9/7/2021 Post 5.1
Let us start a new topic -Concentration.
Mr Mani raises an important aspect in life – how to concentrate ? This is neither taught not practised despite a lot of thinking and focus on this by many over the ages.
“Sir Excellent! Everybody tells that Concentration is required to achieve anything. Teachers tell students to concentrate for getting good marks. Every Successful person says he concentrated and succeeded. But nobody, especially teachers never tell students how to concentrate. Is concentration an inborn quality. How to develop concentration and the proper methodology.”
An excellent question. This deserves a detailed reply and we will do it through a series of posts. It is a basic necessity. It is neglected and ignored by most people including intellectuals and educationists. Western education did not bother about it. So our education also ignored it nicely. Our Gurukulas focussed on this and it is an axiom to have a clean body and a focussed and concentrated mind to start learning in a Gurukula . Also attention was given to each student. Many Upanishads talk about learning and concentration. Yoga aims at calming the mind and improving memory power and concentration. but our English based education system thinks concentration is not important or it comes easily. This is the lacuna first generation learners drop out of school in large numbers. Does our education system tell the students what is education? What do they learn? How do they learn? What is the relevence? etc. No . That is the unfortunate part. People who address dropouts never look at the problems of getting prepared for learning ,problems of focus and problems of total irrelevance and artificiality of our education. But we need to prepare children for learning before we start on the so called subjects . We need to tell them about health, body , mind and teach them ways to be healthy and have good habits aswell as dangers of addiction, to create good and strong work cultures and to develop a focussed and undistracted mind. This is essential. Even KGs start with alphabets – tragedy right. They assume children are well grown up, mature and intelligent. If someone doesn’t come to their expectation, he or she is deemed to be a failure.The westerners look at concentration to handle problems of children with learning disorders and adults with memory loss and loss of focus. They don’t make it a part of education.
Concentration is needed in learning, in activities, in jobs ,and in becoming a good ,helping human being and a citizen. It is needed not only for children ,but for adults also. Many working on harvesters in Punjab have lost their fingers or hands due to loss of concentration.It is dangerous to drive a car without concentration. Some people think that it is a routine activity. But sudden obstacles and problems appear like break failures, cattle crossing, another vehicle on the way, people jaywalking , children running etc. Alertness is needed. You get it through concentration.
Some get it easily. Some find it difficult . Many abhor education and jobs because of lack of concentration. Many who don’t understand instructions are called dull and stupid. We don’t understand these people and explain it patiently. How many make an effort to know how to use a smart phone? Very few. There is a fear of unknown. When banks went for transactions automation through core banking, most were afraid they can’t handle it and may loose jobs. One important success factor was creation of job cards for each task providing step by step instructions and second was training and third was help desks. I don’t understand Why educational institutions and offices don’t have a friendly and helpful help desk ? We will see why concentration is needed for understanding in the next post
Quotes on teaching
“The one exclusive sign of thorough knowledge is the power of teaching.” Aristotle
“The end-product of education should be a free creative man, who can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature.”
“When we think we know we cease to learn.”
Dr S Radhakrishnan
9/9/2021 Post 5.2
Mr K V Ramaprasad raises the problem of remembrance and levels of concentration that depends on people. His comments are:
“Good Morning DKS, Is concentration linked with forgetfulness?
As you said none teaches concentration.
Is it an inherent quality of a person and varying between person to person. Is this variance linked with forgetfulness of a person?
A person will remember his basic core subjects what he is dealing (example his business) and will not remember trivial things (what he ate during previous day as lunch) And another person will be just opposite – remembers trivial things and forgets core subjects he is dealing. Does the concentration vary between these two types of persons?”
My response in two parts. First on the remembering power – the effectiveness of retention in memory- of the people. Why does each person have a different power of recall?. The reasons are many and complex. First factor is one’s interest in an aspect to be remembered. Also you consider that this aspect is important to be remembered. I told previously about students analysing a movie or a cricket match recently seen. They go into intricate details . That is due to the interests they have in games and movies and their excitement for discussions. The next question of retention is whether it is short term or long term. As you said many have scatch pad memories. They remember an aspect for a few days and forget afterwards. The recall of movies and cricket are of this kind. The interest reduces with time and recall gets reduced. Most facts are forgotten. We don’t know why there are these kinds of variations in remembering and recalling by different people. Is it genetic – coded in DNA – I have no idea.
So the second aspect is the utilitarian aspect. You know your colleagues well in office and remember every detail about the close acquaintances. You can recognise them at a distance by their gestures. But if one of them goes away and your contact is reduced, then you may start forgetting information about them. After some years you may struggle to remember their name. Phone Book helps now. The reason why you don’t remember the food you ate yesterday is the fact that you don’t consider it important. So you ignore it as non utilitarian.
But there is a third factor – deep interest. This leads to long term memory. You remember some of your class mates after several decades. You may forget many also.
