Category Archives: Mindfulness

Mass Destruction of Our Cognitive Abilities

The combination of the Internet and our electronic devices destroyed our attention span so bad that a disaster is waiting us unless we do something about it.

The good news is that people who can take charge of their attention span will have an enormous advantage over others. However, they’ll still have a hard job, because they’ll have to deal with colleagues, customers, friends, and family members whose attention span is already ruined.

How Did We Come Here?

Back in the day, when I was a child in the 1980’s in Turkey, we had a black and white TV, which had a single, state-run, TV channel. Almost none of the programs were interesting to me. On the contrary, they were so boring that I ran away from the living room. I remember my dread, when my dad said we had to switch on the TV and watch the news. That meant I got to be bored out of my mind. I didn’t get why we had to watch the news every day.

As a child, if I was to be entertained, it was up to my imagination and the imagination of my friends and family members. I always had a good time back then. I always found something to satisfy my curiosity. I used to dismantle my toys and see what’s inside them and how they were built. I used to listen to the real life stories of my grandfather. Sometimes, I used to play with other children. However, sitting in front of a screen and looking at it aimlessly was never an option. That would bore the hell out of me with a single, state-run, TV channel.

Then something interesting happened, Turkey became more and more advanced. A second state-run TV channel got started. A few other state-run TV channels followed it. Even though it was illegal at the time, private TV and radio channels got popped up. By the time, I started junior high, it was possible to get entertained 24/7 by a number of attention-grabbing TV and radio channels.

When I got to the college, MTV and similar TV stations started to broadcasted in Turkey. That meant the length of the average program was reduced from an hour to three minutes. And so did our attention span. I could stay up until 3 am by watching those three minute clips telling myself that I’m going to go to bed at the end of the next one.

With the introduction of the Internet, our attention span got further ruined. The mobile devices with fast scrolling features such as smartphones and tablets wiped out our attention span almost completely.

The Destruction of Our Brains

Next time, you open an app like Facebook on your mobile device, observe yourself carefully. How much attention do you pay to a post on average? You just scroll down the screen. If you see something interesting, you spend a few seconds on it, and you continue scrolling. Your attention span is literally reduced to a few seconds.

I remember an instance which was an eye-opener for me. A real human being was giving a live lecture on Facebook, I clicked it to watch it. After a few seconds, I noticed a more interesting video down the line and I clicked it. There was a real human trying to transform their knowledge to me for free, in real time, and I did not have the attention span to watch it and clicked away to a stupid, funny video, that Facebook recommended to me.

I’m not blaming Facebook here. Every other app on your mobile device is trying to do the same. They are trying to keep you as long as possible on their app. The best way to do that is to create an endless stream of attention-grabbing images and videos. Look at the most watched videos on YouTube. They include a stream of flashing images and screaming sounds. That stimulation bypasses the evolved parts of your brain and keeps triggering the most primitive parts of your brain. It keeps you in the vicious cycle of pain and pleasure, the cycle of fight, flight, or freeze and little rewards. As humans, we are not meant to stay in that state for too long. As a matter of fact, with our advanced civilization, we don’t need to get into that state that often in the first place.

What are the long and short term consequences of getting into a state of fight or flight and instant rewards this often and this long? Crippling of our attention span and other intellectual capabilities. The internet, our electronic devices, and the apps on them have similar effects to crack cocaine on our minds. This is the root cause of the problems with the so-called millennials. We, the older ones, got introduced to these devices when we were adults. A whole generation is coming who were raised by these devices. Their parents thought these devices were baby-sitters.

Saving ourselves, our brains, our attention spans, and other mental capabilities from the electronic devices and apps is crucial but not enough. We also have to figure out how to deal with colleagues, customers, friends, and family members who became addicted to these devices and apps. Believe me the first part is hard, but the second part is way harder. That’s why I will keep writing on this issue and I am curious to hear what you think about it.

How to Realize Your Potential and Accomplish Extraordinary Feats

We humans have extraordinary potentials and use only a tiny fraction of our potential. Do you wonder why? Because we are not focused. We are distracted by millions of irrelevant issues throughout our lives. If we have to realize our gigantic potential and accomplish extraordinary feats, we need to focus our attention single-mindedly to our major definite purpose. How are we going to accomplish that in this age, when our minds are attacked by millions of distractions everyday?

