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Psychologists Explain How to Focus Your Mind

Frazzled. Confused. Stressed. Discombobulated. Scatterbrained. These are just a few ways of describing the tendencies of the human mind.

Indeed, it can be difficult to understand ourselves. It’s not altogether uncommon to wonder, “Where’d that thought come from?” It’s a fair question, too! Why do we produce random thoughts – and why are the majority of them self-defeating? To answer this question, we must look at the brain’s two modes: default and focused.

“My mind is like an internet browser. 17 tabs are open, 4 of them are frozen and I don’t know where the music is coming from.” – Unknown (source)

UNDERSTANDING YOUR MIND’S TWO MODES
By understanding your mind’s two modes, you’ll unlock the secret to better focus.

MODE 1: THE DEFAULT MODE

“A wandering mind costs you nothing but is very expensive.” – Amit Sood, M.D.

Did you know that “at rest” really isn’t resting much at all? Neurophysiologists state that the focused mind uses just five percent more than a mind doing nothing in particular. The paradox here is that your mind is always doing something – even when you’re doing nothing – and this comes at an energy cost.

It is when we’re bored that the brain enters its default mode. If the brain could talk, it would say something like this: “Is this something interesting that is worth my time? No? Leave me alone to brood.” This brooding always takes place when the brain is in default mode.

Most people will recognize when their brain is in its default state, but not all. Some people feel as if their attention rarely wanders or enters default mode. Unless you are a monk or a long-time meditation or yoga practitioner, this is probably untrue. But here are a few questions to answer if you think this is the case:

  • Do my family or friends complain that I’m often too distracted?
  • Do I arrive at home with little memory of the commute?
  • Have I become more forgetful?
  • Do I experience mind racing in the shower?
  • Have I ever read a book with no idea of what I just read?
  • Do my thoughts wander when someone is talking or giving a presentation?
  • Do I wake up to a mind whirling with thoughts?

If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of the above questions, your brain was in its default state. Please remember this about the default mode: the default mode takes away from your enjoyment of life; in fact, it often contributes to the pain and suffering you sometimes feel.

MODE 2: THE FOCUSED MODE

“Concentration brings with it a natural job as the mind settles and is absent of distraction.” – Shaila Catherine (source)

The brain’s secondary mode – and unfortunately so – is the focused mode. It’s not a stretch to say that the focused mode is the answer to most of life’s ills. This mode is recognizable when you become absorbed in something and lose track of time. Activities that activate focused mode includes:

  • Eating a delicious meal
  • Reading a good book
  • Watching an enthralling movie
  • Staring at a newborn baby
  • Watching the sunset
  • Solving a meaningful problem

The focused mind is relatively free of distractions, including the inner distractions of anxiety, restlessness, boredom, and so forth. As such, the focused mind is a happy mind. The focused mind becomes activated while you are paying attention to anything interesting and meaningful.

While there aren’t any official statistics on how often a person spends their time in focused mode, it’s probably in the ballpark of 25 percent. But fret not. You can substantially increase the amount of time that you spend in focused mode by committing to do so. This process takes a bit of effort at first but quickly becomes rather effortless. More on this later.

THE HUMAN MIND IS BEAUTIFUL

How powerful is what you just read? Simply by knowing and being mindful of the brain’s two “modes,” you can live a happier, more peaceful, and more meaningful life. Your brain innately understands the differences between the two modes – and the above descriptions should help.

Remember the differences:

Default mode: anxiety, stress, depression, restlessness; internally-focused, directionless.  The majority of people spend most of their time in this state.

Focused mode: content, happy, peaceful; externally-focused, time seems to fly. Most of us only spend about 25 percent in this state.

“WHY CAN’T I STAY IN DEFAULT MODE?”

Listen up as this is a critical point: no matter how much you learn about the brain and its processes, you will never be able to remain in a state of complete focus. How often you can stay in focused mode depends upon your initial capacity for attention, as well as your willingness to learn mindful techniques like meditation.

But what are these things even required? Why can‘t you just stay in a focused state? Well, as great as being focused all of the time sounds, it would be counterproductive and even dangerous.

Our brain has evolved an autonomic system that responds to threats – real or perceived. How important is the autonomic nervous system? Have you ever involuntarily taken a breath or moved to avoid a collision with a car or person? Sure, you have – all of us do this. It’s called survival, and our brain and body are finely tuned to survive in even the most challenging scenarios.