Memory is not fully understood. Certain aspects like numbers are difficult to remember. We don’t know what and how memory decides to delete data. It is even possible that the information is there deep in memory and we can’t retrieve it. Sometimes it appears after a gap of time. Experiments have shown ways of improving remembrance. we have read from PG Wodehouse how Jeeves ate fish and became intelligent. Our Ayurveda talks of Brahmi to improve memory powers. It talks of several foods. Yoga also helps. The concept of a mind is vedic. The medical experts didn’t believe in it. For them, the brain existed and information stored and retrieved are known. Some ideas of processing are known. But we need clarity on many aspects like -how the processes work and how intuition works and how data appears and disappears and how information is stored and retrieved.
Normally Child hood memory is retained for a much longer time – even after 60 years.
The story about education and retention of topics depends on absorption. Low absorption and you forget after exams and deep absorption you remember for decades. When I interviewed candidates for a faculty position, I ask them questions on a topic, the answer is ” I studied in fourth semester and don’t remember it now.”
Now the main question is how do you absorb a subject. Here is where focussed mind and concentration come in to play their role. Effective learning and effective execution needs concentration. How a general practitioner will look if he says I forgot symptoms of a disease or treatment. No one will go to them. We had a doctor who used to refer to a text book. So a good doctor or surgeon needs a good memory . In this situation, the learning process is strengthened with sufficient practices with cases. So house surgeoncy and residency reinforce their memory. So practical experience is another factor for retention.
Does the capability to remember vary with people. It looks like the answer is yes. Some forget easily, some remember a fact for several years. So there is a variation to be found in retention capacity of people. But what is more important is that there are many definite possibilities and processes to improve retention. Our focus is to look at building concentration so absorption is much better. We will see the second part that is understanding in the next post before going into the aspects of concentration. We will create a taxonomy of understanding.
9/11/2021 Post 5.3
Learning is the key to life .The key to learning is understanding many things like- oneself, one’s community, one’s society, living and sharing and helping, nature,world , habits, emotions, behaviours, etc. Learning happens throughout one’s life period. Learning is obtained from parents, neighbours, society, teachers, friends, from books, radio, TV, web and googling and from nature. We learn by observation by vision, hearing , listening, feeling , reading , writing, thinking, conjecturing , experiencing, interpreting,analysing , experimenting, deciding and solving problems. So there are several approaches to learn. We need to learn not only in the school but outside also. Society and nature can be our lifelong companions in learning.
Let us categorise understanding by a Taxonomy.
Knowing is the first step. Let us take an example to show knowing is incomplete.
Heard that a friend has arrived. That is the information. We know a friend is in town. But we don’t know many things – when , how , and why he came and how long will he stay? That additional data is needed. In any concept we learn ,there is incompleteness.
Recall – you got information with attention. Repetition helps.So you keep it in mind and remember it later when required. You may even not memorise it and forget it after sometime.
Deep knowledge. We tried to collect more information to complete the picture. We do this by discussions and enquiry or reading or listening. Knowledge is not words. It can be speech, sound, music, gestures, pictures , videos, experiments and proofs. This helps in better retention for longer periods of time.
Basic Understanding- now, we assimilate the information. Retain it. Understand the relevance of information, it’s utility, etc. You use the context and group and area etc.
Understanding involves explanations , experiments, discussions, querying , and more. Clarity improves.
Interpretation -the next level of understanding is to interpret the data and results.say you are reading about sensors. You decide on its cost, feasibility, requirements for use like power,its impacts on various sectors like agriculture, industries, transport etc, its effects on ecology, society, on poor people, etc.
Differentiation – this is keen to understanding and deciding. What should I buy – a silk shirt or a cotton shirt, branded or not etc. Even in engineering we don’t know differences easily. Examples are – program and process and thread, hubs and switches, load break switches and circuit breakers, circuit breakers and isolators , internal vs external combustion etc. Ambiguities are minimised
Inference – derive new information from the given data.
360 degree view – birds eye, worms, internal ,external, impacts , systemic views,etc
Conscious – awareness , truth finding, – is the data correct, information correct. Where do I place this information – basically define context. What are the constraints? How effective is a device? Will customers buy this? How do I reach it to the customers? etc.
Comprehension – it means your understanding is quite deep.
Analysis and synthesis and extensions
Cognition – you are an expert on this topic or area.
We start with knowing and understanding oneself – One’s body, functions, emotions,pods, hormones, beliefs , behaviors, habits, thinking etc.
We see that understanding needs concentration particularly for deep work but even for the simple task of remembering. We need attention to get a fact and store it . We need focussed and clear mind. That is the first requirement. We should not be distracted. That will be the next step.
9/13/2021 Post 5.4
We are distracted internally by emotions and addictions and behaviors as well as externally by friends,noise from traffic and people , pollution and interruptions by devices – smart phones, laptops, meetings , emails, apps etc.
We need to learn how to avoid distraction. Living the lives we want not only requires doing the right things but also necessitates not doing the things we know we’ll regret.
