***I had scolded him for face-timing with a friend while doing a class assignment***)

(I am gifted with one thing – my concentration. When I am doing anything, I am completely engrossed in it. I won’t even notice you saying something or coming and going from the room. I switch off everything at those times and concentrate on just what I am doing – in most cases, writing my blog.)

If you take my advice and decide to stop doing all these things, then from now on do the following when you are at your desk….

  1. Switch off your cellphone.
  2. Shut off the music.
  3. Make it known to friends that you are unavailable when you study. Those who are real friends will understand (and maybe even follow in your footsteps). Those who take offense – you are better off not being their friends.

You will find that within the course of this year (Sec 4), you will gradually get to the top of your class, I guarantee you that. And the best part is that you will also be able to do your guitar and drum practicing, no problem.

Here is how you start – Make a list of priorities according to what you think are those home-works or assignments that you feel are most important or urgent. Work with those priorities, ONE AT A TIME. You will see that you will be calm and without any stress. Why? Because you know that the task that you are doing at that moment is the most important in your list. Update/change the list periodically if necessary, but stick to your list of priorities.

Ultimately whether to succeed or not in life – it is in your hands. It is up to you.”

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He is a good kid and I am hoping he’ll take my advice.

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