The problem is that the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats. It is when we are prone to mind-wandering that these threats become more challenging and profuse. Biologically, the human brain in its current state is not designed to allow conscious thought to dominate. Will the brain ever reach that point? That remains to be seen.

OVERCOMING RESISTANCE IN THE MIND

“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” – Carl Jung (source)

Read and re-read the following statement as often as you’d like: to resist wandering thoughts is futile. Go ahead, reread it.

One of the first things that someone does when trying to get into a more focused state is to suppress wandering thoughts. Not only does this fail, but it actually makes things worse. Think of trying to resist negative or wandering thoughts as tightening a spring – the harder that you try, the more it recoils.

What is the answer, then? To bring the wandering mind back to the task, whatever it happens to be – whether reading a book, writing a paper, having a conversation, etc. – over and over again without denying other mental states. It is this directing and re-directing of focus that allows your attentional muscles to grow.

Remembering to redirect your attention throughout the day can be challenging, but it isn’t the most challenging part. The hardest part is resisting the urge to criticize yourself for losing focus in the first place. You must try and get over this tendency as much as possible. Not only will self-criticism drain your mental energy, but it may very well derail any efforts to become more focused and mindful.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE HUMAN MIND: A BLUEPRINT FOR FOCUS

“Everyone in your life is vying for your attention.” – Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D. (source)

Here’ s another tidbit that you may want to keep in mind: distractions (i.e. mind wandering) further depletes your brain’s energy levels. In turn, this energy depletion makes it easier to succumb to distractions.

What to do? Here’s a four-point blueprint for maximizing focus.

POINT #1 – MONITOR YOUR ATTENTION.
You must track where your attention is going to make better use of it. When do you feel the most focused and attentive? What things cause you to lose focus on the task at hand? Track these things and prepare a plan of action.

POINT #2 – MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS.
There is a correlation between mental and bodily emotions and energy. If you are feeling happy or content, your brain will be more alert and active than if you’re downtrodden and lethargic. Do the things that make you feel more of the former and less of the things that make you feel more of the latter.

POINT #3 – LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY.
While it may sound downright paradoxical to call upon tech for more focus, the right type of technology can indeed help. Try downloading an app that blocks distracting websites. Or maybe one that tracks productivity and emails daily reports. Do whatever works for you.

POINT #4 – DON’T GIVE UP.
For the vast majority, building up a cognitive reserve of focus is a timely and challenging undertaking. Don’t allow your emotions and negative self-talk (both forms of mind-wandering) to take you off track. If you put in the time and effort, you will be a more focused, happier, and productive individual!

source: https://www.powerofpositivity.com/focus-mind-psychologists-explain/ 

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Dealing with Uncertainty About What Path to Take