Let us talk about traction vs distraction . Traction, which comes from the Latin word trahere, meaning “to draw or pull.” We can think of traction as the actions that draw us toward what we want in life. On the other side is distraction, the opposite of traction. Derived from the same Latin root, the word means the “drawing away of the mind.” Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision. All behaviors, whether they tend toward traction or distraction, are prompted by triggers, internal or external.
In 1971 the psychologist Herbert A. Simon presciently wrote, “The wealth of information means a dearth of something else . . . a poverty of attention.” . He had a remarkable foresight of seeing what is happening today. Researchers tell us attention and focus are the raw materials of human creativity and flourishing. In the age of increased automation, the most sought-after jobs are those that require creative problem-solving, novel solutions, and the kind of human ingenuity that comes from focusing deeply on the task at hand.
Many particularly Luddites believe devices like TV, computers , mobile phone etc lead to addiction and distractions . So ban them.
The problem is deeper than tech. Being indistractable isn’t about being a Luddite. It’s about understanding the real reasons why we do things against our best interest. Our mind is working against us. So first let us understand the following:
Distraction stops you from achieving your goals. It is any action that moves you away from what you really want.
• Traction leads you closer to your goals. It is any action that moves you toward what you really want.
• Triggers prompt both traction and distraction. External triggers prompt you to action with cues in your environment. Internal triggers prompt you to action with cues within you.
Sankaracharya said satisfaction is bad. It seems bad and negativeness are stronger in people. We remember negative things. A child picks up crying and worrying easily.
There are four psychological factors that make satisfaction temporary. Let us see them.
Experiments show that
“People prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.” It’s no surprise, therefore, that most of the top twenty-five websites in America sell escape from our daily drudgery, whether through shopping, celebrity gossip, or bite-sized doses of social interaction. This is same in India. We prefer a comfort zone. So no exercises, no restraint of food, criticize all, forget our purpose.
2.The second psychological factor driving us to distraction is negativity bias, “a phenomenon in which negative events are more salient and demand attention more powerfully than neutral or positive events.” As the author of one study concluded, “It appears to be a basic, pervasive fact of psychology that bad is stronger than good.” This gets built at childhood itself.
3.The third factor is rumination, our tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences. If you’ve ever chewed over something in your mind that you did, or that someone did to you, or over something that you don’t have but wanted, over and over again, seemingly unable to stop thinking about it, you’ve experienced what psychologists call rumination. This “passive comparison of one’s current situation with some unachieved standard” can manifest in self-critical thoughts such as, “Why can’t I handle things better?” Learning from past mistakes will be better instead of worrying about it and loosing self confidence.
4.Fourth aspect : All sorts of life events we think would make us happier actually don’t, or at least they don’t for long. For instance, people who have experienced extremely good fortune, such as winning the lottery, have reported that things they had previously enjoyed lost their luster, effectively returning them to their previous levels of satisfaction. As David Myers writes in The Pursuit of Happiness, “Every desirable experience—passionate love, a spiritual high, the pleasure of a new possession, the exhilaration of success—is transitory.” Of course, as with the other three factors, there are evolutionary benefits to hedonic adaptation. That is satisfaction is transient or temporary.
We will address these next .
9/15/2021 Post 5.5
Distractions lead to a wandering mind. That means the attention is reduced and one becomes defocussed. This means no concentration. So let us look at attention next.
Let us see some initial solutions.
We need to understand our attention width ,span and depth. It is shown that we have a narrow attention width – the number of topics we can handle simultaneously. Many do multitasking – walking and talking on the phone, reading and watching TV or talking, doing office work and talking to colleagues and many more examples exist. Some do three tasks at a time. Multitasking is a strict no no. If you are working and music is playing then decide on what you are going to concentrate. Make music as a backgrounder without drawing attention from you. Then concentrate on work.
All tasks don’t need same degree of attention. Many can be done routinely. Conscious actions like sequencing , remembering are not needed. These are done in autopilot mode. But many need a high degree of focus and concentration. Some tasks are complex. Productivity is an important measure. In the case of children in schools , I will not go by just examination alone to know their progress. We need to monitor absorption levels periodically to improve efficiency of learning. This means sufficient time and deep attention are required for learning. 3. So prioritise tasks which need attention. All tasks don’t need the same amount of attention. If you miss a part of music, you can hear it later. If you are reading a book of fiction, it can be delayed, but if you are attending a lecture or preparing for a lecture or delivering a lecture, those are important and need attention. If you are working on a machine or driving , attention is critical to avoid mishaps and accidents . A bank manager needs attention in his or her work to avoid financial losses.
So we should prepare a list of priority tasks . The list should not be long by including tasks like shopping , eating, etc. This prioritisation should be done carefully . The requirements for each task should be prepared.
4. The next step will be time management.
Timebox your day. The three life domains of you and your habits/ behaviours and your learning, your relationships with family members and others, and work provide a framework for planning how to spend your time.
5. External distractions are mostly in your control. So try to minimise external distractions like phone calls, chats, apps, TV viewing, meetings, emails, etc.
Interruptions lead to mistakes. You can’t do your best work if you’re frequently distracted.
• Open-office floor plans increase distraction.
