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Fixing your internet addled brain (12/17/10)

December 17, 2010

Keeping the Mind Sharp

Are you going to quit using the Internet?  Come on!  So what if unrestricted Net action will physically change your brain and body, dimming your analytic ability (see Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”), negate the long-term memory stores you’ll need to succeed in life (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-edlund-md/add-symptoms_b_656590.html#s119840,) and potentially make you fat, thick, tired and slow (see my four part series here  in therestdoctor.com on the Internet and your body). A world where kids stop texting and adults stop surfing?  It’s not going to happen.

Fortunately there’s lot you can do to protect your brain and body without turning off the machine.  Here are a few tricks anyone can try, though there are many, many more:

1. Get up and walk around, preferably every hour. Human beings are walking machines; we think far better and last longer when we move.  It doesn’t have to be long; even thirty seconds to two minutes can make a difference in alertness.

Remember two facts – physical activity is the closest thing your body has to a fountain of youth, and people who sit more than six hours a day die younger – in recent studies mortality rates increase 37% for women, and go up even for long distance runners.

You’re not a mollusk – don’t stay glued in that seat.

2. Take Breaks or You Make Mistakes. Your computer may keep constant attention for nearly forever, but you can’t.  Workers who take breaks are more productive and creative.   Most of us start lagging in attention at around one to two hours, though for many it happens faster.  Breaks of even thirty to sixty seconds can revive and reset the flagging mind as well as aid aching backs.

3. Pick up a phone and call someone you care about. Social connection is a big factor in survival and mood (see Berkman and Syme’s Alameda County Study,) but there’s a special way to do it – special connection touch:  call someone who you trust and admire, and ask them if you can call them anytime, in a jam or not, as you really value their advice.  If they tell you they can’t, ask them why – you may learn something really important about what’s happening to them.  Even a short phone call once or twice a week can provide solace, relief, and a quick reset to your day.

4. Use Big Screen technique – When you’re at the monitor, take out a minute and imagine you’re looking at yourself on a giant movie screen.  See where you are, what you’re doing, what and who’s around you – and decide what you want to do with the rest of the day – a fun and creative way to reset.

5. Get sunlight. Even if it’s winter in Saskatchewan, the light of the sun is a critical drug that improves mood, attention, refits immunity, and may even help you control your waistline (see the Power of Rest).  If you want to go outside and enjoy nature (and obtain sunlight,) even better.

6. Move to music. You’ve got rhythm operating in every cell in your body, because music is in your genes.  Try every hour to two hours get up and walk to your favorite upbeat song or melody, feeling it in hands and feet for 20 seconds to a minute before sitting down.

7. Every one to two hours write or mentally recite what you’ve learned. The brain and body are always learning, and that’s a large reason we stay alive, as our body rapidly renews itself.  So take a few seconds and recap what your net surfing has gained for you.  If you can’t remember anything, a change of subject may be in order.

8. Make a movie in your head. Whether you’re checking Facebook or surfing stock reports, take a minute every 60-90 minutes and create a movie scene in your head you’d like to shoot or a short story you’d like to write.  It might be an uproarious party with friends or a scene where you meet and greet Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, but it’s fun and mentally profitable to create your own stuff.  Add the scenes together at the end of the day – maybe you’re on the way to creating a real movie or novel.

9. Slow down and read an entire article. Most people skim on the Net, but that often doesn’t leave the long term memory traces you need to think deeply and well.  Take five to ten minutes to actually read everything in an article or post that interests you, and then write down or dictate what you’ve retained.  Notes help the brain remember, and useful knowledge is the kind you want.

10. Put your email in a place where you can’t observe it every second. Sustained achievement demands sustained attention, and constantly looking at email can kill attention in nothing flat.  Set yourself to peek at set intervals – whether it’s every twenty minutes or every two hours, remembering that Internet interruptions can kill your productive work capacity for the next twenty minutes or longer (see the work of Gloria Marks at UC Irvine.)  If you must check certain incoming emails, set up only those to be heard by some distinct alarm.

11. Use body clocks. Human brains follow alertness patterns that closely follow inner body temperature.  Our early morning cold brains may not wake up for 20 minutes to hours; mid to late morning and early evening are often fine creative times, while early to mid afternoon creates in many a performance dead zone (though offering a good time for a brief siesta).  Use the Net accordingly – afternoon may be a great time for fun, mindless surfing.

12. To summarize, don’t become a machine. The Net is attractive, even addictive, and its 24/7 accessibility can make you think you’re a machine, too.

Thank your lucky stars you’re not.  Machines rust, break down.  You rebuild. You renew – which is what keeps you alive and healthy.  Your body has the miraculous power to constantly transform itself.  You effectively get a new heart within three days, and your brain is always learning – particularly in rest.  Try getting your computer’s hard drive to replace itself in three days.

Paying Attention to Attention

In the end all your brain has is attention.  If you pay attention to attention, you can have a lot more fun, learn more, create more.  The Net makes information quickly accessible, but only a mind knows how to use it.

So keep your mind sharp by using your body the way it’s built – taking breaks, moving, connecting with others, feeling the rush of flow, when everything inside you is running on eight cylinders and time does not seem to matter. Try the suggestions here that you like, when you can.  There are few happier things than an attentive, active mind in an active body.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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