A Loss Of Concentration

I read The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world by Harriet Griffey of The Guardian.  One paragraph struck me because it describes exactly what I’ve experienced.  I blamed it on old age.  Griffey suggests perhaps it is due to the many distractions of our digital era.  Here’s the paragraph:

Nicholas Carr picked up on this again in an article in the Atlantic in 2008, before going on to publish his book The Shallows two years later. “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy,” he wrote. “My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

That’s what I’ve been experiencing in my reading.  To compensate, I’m usually working on four or five books at the same time.  If I get bogged down on one, I switch to another.  I also set a timer.  I started using a timer to make sure I wasn’t inactive for too long.  I then discovered that if you know your current reading session will be only twenty-five minutes long, you’ll be able to concentrate better.

More from Griffey:

In 2005, research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.

Our ubiquitous digital distractions are

a predominant reason for the poor concentration so many people report. The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour and reclaim the brain function and cognitive health that’s been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.

Put simply, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. To make this change means reflecting on what we are doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implementing steps towards behavioural change that will improve our chances of concentrating better. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about our use of social media, which are increasingly urgent for the sake of our cognitive and mental health.

Griffey ends with some tips for improving concentration starting with the “five more” rule:

This is a simple way of learning to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus.

Helpful things

  • Meditation
  • Good breathing
  • Watching the hands of a clock turn
  • Exercise, especially if done mindfully
  • Sleep
  • Reading for pleasure


I can’t concentrate any longer on this post.  I think I’ll have to end it here.

Aging Disgracefully

St. Croix Islands Wildlife Preserve

Who wants to age gracefully?  Not me.  Old folks just wanna’ have fun.

I sure do, but my doctor suggests that I have morning depression.*  That means I feel wretched in the morning, but if I’m lucky I’ll perk up later in the day.  By the time bedtime rolls around, just like a toddler I don’t want to go to bed; I want to stay up late.

When I woke up this morning, I “was stiff and sore and grumpy.  It felt as though rigor mortis was getting an early start on me.  Sleeping for eight hours is enough to make anything go numb.  Anything that still had feeling to begin with.  Worse yet, there was not a drop of Diet Coke to be found anywhere.  I needed to pee again.   I’m old and have a bladder the size of a lima bean.  Don’t get old.  If Peter Pan shows up, just go.”**

So what do I do in the morning?  I’m not sure I remember.  I know I eat breakfast and check the latest news on the internet.  (Tip for morning depressives:  Never read the latest news in the morning.  You will end up with absolutely no hope.  I of course always read the news in the morning.)

My doctor prescribed light therapy.  I got a light box a few days ago, but it still sits unopened in the box it came in.  I’m too depressed in the morning to open the box much less set up the light.  I’ll do it some night when I am more energetic and haven’t drunk too much beer.

I’ll finish this wretched post by quoting two of my heroes who I’ve quoted before and will likely quote again.

What?  Me worry.    – Alfred E. Newman

Keep on truckin’        – R. Crumb

* In case you were wondering, morning depression (not to be confused with morning sickness or associated with pregnancy, something I’m not likely to experience, being sixty-nine years old and the wrong gender ) is also known as diurnal depression, diurnal variation of depressive symptoms or diurnal mood variation.  I’ll stick with morning depression.

** All quotes are by Sheldon Horowitz, the eighty-two year old protagonist of the novel Norwegian By Night.  I’ve slightly altered the quote to be in first-person and the appropriate tense.



Essays and Poems

Yesterday while at Brueggers, I read 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West.  The first of the four is daily Morning Pages.  The Morning Pages technique was described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way:  “[Morning Pages] are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.”  I have found that for me, using an online journaling website (Penzu) is better for stream-of-consciousness writing.  My longhand writing is so bad and tedious that it gets in the way of my stream-of-consciousness.

Another of the four is from Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art Of Writing.  It is to

Buy a book of poetry and a selection of essays (perhaps some from a previous decade). Read a few every day to help your mind foster a state of creativity.

I will never turn down an excuse to visit my local, indie bookstore and buy a book or two.  So I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and a small book of essays by Michael Kinsley, Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide.  This morning I added reading an essay and some poetry to my morning routine.

Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide is targeted at Baby Boomers of which I am one.  I read the foreword by Michael Lewis and the introduction by Kinsley; no essay yet.  The introduction ends with

If you want to be remembered as a good person, then be a good person.  Who knows?  It just might work.  But start now, because if you’re a boomer, time is running out.

If you want to know about the other two 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create, follow the link to the article.