• Defend your focus. Signal when you do not want to be interrupted. Use a screen sign or some other clear cue to let people know you are busy and indistractable. Very simple.
We can manage external distractions with planning , scheduling and time management.
Let us learn email and whatsapp management. When you want concentrate on a task, reduce ping noise – put phone in silent mode- or look at emails and messages at fixed time periods to reduce becoming a slave to devices.
Make it harder to call a meeting. To call a meeting, the organizer must circulate an agenda and briefing document.
• Meetings are for consensus building. With few exceptions, creative problem-solving should occur before the meeting, individually or in very small groups.
• Be fully present. People use devices during meetings to escape monotony and boredom, which subsequently makes meetings even worse.
We will see more in next post.
9/17/2021 Post 5.6
Concentration needs effort and effort required is proportional to the level of attention and attentions intensity level depends upon the complexity of the task. Let us see more.
Mind is a ‘thought flow’. The more the flood of the thoughts gushes through us, the more uncontrollable becomes the mind. So all factors that contribute to the quietening of the mind are to be cultivated and all sources from which mind gets disturbed are to be rejected and eliminated.
6. Can do attitude.
Confidence and positiveness. Without this no task will be done. Avoid negative thoughts.
yā matiḥ sā gatiḥ – ‘As we think, so we become’ is a famous saying. If you assert yourself that you are a helpless, weak and desperate creature of passions and impulses, you cannot grow into the higher heights of beauty and strength of your personality. On the other hand to assert our own divine nature constantly and to try to live without compromising this godly status, is to a seeker the royal path for gaining self-unfoldment.
7. Good health – healthy living is important.
Start with cleanliness – washing hands , keeping your place and neighbourhood clean etc.
Children should be told that proper slow breathing is important for good health and calm mind. So they should be taught right breathing techniques first in schools.
It also means regular exercise, outdoor exposure, no pollution,
good ambience – no noise, calmness, no disturbances – , nutritious food , etc.
Hydration is needed for good health. Everyone should drink enough water to keep the body hydrated.
Active body is needed for active mind and active mind is needed for increasing attention depth and span .
Intake of Lots of carbohydrates and sugar makes one drowsy. So concentration is difficult. Reduce carbs intake and increase protein intake.
These are all things but matter a lot for concentration.
Proper sleep is essential for fresh mind.
8. Work culture is the most important. It will train one to build good habits and makes one active. It is needed by students at all levels and employees, managers , leaders and everyone . Look at a bird and see it’s work culture particularly when it has to feed young new born ones. It works incessantly collecting food and feeding it to the young ones. See a worm . It constantly eats food. Why don’t we learn from them. Some work activities like reading, sitting in a lecture and listening for hours ,writing several pages at a time, etc are not easy but they need to be cultivated. The simplest step here is to start reading . Start with reading for a 15 minutes, pause and check how many times your mind strayed. It gives you the difficulty level for concentration. Increase the reading time to one hour but with a pause at 15 minutes to absorb what you read. Later, write an abstract of what you read . Same thing is true. After listening to a lecture, spend five minutes and write down the take away points from the lecture. Slowly increase the time for reading and writing. Start with a simple book and move towards text books. This will make most more attentive.
More in next post.
9/19/2021 Post 5.7
Let us continue further.
9. Immediate goals – may be weekly – and targets with time and activities planning will be a good motivation for generating interest. As an example of task and target setting, consider this – One can be determined that he should complete algebraic operations this week. Weekly targets are very good for effective learning. One gets great satisfaction in completing the weekly targets. One knows one’s capabilities and resources. I have seen that many bosses like a person because he or she completes the assigned task before or on time. This simple weekly activity of identifying tasks and fixing targets on every Sunday ,say , will increase and improve thinking and provide a systematic approach in learning and doing the tasks with minimum surprises.
As a next step, one should not just have a goal but create an action plan and checklists. This makes one a systems oriented person and it is very useful in life. Checklists will contain resources needed, who supplies them, name of experts for help etc.
Let me expand this . Let us look at detailing .
Create a Todo list every day
First: at the start of each day, choose the three things you want to have accomplished by day’s end. While a to-do list is useful to capture the minutiae of the day, these three intention slots should be reserved for your most important daily tasks.
A second intention-setting ritual to follow is considering which items on the to-do list are the most consequential.
If you have the habit of maintaining a to-do list , take a second to consider the consequences of carrying out each task—the sum of both its short-term and long-term consequences. The most important tasks on your list are the ones that lead to the greatest positive consequences.
Setting specific intentions can double or triple your odds of success.
Create a check list.
Anticipate obstacles ahead of time.
Schedule complex tasks with time and effort and support estimations.
For example , Sit and read in a class room with others. But No talking.
10. We have a tendency to find excuses for any situation encountered. We are quite ingenious about finding new excuses. It starts at a young age. Excuses hide the cause and so this continues. If you can’t meet the target, please don’t invent an excuse – an external cause. But find out the reasons and try to rectify them. The causes can be difficulty in understanding, wavering mind, laziness, emotions etc. Identify the causes and try to find answers to them.