The amount of time we spend fretting over what path to take, when we’re feeling uncertain, can sometimes be staggering.
We’re entering into unknown territory, and we don’t know how to proceed. It happens all the time for many of us: we start a new job, launch a new venture, change careers, have to deal with incredible change, decide to write a book or create something online, put ourselves in a new social situation.
Some of the things we do in response to this uncertainty:
  • Extensive research, often to the point of very diminishing returns, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed by how much information we’ve found.
  • Buy books, courses, programs, other materials that we think will guide us — this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but in truth, none of this will give us certainty.
  • Try to find teachers or other people who will guide us, who have been there before — again, hoping that they’ll give us certainty, but often this isn’t a magic pill either.
  • Delay making a decision, putting it off over and over because it’s too hard to decide. Avoid, avoid. This might be the most common option, actually.
  • Give up because you don’t know if you can do it, don’t know what to do, don’t know what the hell you’re doing. This is pretty common too — in fact, most people give up before they even start.
  • These are very common reactions to entering into uncertainty, but usually not very helpful. They get in the way of doing the work and living the life we’d like.
So how do we deal with the uncertain path that we’d like to embark upon?
It’s not always easy, but I’ve found there to be a set of practices that can help tremendously.
The Mindset Shift
The first mindset shift to consider is that uncertainty is not bad, or something to be avoided. It’s a natural part of doing anything meaningful. In fact, feeling uncertainty is a great sign that you’re doing something challenging and meaningful.
Uncertainty can be embraced, opened up to, even loved. We can learn to cherish the uncertainty in our lives, if we shift our mindset and practice with it.
The second mindset shift is to see an uncertain path as a practice opportunity. It’s not something to run from, but a place to stay, so that we can grow, learn, and create.
Every time we feel uncertainty, it can be seen as a calling to open up and practice. To turn towards and try a new way of doing things, rather than indulging in old, unhelpful patterns.
The Uncertainty Practices
So let’s say you’re about to head down an uncertain path — starting a new job, moving into a new phase of your life, writing a book, launching a business or product …
How do you open to the uncertainty and practice with it?
Here’s what I’ve found to be useful, in writing books and launching programs, along with dealing with huge life changes:
  1. Stay in the uncertainty as a practice, and with devotion. You are staying in this place of uncertainty to practice with it, but also to serve those you care deeply about. They are worth it. Remind yourself of them, and that doing this for them is more important than your discomfort with uncertainty. Let yourself feel uncertainty in your body, staying with the sensations in the moment — and learn that it’s not a big deal to feel that uncertainty. With practice, this becomes easier and easier.
  2. Go with the gut (or the heart). If you’re unsure of what path to take (need to make some decisions), it’s easy to get frozen in indecision, because there’s not clear answer. You can ask a hundred people, and not get a clear way to make a decision. You can read a million articles and books, talk to experts, but there’s no right answer. And so, you have to learn to trust your gut. Or your heart. When I’m at a crossroads, what I try to do is sit still for a little while, contemplating the question. I feel into my heart, and decide what feels right. I don’t have any certainty, because there’s no right answer. Instead, I have to trust my gut or heart, and just go with it … the real trust is that even if it’s the wrong answer, I’ll be perfectly fine. More on that bit below.
  3. Embrace the not knowing. So you’ve used your heart to make an uncertain choice … but you don’t know exactly how it will go. That’s OK. In fact, you can embrace this not knowing … it’s like reading a book or watching a movie without knowing how things will unfold. That’s part of the fun! Not knowing is a beautiful thing, even though most of the time we really want to know. Can you take the next step without knowing, being completely open to how things might turn out? Being curious to find out more, without having a fixed idea of how it should be? Letting things be fluid and fresh? Try it and see!
  4. Let things unfold as you walk the path. As you move along this uncertain path, see how things turn out. Notice what you can notice, learn from this new information. For example, if I’m going to launch a new product, I don’t know how people will respond. I can launch it without knowing, and see how they respond, listen to their reactions, talk to them and find out more. If I’m dealing with a health issue, I can try different solutions, noticing how they affect things. I don’t know how things will unfold, but I can walk the path and find out.
  5. Get information, adjust the path. As you let things unfold, you’ll be gathering new information. You’ll learn whether things turned out as you expected or not. You’ll be open to all of this, but it might turn out that you need to make adjustments. For example, when I launched my Fearless Training Program, I didn’t know exactly what people would need in the program, or how they’d respond to the training. Listening to them has helped me to understand better, and I’ve adjusted the program a lot in the past 18 months. Over and over, I listen and learn and adjust. It’s good to build in regular reviews so you can make adjustments as you walk the uncertain path — weekly reviews are great.
  6. Learn to trust you’ll be fine. You might flop on your face — but what’s the worst-case scenario (of all likely outcomes)? Probably nothing too bad. You won’t die, in most cases. What I’ve learned is to trust that things will turn out fine. Not as I expect, but fine. I might fail, but I learn to deal with the failure. A failure is just a way to grow, learn, get better. It’s not the end of the world. Walking the uncertain path, let yourself develop trust in yourself to respond resiliently to whatever happens. With this trust, you’ll learn that you don’t need to avoid the uncertainty.
  7. Create rituals to support the uncertainty. All of this is great in an ideal world — but in reality, we’re likely to go to our old patterns. The way to work with this is through rituals designed to support these practices. For example, you might start your day with meditation, letting yourself feel the uncertainty in your body. You might set a focus session for first thing in your work day, where you let yourself push into uncertainty every day, at least once a day. You might set up a weekly review, where you make adjustments based on how things are unfolding. In that review, you might notice how things are going just fine, and let that cultivate trust in the process and in yourself to handle things. You might get a group of advisors and check in with them once a month, talking to them about your uncertainty. Figure out what rituals you need to support your practice with uncertainty, and set them up.
  8. This path of uncertainty isn’t anything you can’t handle. Many people have walked similar uncertain paths in the past, and are doing so now. You can do it just as well as anyone.
Our paths must contain uncertainty, because no one knows what the hell they’re doing. We’re making it up as we go along, learning as we go, and if we’re conscious about it, we can dance with the uncertainty with a smile on our face.
BY LEO BABAUTA
POSTED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 2020


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Probiotic Use is a Link Between Brain Fogginess, Severe Bloating

Probiotic use can result in a significant accumulation of bacteria in the small intestine that can result in disorienting brain fogginess as well as rapid, significant belly bloating, investigators report.