Black Dog Redux

Image result for happy black labA few days ago I posted about my Black Dog (insomnia.) and that I was working with a psychologist.  So I was heartened to read this in a post by Ariana Huffington:

CBT-I  [cognitive behavioral therapy – insomnia] is the most effective psychology-based treatment for a health problem and has consistently been proven to be the most effective first-line treatment for chronic insomnia. It improves sleep in 75 to 80 percent of insomnia patients and reduces or eliminates sleeping pill use in 90 percent of patients. It is so effective that I am surprised if my patients do not report improvement in sleep, or a reduction or elimination of sleeping pills, from CBT-I. And in three studies published in major medical journals that directly compared CBT with sleeping pills, including my study at Harvard Medical School, CBT-I was more effective than sleeping pills. CBT-I also has no side effects and maintains improvements in sleep long-term, and new research shows that CBT-I doubles the improvement rates of depression compared with antidepressant medication alone in depressed patients with insomnia.

In contrast to CBT-I, sleeping pills do not greatly improve sleep. Objectively, newer-generation sleeping pills such as Ambien are no more effective than a placebo.


My Black Dog

The Black Dog
The Black Dog

I’m having trouble again with insomnia.  Last night I didn’t get to sleep until 3:00 AM.  The night before I took an hour to get to sleep.  I thought I’d turned the corner and was on my way to ending this problem.   Abe Lincoln and Winston Churchill had periods of severe depression and called these episodes The Black Dog.  I am going to use the same name for my insomnia problem.  I won’t presume that I can come up with a better name than Lincoln or Churchill.

I’ve been following all the rigid rules set forth by Dr. Davig, the sleep psychologist I’m working with, yet still The Black Dog hangs around plaguing me in the dark reaches of the night.

I copied The Black Dog image from Google.  Apparently it is now common to refer to depression as The Black Dog.  Google Images is chock-a-block with black-dog images, too many of which are too light-hearted.  The Black Dog, whether it is my insomnia or someone else’s relentless depression, is not light-hearted.  It is fearful.

I decided to do a bit more research on “black dog”.  I found “‘Black dog’ as a metaphor for depression: a brief history“, a paper by Paul Foley.  I found the paper on the website of The Black Dog Institute, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mood disorders.  Foley defines depression to fit the black-dog metaphor, and insomnia is not a lot different:

an ever-present companion, lurking in the shadows just out of sight, growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert; sinister and unpredictable, capable of overwhelming you at any moment.




Churchill definitely used “black dog”; Lincoln perhaps not:

 Abraham Lincoln is occasionally said to have referred to his depression as his ‘black dog’, but a precise source is never given.

Churchill did not coin the phrase.  He heard it from “his beloved childhood nanny”.

It is ultimately unlikely that ‘black dog’ was a specific term for depression before Churchill used it, but was rather a vague reference to anything which rendered someone less than congenial, whether ill temper, fear, guilt or, indeed, melancholy; as recently as 1956, it was defined simply as ‘peevish fit’, especially in children.  Other terms which also began their ascent in the 18th century – the ‘blue devils’ (1780s), ‘the blues’ (1740s)  and more general descriptions of depressed spirits – were more frequently recorded, at least in published texts, and generally retained a more specific relationship with ‘depression’. Adoption of ‘black dog’ by Churchill (and by those who write about him) thus represented a turning point for the beast; and once the adoption became public, whatever it was exactly that Churchill meant, ‘black dog’ could assume its now secure place in English

I don’t want to end on a note of depression.  I know that I am going to banish my black dog to the nether regions with help from Dr. Davig.  I’ll let Churchill end on a more upbeat note.

winston 2 winston 3






Green Diet. Not

Nutri System Cooler
Nutri System Cooler

I just started Nutri System.  Before I ordered I did some research to make sure it was a decent program.  It is, but what nobody mentioned (certainly not Marie Osmond) was what I experienced when I met the Fed Ex man.  He had two large packages, one a styrofoam cooler.  The cooler is big, about 26 x 17.5 x 16 inches.  The other package, a cardboard box, is just as big.  I was embarrassed.  Not because I was going on the diet, but because I had gotten so much stuff that is going to sit in a landfill somewhere for the next millennium.  When I opened the two big packages, it got worse.  Lots more plastic, not just the packaging for the food, but also plastic padding to keep the food from shifting.  It feels like an overwhelming mass of stuff that I feel guilty about having.

Both packages had a large amount of these plastic air pillows.

Air Pillows
Air Pillows

Even if the diet works wonderfully, I will not reorder.

Four-Week Shipment
Four-Week Shipment

I’ll use up what I have (a four-week supply) then go back to a focus on non-processed foods, a focus that I should have stuck to.



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