Caffeine in small doses helps in concentration particularly when energy levels are low.
More in the next post.
9/21/2021 Post 5.8
Mr jayashankar has comments on action.
“Detailed and very effective narrations.
I would like to add one more concept for completing a task with out error.
Every action must follow this cycle to avoid errors.
- P- Plan
- D- Do
- C- Check
- A- Act.
I have used this techniques effectively in my career and found to be very useful. Since we check the result of every activity for its correctness and effectiveness before going to next task, snow balling of cumulative errors can be eliminated.”
Let us look at more on work.
Make a daily plan
Schedule time for each task that you have to do. Plan to work in short chunks (no more than one hour at a time) and then take a break! Incorporating breaks will help you stay focused during your work time.
Incorporate a change of scenery. Take a break by going on a short walk around your neighborhood or apartment complex.
Discover the best time of day for you to tackle challenging assignments. Doing the most challenging tasks first thing in the morning can help prevent getting caught up with distractions, but do what works best for you.
Discover where you study best. Does working in your bed make you tired? Try studying somewhere you designate exclusively for work, like a desk, a comfy chair in your house, a coffee shop, or the library.
Incorporate movement and fun. Make sure to schedule in times to participate in activities that you enjoy each day and week. Add some movement or exercise into your daily schedule”
Manage your thoughts while studying
Plan an activity to transition your mind for focus, like deep breathing or listening to music.
Write down competing and distracting thoughts on a post-it or notebook and save them for later. This way, you won’t forget about them but you hopefully will be able to put them aside until you are done working.
Consider building movement into your study time.
Get enough rest!
Everyone is more distracted when tired. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely)
Having specific goals can help you stay on task and feel motivated.
Engage in self-talk
If you find your mind wandering when you should be working, tell yourself to get back on task and that you need to complete this work.
9/23/2021 Post 5.9
14.Train your brain
Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating. Try:
- crossword puzzles
- jigsaw puzzles
- word searches or scrambles
- memory games.
Results of a 2015 study-Trusted Source -of 4,715 adults suggest spending 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, on brain training activities can have a big impact on concentration.
Brain training games can also help you develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.
Brain training can work for kids, too. Invest in a book of word puzzles, complete a jigsaw puzzle together, or play a game of memory.
Even coloring and painting can help improve concentration in children or adults. Older children may enjoy more detailed coloring pages, like those found in adult coloring books.
The effects of brain training games may be particularly important for older adults, since memory and concentration often tend to decline with age.
Newer research also suggests playing video games could help boost concentration.
A 2018 study looking at 29 people found evidence to suggest an hour of gaming could help improve visual selective attention (VSA). VSA refers to your ability to concentrate on a specific task while ignoring distractions around you.
This study was limited by its small size, so these findings aren’t conclusive. The study also didn’t determine how long this increase in VSA lasted.
Visual attention is an important aspect of learning. Those who identify birds, plants have good VSA.
But a word of caution is needed. Videogames are addictive. So be careful.
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.
Occasional sleep deprivation may not cause too many problems for you. But regularly failing to get a good night’s sleep can affect your mood and performance at work.
Being too tired can even slow down your reflexes and affect your ability to drive or do other daily tasks.
A demanding schedule, health issues, and other factors sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. But it’s important to try and get as close to the recommended amount as possible on most nights.
Many experts recommend adults aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Improving the sleep you do get can also have benefit. A few quick tips:
Turn off the TV and put away screens an hour before bed.
Keep your room at a comfortable but cool temperature.
Wind down before bed with soft music, a warm bath, or a book.
Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
Exercise regularly, but try to avoid a heavy workout just before bed.
16.Spend time in nature
If you want to boost your concentration naturally, try to get outside every day, even for just 15 to 20 minutes. You might take a short walk through a park. Sitting in your garden or backyard can also help. Any natural environment has benefits.
Scientific evidence increasingly supports the positive impact of natural environments
9/25/2021 Post 5.10
Let us now move to the core of concentration. The basic requirements are good ambience, clean body, calm mind, work culture . Then we can slowly improve receptiveness and increase time and focus on concentration .we start with yoga and meditation. We also measure our initial state of concentration – how many minutes we can keep our mind calm and blank; how long can we sit and do a task in a focussed manner and how quickly we get tired;how many distractions take place in five minutes; . Don’t give up. Also start with a task in which one is interested and simple. One can move to complex and difficult tasks later. Continue with the experiment for some days and there will be good improvements. But yoga , sincerity and work culture are important. It is preferable to start this practice in the morning when one is fresh and not tired and when the stomach is not full. You choose a clean ,quiet place. Create a conducive ambience.
Disturbed mind or a high emotional – angry, worrying, – state, will not help in getting a good concentration. It will lead to distractions and defocussing – two no no for concentration.
So , First calm your mind through breathing and self teaching – confidence, awareness of thoughts and distractions to be assessed every minute by you, control of emotions, etc. When you start meditation, your mind will be wandering and it cannot focus on a topic for a sufficient amount of time. So do a simple experiment.