In a published study of 30 patients, the 22 who reported problems like confusion and difficulty concentrating, in addition to their gas and bloating, were all taking probiotics, some several varieties.

When investigators looked further, they found large colonies of bacteria breeding in the patients’ small intestines, and high levels of D-lactic acid being produced by the bacteria lactobacillus’ fermentation of sugars in their food, says Dr. Satish S.C. Rao, director of neurogastroenterology/motility and the Digestive Health Clinical Research Center at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

D-lactic acid is known to be temporarily toxic to brain cells, interfering with cognition, thinking and sense of time. They found some patients had two to three times the normal amount of D-lactic acid in their blood. Some said their brain fogginess – which lasted from a half hour to many hours after eating – was so severe that they had to quit their jobs.

The report in the journal Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology appears to be the first time the connection has been made between brain fogginess, bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, high levels of D-lactic acid in the gut and probiotic use, Rao says.

“What we now know is that probiotic bacteria have the unique capacity to break down sugar and produce D-lactic acid. So if you inadvertently colonize your small bowel with probiotic bacteria, then you have set the stage for potentially developing lactic acidosis and brain fogginess,” Rao says.

While probiotics can be beneficial in some scenarios, like helping a patient restore his gut bacteria after taking antibiotics, the investigators advised caution against its excessive and indiscriminate use.

“Probiotics should be treated as a drug, not as a food supplement,” Rao says, noting that many individuals self-prescribe the live bacteria, which are considered good for digestion and overall health.

Others have implicated probiotics in the production of D-lactic acid – and brain fogginess – in patients with a short bowel so their small intestine does not function properly, and in newborns fed formula containing the popular product. Short bowel syndrome results in a lot of undigested carbohydrates that are known to cause small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, and the high levels of D-lactic acid. Severe liver and kidney problems can produce similar problems.

Whether there was also a connection when the gut is intact was an unknown. “This is the first inroad,” says Rao.

All patients experiencing brain fogginess took probiotics and SIBO was more common in the brain fogginess group as well, 68 percent compared to 28 percent, respectively. Patients with brain fogginess also had a higher prevalence of D-lactic acidosis, 77 versus 25 percent, respectively.

When brain-foggy patients stopped taking probiotics and took a course of antibiotics, their brain fogginess resolved.

Movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract was slow in one third of the brain foggy patients and one fourth of the other group. Slower passage, as well as things like obesity surgery, can increase the chance of bacterial buildup, or SIBO.

“Now that we can identify the problem, we can treat it,” Rao says. Diagnosis includes breath, urine and blood tests to detect lactic acid, and an endoscopy that enables examination of fluid from the small intestines so the specific bacteria can be determined and the best antibiotics selected for treatment.

Normally there is not much D-lactic acid made in the small intestines, but probiotic use appears to change that. SIBO, which was present in most with brain fogginess, can cause bacteria to go into a feeding frenzy that ferments sugars resulting in production of uncomfortable things like hydrogen gas and methane that explain the bloating.

probiotics

Probiotics added to that feeding frenzy the bacterium lactobacillus, which produces D-lactic acid as it breaks down sugars, The acid get absorbed in the blood and can reach the brain.

All those with brain fogginess, SIBO and/or D-lactic acidosis, were given antibiotics that targeted their bacterial population and asked to discontinue probiotics. Those without SIBO were asked to halt probiotics and stop eating yogurt, which is considered one of the best sources of probiotics. Those with SIBO and D-lactic acidosis but no brain fogginess also took antibiotics.

Following treatment, 70 percent of patients reported significant improvement in their symptoms and 85 percent said their brain fogginess was gone. Those without brain fogginess but with SIBO and high levels of D-lactic acid reported significant improvement in symptoms like bloating and cramping within three months.

Abdominal pain was the most common symptom in both groups and before treatment, six of those with brain fogginess reported a tremendous increase in their abdominal size within just a few minutes of eating.

