Wednesday 11 June 2014

Can you hear yourself think?

I was watching a lecture by Tal Ben-Shahar, his lectures at Harvard on Positive Psychology were the most popular in its history.

Try this exercise, which I have adapted from his lecture.
  • Think about your favourite film and imagine watching your favourite scene - give it a score out of 10 (with 10 being the maximum)
  • Think about your favourite song - hear it in your head - given it a score out of 10.
  • Think about your favourite meal - imagine you're eating it right now - taste the amazing flavours - give it a score out of 10.
Now - imagine watching your favourite film, whilst trying to eat your favourite meal balanced on your lap, with your favourite song playing at full volume, all at the same time.  What total score would you give this?  I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be the sum of the individual scores and you'd be likely to feel overloaded and stressed.

This is an a analogy for our busy lives.  Ben-Shahar quoted a study from the University of London.  People who left their email open whilst working on a piece of work requiring concentration lost about 10 IQ points.  To put this in perspective, an average subject who has not slept for 36 hours will also lose about 10 IQ points.

Something to Try

If you have an important piece of work which requires concentration and creativity, try this.
Turn off your email, put your phone on silent, hide your blackberry and close down social media.  Nothing will happen if you spend a couple of hours away from them.
Then concentrate on that task only.  It may help to use a system like the Pomodoro Technique. This is where you focus completely for 25 minutes then have a 5 minute break.  Every four pomodoros you can have a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.  There's a link at the end for more information.

This should give you that focus time and allow you to crack on without interruptions.


As with most things the key to succeed in this is practice.  Practice disconnecting from your blackberry, mobile, social media at work. Then try extending the practice to the time you spend with your friends and family. See what happens to your concentration and see if your friends notice. 

It's very unlikely that you'll precipitate the end of the world with a brief disconnection from your email or social media and you might even learn to enjoy it and find that you are more productive, creative and happy.

Do let me know how you get on.




Here's a link to the lecture - it's called Happiness 101 by Tal Ben-Shahar

Here's a link to more information on the Pomodoro Technique

Study identifying reduction in IQ from University in London - I have not yet found the source of this study quoted by Tal Ben-Shahar in his lecture.

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