Read a simple book in an area of interest to you. After two minutes ,pause. Note down the number of distractions. Also try to remember the gist of what you read so far. Write it down. Continue reading , pausing and absorbing. You get immersed after some time and distractions will disappear. Some will get this fast ,some need a lot of effort and time. Don’t give up. Do it for thirty minutes first and then increase it to one hour. Take a break when you feel tired. Or take a walk outside.
You can do this experiment with music or drawing a natural scene also. In these cases corrections are easy.
Do yoga like pranayama and shavasana. Shavasana is effective in calming the mind and reducing pressure. Vajrasana is said to be the good sitting posture for pranayama, meditation and concentration. Normally children breathe slowly . But as we grow old we breathe faster and breathing is shallow. So we need to practice slow and deep breathing. That improves our health and our capability to focus and concentrate.
Yoga and Pranayama should be done in a mindful state. You should feel the air movement inside the body while doing pranayama. You make each limb to relax in shavasana.
Secondly, keep yourself clean and start with a stomach that is empty or filled up a little only and definitely not full .
We will see more in next post.
9/27/2021 Post 5.11
Third step: learn and use mindfulness.
Let us see what is mindfulness. Hindu scriptures recommend this as the first step. It means two things – one this creates interest and two it improves attention. This also means you are not doing a mechanical or mindless task. You become aware of what you are doing. You have seen mothers telling their children to put their attention while eating to know what and how much they are eating. Some don’t allow their children to read a book while eating. Mindful eating means you know what items you ate, how much, how was the taste, how are you feeling , etc. It means not overeating.
mindfulness is about “reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience” which means “waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment.”
Hence, according to Yoga International, mindfulness can be defined as the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. In different words, it’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Dreaming while doing a task is not a mindful activity. Mindless activities mean an autopilot state – not a conscious state.
A Better way of looking at it is:
Mindfulness is living in the now. It is essentially about being more aware and awake in every moment of your life. It is about intentionally paying attention to each moment, being fully engaged in whatever is happening around you and within you. It involves bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to whatever is experienced, rather than habitual patterns of judgment and criticism.
Let us ask the question ” how does one build mindfulness in tasks which need attention?”
The solution is self teaching. Mindfulness needs practice like yoga. After several days of practice, it becomes routine. It is similar to thinking. Cultivate it. How?
We can learn from machine learning and adopt it. Funny , right . Instead of machines learning from us, I am saying learn from the machine. Let us follow the idea of reinforcement learning. Do a single task. Calm the mind. Have a desirable bience. Start on the task. Do self induced feedbacks periodically. . Get a feedback on your activity from you. If a task needs a finite amount of time , then pause after every few minutes, ask yourself questions on what am I doing, why, is it going ok, what did I learn, were there any distractions, can I apply it, any changes or improvements possible etc. Note down your analysis of your experience. Ask whether you can improve and how? Look for 360 degree views. One can ,a priori , make a list of questions for guidance and improve it over a period of time. So one should look for answers to these questions at every pause.
Create a cumulative self feedback at the end of completion. It can suggest improvements in understanding and focusing. This is a good approach to building concentration and improving it. This helps you to generate interest and sharpen thinking and makes the brain cells active.
This makes you self dependent, not depend on teachers. Our teachers and teaching are not focused on each student and his or her capabilities. Our teaching does not measure absorption by each student. It is one directional. Digitally good students can use searches to get better explanations and visual learning . But rural students need to build self teaching techniques to understand a topic.
It is good to mull over the concepts of reinforcement learning and also of self teaching . One can build a mobile app to do this.
We will see further in the next post.
9/29/2021 Post 5.12
We want to start with easy way of doing mindfulness and focussing through some activity in which we are interested and which needs good but not deep attention. Don’t choose simple routine tasks like eating and walking choose a topic that interests you. Some examples are Music of a kind that interests you, drawing, painting, carpentry work, driving, praying, games, simulation, mathematics, reading a book of interest to you- biography , fiction, history, technology , computers , puzzles, poetry etc., writing , listening to lectures, observing nature – birds, worms , animals , plants , flowers , water flows or rivers, sea, mountains, etc. To start with ,choose a simple task and slowly move to a complex task. Don’t do multitasking. Focusing is not possible with multi tasking.
After identifying an area of interest, start focussing with simple steps.
1.choose a productive or meaningful object of attention; the object should be a pleasant one ,preferably not closely related to your emotions. It should not kindle your emotions like anger, dislike, worry, sorrow , distress etc. Positively it should give you happiness. You can address other difficult or emotional tasks later.
Choose a good calm ambience. Play soft music if possible.
We are good at recollection of a visual object. The Indians normally start focusing on a family god. This is the best way to begin concentration through focusing on a picture .See the gods’ picture for a few minutes. Take deep breaths to calm the mind. Close your eyes and visualise the picture . Keep repeating this until you can visualise the picture to a reasonable level when eyes are closed. Now keep your mind on this picture as visualised for a minute and your mind is focussed on it. keep increasing the time to five minutes in steps. Practice this for several days. You are into simple meditation.