The answer is simple: mindfulness.

Break the Vicious Circles in Your Life

Mindfulness requires being aware of what’s going on in our minds and being able to guide our thoughts at our will. This might sound easy, if you haven’t tried it yet. In reality, our minds jump from one thought to another like crazy monkeys jumping from one tree to another. We don’t have any control over our thoughts. Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of them. That’s why our thoughts cycle around vicious circles. So, do our lives. In order to break the vicious circles in our lives, we need to break the vicious circles in our minds.

Let’s think about the following scenario. Suppose that you have a difficult day at work. You get depressed. You get yourself some junk food, a can of beer, and switch on the TV. After hours of watching TV and drinking, you realize that it is already too late to go to bed and you have to go to work the next day. As a result, you have a bad day at work again. Do you see the vicious circle here? Maybe, you don’t need to medicate yourself with junk food, alcohol, and TV after a hard day at work. Why not read a book or listen to an audiobook instead? It can be difficult to break habits. However, it all starts in your mind. It requires mindfulness.

Think about mindfulness as a mental muscle. Your mindfulness muscle is weak, if you haven’t exercised it yet. It will get stronger the more you exercise it and the more you use it.

Improve Every Area of Your Life

Think about an area of your life you want to improve. Suppose that you’re inclined to drive fast with your car. The desire to drive fast can be very sneaky. It can be too late before you become aware of it. You might have exceeded the speed limit and receive a ticket. Overcoming this habit requires mindfulness. You need to be focused on your driving all the time, pay attention to your speed and to the speed limits. You need to let go of all the other distractions. You need to switch off the radio. You need to let go of all the thoughts in your mind. You need to let go of your annoying colleague or the project that runs out of time. You need to concentrate your whole attention to your driving. Driving can be a great mindfulness exercise.

Work is also a great mindfulness exercise. If you want to produce great work, you need to concentrate single-mindedly on the task at hand and let go of all the other distractions and thoughts in your mind. The same holds for relationships. If you tend to be angry with your loved ones, you need to be mindful about this fact, when you’re interacting with them, even when you’re thinking about them.

Mindfulness results in success and growth in every area of your life. The greatest benefit is the feeling of peace that becomes your default mental state. Who wouldn’t want to go through life in peace and feeling relaxed most of the time?

The Ultimate Mindfulness Exercise

The ultimate mindfulness exercise is meditation. There’s nothing metaphysical, fancy, or esoteric about meditation. Get over the image of a monk in an orange robe sitting in a complicated posture on top of a mountain. Make meditation a part of your daily life.

  • Set your alarm clock to a certain duration, for example 20 minutes.
  • Sit upright on a comfortable chair.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Focus on your breath, in and out.
  • Be aware of your thoughts, but don’t pay attention to them. Let them go.

If you find 20 minutes too long, you can start with a shorter duration and work your way up. If you find focusing on your breath difficult, you can buy a guided meditation program and listen to it. Some people meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. My favorite is to meditate for 20 minutes when I’m back from work. I alternate between guided meditation and focusing on my breath based on my mood before each session.

Meditation exercises your mindfulness muscle and makes it stronger, so that you can be more mindful throughout your daily life. It is also a great way to put your mind to rest.

Improve the Quality of Your Life by Letting Go

You might say that you don’t have 20 minutes to meditate every day. This brings me to another practice to improve your mindfulness, the practice of letting go of what doesn’t serve you. Following habits don’t serve you. Quitting them will not only improve your mindfulness, but also the overall quality of your life.

  • Quit smoking, using drugs, drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
  • Quit watching TV, reading mainstream newspapers and magazines.
  • Quit listening to radio in your car, while working or resting.
  • Quit checking your email all the time.
  • Quit surfing the Internet mindlessly.
  • Let go of toxic thoughts, situations, and people in your life.

If you do these, you’ll have more than 20 minutes every day to meditate. It might require some willpower at the start, but once you get used to it, you’re going to look forward for your daily meditation session.