1. Multi-tasking ability is significantly eroding
I used to have a desk full of projects I was working on all at once. Except, not really. The brain can only think one thought at a time. Admittedly, sometimes it does so quite quickly, quick enough to seem almost simultaneously. At least it used to. Now, I have the tech website Followupthen.com provide me an Executive Function Assist and send me regular notices to clear off my desk (among many other helpful reminders). As I’m aging I’m finding I need the space and time to focus and leave some deliberate conscious space between projects as I only work on one thing at a time. The fewer distractions in my visual field, the better able I am to pay concentrated, mindful attention for extended periods (like ten whole minutes). This small bit of mindfulness often incorporates The Three Noble Principles from Buddhism to serve as a frame around my work. Those principles are: Good at the Beginning, Good at the Middle, and Good at the End. Put enough of those moments together and I might just end up with my work life and my whole life-life mirroring those principles.
One possible integration practice: use Followupthen to regularly remind me – good at the beginning; good at the middle; good at the end.
2. Spacing out more than you would like to
Without extensive training, the longest our nervous system can propagate an “action potential” is roughly 12 seconds. That’s the longest most of us can manage to sustain attention in the present moment before competing cortical nerve cells begin firing and our minds begin to wander, before one alluring distraction or another begins to carry us to thought-lands far, far away. If we’ve suffered serious trauma, particularly in our early lives, that ability to concentrate and sustain an action potential can be seriously compromised, forcing us to find effective workarounds (like taking frequent breaks and returning over and over to the task at hand).
Integration makes it happen in many aspects of life, from business to community to family. Integration also helps optimize the energy and information flow in neural networks. Fragmented networks don’t work well on the Internet and they don’t work in the brain. They show up identified as things like ADHD and so-called, borderline personality disorder.
One possible integration practice: some professional somatic or energy psychotherapy sessions
3. Inadequate processing capacity for current life requirements
The brain is often most usefully thought of as a body-wide energy and information distribution network much like the World Wide Web. Sometimes, much like the mobile Internet, our processing capacity slows to a crawl – our normal 5G bandwidth slows down to 3G. One common experience of such slowing down is simply getting tired at the end of the day. Another common experience of the brain’s slowed processing capacity is when stress loads become more than our current “processor capacity” can handle. Since we can’t upgrade at will (but we often can with professional help), one thing we can do is … parallel process – join with others and work together. Two people working in concert can accomplish more than three people working individually. As my mother used to say, “Many hands make light the work.”
One possible integration practice: pick something you normally do alone and invite someone to hang out and do it together
4. Difficulty in identifying a task and sticking to it
People, places and things in our lives that we love, generally don’t require us to limit our time with them to10 minute time spans (which Brain Center for Applied Learning Research director John Medina claims is the brain’s max attention span for many activities like listening to lectures or attending to schoolwork). Nevertheless, much like a romantic relationship, the brain will become familiar with whatever it is we might love and feel initially excited with. When it does, and especially when the next step in the direction of growth and integration makes us feel stuck, confused or anxious, often we take that as a signal that it’s time to move on. Except that moving on is not the same as moving through, that is, taking things up to the next level.
One possible integration practice: identify a stretchy end result you’re shooting for and ask someone to hold you accountable for producing that result.
5. Unable to easily regulate arousal
As I go through any day, what I find is that my brain and body tend to sing an ongoing duet together. People, places, ideas and things I encounter as the hours unfold, all operate as music to my nervous system. Some of the music is quite rousing and pushes me in the direction of increasing performance. At some point in the day, the music begins to change and begin to slow and soften (usually around my 3PM nap time). When I’m not able to change my neural-somatic tune, however, a whole host of challenges begins to surface. I get “cognitively depleted” – I can’t think straight. I become emotionally labile – easily tossed to and fro by one surfacing emotion and then another.
One possible integration practice: a regular, ongoing, formal contemplation practice
6. Not sufficiently connected to the heart
Most neuroscientists would argue that experiences I generally recognize as heartfelt, have almost nothing to do with the heart. They are primarily the result of “love hormones” bathing my brain and body in a cascade of feel-good chemicals. They probably wouldn’t deny the fact that nerves run to and from the heart and the brain, but those nerves primarily serve a regulatory function – to make the heart beat slower or faster in response to environmental circumstances.
Maybe. I think it’s best held as an open question, perhaps until we develop tools and techniques to explore the workings of the heart in greater depth and detail. I think that like many things in science, the better the tools become for observation and testing, we’ll find as Blaise Pascal did, the heart has ways, means and reasons, that reason knows nothing of.
One possible integration practice: pretend your heart is smarter than your brain. Get input from it on a regular basis.