We can also visualise a simple scene – room, flowers, plants, trees etc.
Similarly we can keep repeating a mantra and focusing on wellness and happiness to all. Aum is quite effective. Choose a simple mantra like aum namashivaya, namo narayana us, hare krishna, hare Rama, loka samastha sukhino bhavanthu ,etc -any one of them not many. Focus should be on the mantra and its meaning. This type of meditation is quite common. Mild soothing music is also good. Keep your eyes closed. Sit relaxed and do meditation. When you are chanting, use mindfulness to feel vibrations and think pleasant thoughts. These will increase focus and reduce distractions.
2.eliminate as many external and internal distractions as you can;
3.focus on that chosen object of attention; and
4.continually draw your focus back to that one object of attention.
5. If you don’t like a gods picture, you can choose a scene say your room or a tree outside etc. The scene should be simple not having too many features. So that it is easy to remember it and visualise it.
6. Make this a daily practice doing it for five to ten minutes and increasing to may be thirty minutes.
Setting an intention for what we plan to focus on is the most important step—the more productive and meaningful the task, the more productive and meaningful your actions become.
10/1/2021 Post 5.13
There are some issues with terminology.
Why do we need concentration? To do a job correctly and productively. Or to understand a topic cognitively, not just rote learning ; or To create long term retention , recall and innovations; or To build new things or knowledge on what is known .
There are multiple levels of concentration – low level, normal level, serious level and deep level. These need to match wil multiple levels of understanding we discussed earlier. Endurance with time is built by work culture of several hours of working.
Since concentration depends on the task being taken up, let us see the requirements for tasks.
Tasks are work done daily by us – learning a topic, reading, writing, listening, learning music , painting, creating stories, innovating, producing parts, designing, analysing etc.
The first thing is to decide on tasks to be done each day in the school, or in the organization or in work or profession or in the society. We set up goals for each month, year and long term. Goals can be personal or organizational or societal. Based on the goals, the tasks required to realise the goals are decided upon. Each task may have subtasks also. Tasks may require resources and deadlines. They need timelines and skills. There is also a sequencing of subtasks and scheduling of subtasks and tasks . Let us classify tasks now.
Tasks can be (1) simple like eating or brushing the teeth, etc or (2) moderate like solving some arithmetic calculations like purchases, driving a car etc, or (3) complex like understanding a topic or writing an algorithm , etc or (4) deep like learning mathematics or music or designing an electricity distribution system for a city or (5) intense like practising music or performing music or painting or reimagining curriculum or analysing results.
Tasks can be classified as useful/ utilitarian, normal , productive, necessary or useless . Surprisingly we do some or many useless tasks also.
The effort required by a task also varies – less, normal, more, intense. It depends on the criticality, difficulty of tasks. More difficult means more attention is needed. More critical may need intense attention.
Tasks can either be interesting or not interesting or boring , dull or difficult to grasp and understand. But whether it is interesting or not, we need to do many tasks that are required to meet our basic needs, our purpose of living and our goals of education, profession, and enrichment of nature.
Next, tasks need attention at different levels. Some like brushing teeth doesn’t need much attention. Some need a little attention. Some activities like reading need a lot of attention. Some like learning a new subject want deep attention. Some like music training, designing etc need intense attention. Most needing attention also need a focus. Some tasks allow multitasking. Examples are reading when music is going on ,but attention is on reading and not on music; walking and talking – here you give 50 50 attention – divided attention because both hopefully do not need a lot of attention.
In the case of jobs needed in one’s life, it is imperative to build interest . This is particularly true in education and job.
Attention and focus are directly related. Jobs needing more attention like studies need more focus. This means most jobs need meaningful attention and focus.
What’s The Difference Between Mindfulness And Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation are different are terms that encompass different meanings. However, they are straightly connected. While mindfulness strengthens and enhances meditation, meditation nourishes and expands mindfulness. In other words, while mindfulness can be applied to any situation at any given period, meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time. Moreover, while mindfulness means being aware and tuned with what is going on inside and around one, meditation means stop what one is doing and set aside time to try and be aware of nothing (which can also come from focusing only on something like creating a visual impression of a personal god.).
To get a good focus on a job, we need a calmer mind – that means we need to have practices for a healthy life , deep breathing , good sleep, yoga and meditation. We need a good work culture also. These are techniques to increase the capacity and capability for concentrating on a task . These also help in reducing tensions and stress . A great necessity for most people today. Mindfulness needs feedback, self teaching and reinforcement. All these are prerequisites for a good focus. These are taken up before a task is taken up for execution. When we execute a task, we need concentration
These lead to the way of building a good concentration. Remember all these techniques like good ambience, intention, creating interest, breathing, yoga, exercises, mindfulness, relaxing with music, meditation, purpose of work, sleep, breaks, etc are prerequisites for a good Concentration in executing a task. These help one to become focussed on a task.