All patients received extensive examination of their gastrointestinal tract, including a motility test, to rule out other potential causes of their symptoms. They filled out questionnaires about symptoms like abdominal pain, belching and gas and answered questions about related issues like antibiotic and probiotic use as well as food fads and yogurt consumption.

They were given carbohydrates followed by extensive metabolic testing looking at the impact on things like blood glucose and insulin levels. Levels of D-lactic acid and L-lactate acid, which results from our muscles’ use of glucose as energy and can cause muscle cramps, also were measured.

Probiotic use may be particularly problematic for patients who have known problems with motility, as well as those taking opioids and proton pump inhibitors, which reduce stomach acid secretion and so the natural destruction of excessive bacteria.

Probiotics are supposed to work in the colon and not the small intestines or stomach, Rao says, so motility issues can result in problems with probiotic bacteria reaching the proper place. A wide variety of problems, from conditions like diabetes to drugs like antidepressants and minerals like iron, can slow movement and increase the possibility that probiotics will remain too long in the upper gut where they can cause harm, he says.

Probiotics definitely can help, for example, people who have gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, or are left with diarrhea and other problems after antibiotics wipe out their natural gut bacteria, Rao says.

“In those situations, we want to build up their bacterial flora so probiotics are ideal,” he says.

Rao’s pursuit of a possible connection between probiotics, brain fogginess and bloating started with a memorable patient who developed significant amounts of both problems within a minute of eating.

“It happened right in front of our eyes,” Rao says of the dramatic abdominal distention. They knew the woman had diabetes, which can slow motility. When they looked in the blood and urine at a variety of metabolic compounds, they found the high levels of D-lactic acid and soon learned the patient used probiotics and regularly ate yogurt.

Next steps include additional studies in which the investigators better quantify and characterize the brain fogginess reported by patients and following patients for longer periods to ensure their problems remain resolved. Some patients in the current study required a couple of rounds of antibiotics, Rao notes.

Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and dark chocolate, which are generally safe because of the small amounts of bacteria present, Rao says.

The 19-foot long small intestine has been a bit of an understudied organ, likely in part because it’s hard to visualize via the mouth or anus, Rao says. “I think the small bowel can be a source of huge mystery,” Rao says.

Your helpful gut bacteria, or microbiome, which are essential to things like a well-functioning immune system and general health, are largely in the large intestine and colon.

 

Story Source:
Materials provided by Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
August 6, 2018
 
Journal Reference:
Satish S. C. Rao, Abdul Rehman, Siegfried Yu, Nicole Martinez de Andino.
Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis.
Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology, 2018; 9 (6) DOI: 10.1038/s41424-018-0030-7


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A Handful of This Everyday Food Improves Memory, Concentration And Processing Speed

Just 13 grams of this regular food improves brain function across the ages.

Eating a handful of walnuts each day may help improve memory, concentration and the speed at which the brain processes information, a new study finds.

No matter what people’s age, gender or ethnicity, adults who ate walnuts had greater cognitive function, the research found.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, is the first in humans to show that walnuts may have a beneficial effect on cognitive health (Arab & Ang, 2014).

Dr. Lenore Arab, who led the study, said:

“It is exciting to see the strength of the evidence from this analysis across the U.S. population supporting the previous results of animal studies that have shown the neuroprotective benefit from eating walnuts; and it’s a realistic amount – less than a handful per day (13 grams).”

The conclusions come from an analysis of a series of very large US nutritional surveys of a nationally representative sample.

Across the age groups — from 20- to 90-years-old — people who ate more walnuts had improved cognitive performance.

In those over 60, though, the results were particularly encouraging, with boosts in learning and memory of around 7% on average.

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Importantly, the study can’t tell us that eating walnuts causes improved cognitive function, but it is suggestive.

This is also not the first study to find a link between walnut consumption and improved cognitive health.

The nut has already been connected to improved brain health in Alzheimer’s disease, but as yet only in a mouse model.

It’s not yet known exactly why walnuts are beneficial, but there are a number of possibilities, as they contain:

  • high levels of antioxidants,
  • alpha-linolenic acid (ALA),
  • and numerous vitamins and minerals.

Dr. Alfonso Ang, the study’s co-author, said:

“It isn’t every day that research results in such simple advice – eating a handful of walnuts daily as a snack, or as part of a meal, can help improve your cognitive health.”

 

source: PsyBlog