February 9th, 2018

DISCLAIMER: Oliver Burkeman, writing in Don’t knock Donald Trump for playing so much golf. Here’s why for The Guardian, starts out this weeks column making, what I think, are outrageously positive observation about President Donald John Trump and golf courses. I think you would do well to skip the first five sentences and begin reading with: One of the most beguiling answers

What caught my eye was the description of cognitive quiet. Burkeman writes:

The result is what the Kaplans [academics Rachel and Stephen] called “cognitive quiet”, in which the muscle of effortful attention—the one you use to concentrate on work—gets to rest, but without the boredom you’d feel if you had nothing to focus on. This helps explain why nature’s benefits aren’t restricted to, say, trips to the Grand Canyon or Great Barrier Reef. Those places seize your whole attention, whereas your local park may seize just enough of it to let the rest of your mind relax.

What comes next—especially in light of recent conversations I’ve had with students regarding multi-tasking, smart phones and listening to music while studying—is brilliant.

Think about attention like this, and it becomes clear how irresponsibly we usually treat our own supply of it. “To concentrate on a task, you need to block out distractions,” as the design and technology expert Richard Coyne has written—and “once that blocking function gets worn down by fatigue, you are more likely to act on impulse, to shirk tasks that prove too challenging [or] to become irritable.” But all too often, we respond to concentration fatigue by trying to concentrate on something different: email, social media, TV—“things that are more engaging but less challenging”. No wonder that doesn’t work: it’s like taking a rest after lifting dumbbells by lifting different dumbbells. Nature, by contrast, lets us switch modes. To quote Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, it “employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquillises it and yet enlivens it”.

To quote Meg Ryan: yes, Yes, YES!

Comments are closed.