10/3/2021 Post 5.14
Concentration is the ability to think carefully about something you are doing and think about nothing else. That is focussed thinking and full attention on the task on hand and on nothing else.
It is also seen as exclusive attention to one object; and close mental application. It definitely demands mindfulness in doing a task and focus plus attention. Avoid distractions.
Systematic approach , planning and goals are needed. Have a calm mind and ambience to start building and improving concentration powers.
Some have the innate capacity and curiosity for concentration . That makes teachers in primary schools assume every one can concentrate and learn at the same absorbing level and speed. They go by centuries old practices. It does not help in inclusive education. It is a Very erroneous assumption leading to dropouts in large numbers at the primary stage itself. Concentration should be a regular and daily practice in schools.
Concentration helps in making people to think.
Level of concentration will have to match with the attention and focus requirements of tasks.
Concentration involves both mind and body – mental and physical activities are needed in some tasks. Even thinking needs tools ,the simplest is to write down how to do the task? What is the best way? What are the expected outcomes and chances for achieving each? What resources are needed? Where are they available? What is the overall framework? Can I model the task?Can I split the task into a number of subtasks? Can I simplify? How do I sequence the task components? How do I schedule them? Who will assist me or advice me? Where and how do I get the information required to do the task?
The above questions tell us that preparation to do a task is essential for its successful implementation. We need concentration for both – planning and execution.
When I was asked by Mr Mani to discuss concentration, I needed to concentrate on that task. So I asked the questions as a starting point.
What aspects should I discuss ? What are the objectives? What will be interesting ? What Will be new ? The most important question is how do I sequence my posts – what is a good sequence – this needs knowledge of the recipients to some extent if not fully. Remember the recipients are from diverse backgrounds and I need to take them with me.
What are the books and blogs available?
Shankara gives some qualities to achieve our goals and objectives in vivekachudamani. Let us look at some of them as they are needed for success in doing our tasks.
Viveka – discrimination between real and unreal, good and bad, right and wrong, feasible and infeasible , – is needed to move towards your goal. Shankara includes analysis into concentration. He builds right or wrong , erroneous etc into execution. Very useful learning for all but definitely for software developers and solutions providers.
Shama according to Shankara is calming the mind and avoiding distractions.
The resting of the mind steadfastly on its Goal (viz. Brahman) after having detached itself from manifold sense-objects by continually observing their defects, is called Shama or calmness.
Dama – self control , awareness, self learn and teach-
Turning both kinds of sense-organs away from sense-objects and placing them in their respective centres, is called Dama or self-control. The best Uparati or self-withdrawal consists in the mind-function ceasing to be affected by external objects. This also emphasizes on removal of distractions – noise, pictures, fights, bad smells etc.
Shraddha is a simple word in Sanskrit and found in vedas. Do everything with shraddha , it says. What does shraddha mean? Mindfulness, carefulness, attentiveness, a whole lot of things. Shraddha is essential for concentration.
Samadhana – Not the mere indulgence of thought (in curiosity) but the constant concentration of the intellect (or the affirming faculty) on the ever-pure Brahman, is what is called Samadhana or self-settledness.
Such a kind of concentration which is deep and includes analysis, interpretation, impact analysis, synthesis, etc will lead to better and cognitive understanding and better solutions. This will lead to happiness.
10/5/2021 Post 5.15
Some more from Shankaracharya
6.Vairagya – renunciation – we can take it as less attachment, and less emotional involvement – very essential for surgeons and doctors. It also means less selfishness and more public good. Think of others not yourself alone.
7. devotion (Bhakti) holds the supreme place. The seeking after one’s real nature is designated as devotion.
Others maintain that the inquiry into the truth of one’s own self is devotion.
Let us look at Viveka more closely. It is important to distinguish, differentiate and discriminate on concepts. Where does a concept fit in. What is the range of applicability? What are the uses? etc.
As I said before concentration is the base on which we execute a task. We need other factors like Viveka , analysis, interpretation etc to get a better understanding. For cognition, we need to start focus on the understanding level, move deeper with a changed focus to get into the concept. We may change focus from knowing the components of a concept to its impacts and further change it to go for adaptations and innovations. We shift from internal to external views also. Brainstorming needs a different approach looking at multiple approaches and scenarios , conjecture future situations to arrive at answers.
We see that thinking is an integral part of concentration to get cognitive perceptions.
Vidura Niti has words of wisdom . Let us see a few of them relevant for good actions.
They that exert to the best of their might, and act also to the best of their might, and disregard nothing as insignificant, are called wise.
He that understandeth quickly, listeneth patiently, pursueth his objects with judgment and not from desire and spendeth not his breath on the affairs of others without being asked, is said to possess the foremost mark of wisdom
8.They that do not strive for objects that are unattainable, that do not grieve for what is lost and gone, that do not suffer their minds to be clouded amid calamities, are regarded to possess intellects endued with wisdom.
9.He who striveth, having commenced anything, till it is completed, who never wasteth his time, and who hath his soul under control, is regarded wise.
We will conclude our discussions on concentration.