Category Archives: health

What is Dying to be Born?

A few weeks ago, when I checked my inbox, there was an email from Lianne Raymond.   Her request:

I am asking you, as one of the women I look to for thought leadership, to contribute your idea of “what is dying to be born” in the world right now- maybe it is already in the process of happening and you will shine the light on it – it doesn’t matter: whatever way you want to interpret that phrase is welcomed and encouraged, as part of the beauty of the end product will be our multi-faceted ways of viewing the world, with each view reflecting the others.

You are on this list because somewhere along the way you made a difference in my life through your words. So thank you so much for being a part of my life and growth, whether or not you become a part of this.

With much love,

Lianne Raymond

Click on the link below, for Linda’s page,  to read my piece on Presence in What is Dying to Be Born?

linda’s page

The link, What is Dying to be Born, will take you to the entire book:

What is Dying to be Born?

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Filed under attention, connection, engaged, health, reflection, Uncategorized

How has the Internet Changed the Way You Think?

The physical world is where I not only see, I also feel — a friend’s loving gaze in conversation; the movement of my arms and legs and the breeze on my face as I walk outside; and the company of friends for a game night and potluck dinner. The Internet supports my thinking and the physical world supports that, as well as, rich sensing and feeling experiences.

It’s no accident we’re a culture increasingly obsessed with the Food Network and Farmer’s Markets — they engage our senses and bring us together with others.

How has the Internet changed my thinking? The more I’ve loved and known it, the clearer the contrast, the more intense the tension between a physical life and a virtual life. The Internet stole my body, now a lifeless form hunched in front of a glowing screen. My senses dulled as my greedy mind became one with the global brain we call the Internet.

Read the whole post here on O’Reilly Radar or a slightly different version, here, on the Huffington Post.

Read John Brockman’s 2010 World Question Center.  Thought leaders and scientists respond to the question:  How has the internet changed the way you think?

Comment here — write your own response.   Happy New Year!

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Filed under attention, distraction, engaged, health, O'Reilly Radar, technology

Screens R Us: When to Take a Break

Someone always stops me in the hall at a conference or asks anxiously after a talk:  How much time should I spend in front of a screen? At what point should I pull back and take a break?  Should I stop every 30 or 45 minutes?

My response is always the same:  How do you feel?  Your body is wiser than your mind in these matters.

The challenge is, most of us, especially the brainy future thinking high tech types, tend to favor the inclinations of the mind.  The mind, for many of us, is often tyrannical towards the body.  “Just stay up 3 more hours.   One more all-nighter.   A Red Bull or two and I’ll meet this deadline!  No walk until this paper is done…”

Our always-on lifestyle has favored thinking and doing.  As we move toward a lifestyle that seeks quality of life, we’ll find ourselves valuing sensing and feeling.   We see the first signs of this in the various food related movements that are gaining popularity:  slow foods, Farmer’s Markets, and preferences for artisanal and  local organic foods.

The operative questions are: How do I feel?  What would feel better?    These questions can help create a flexible, flowing workstyle that will enable the wisdom of both body and mind to come through in everything we do.

This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post.

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Filed under attention management, email apnea, health, Huffington Post, reflection, screen apnea, stress, technology, Uncategorized

Diagnosis: Email Apnea

In early 2007, at the suggestion of my M.D., I took a course in Buteyko breathing and incorporated it into my morning routine.  I would get up, take a walk, do twenty minutes of Buteyko, then, sit down at my computer to work.

Day one:  Within the first few minutes of sitting down at my computer, I noticed I was holding my breath – a huge contrast to the breathing exercises I was doing only moments before.

Day two:  Within the first few minutes of sitting down at my computer, I noticed I was holding my breath.

Day three:  This isn’t an anomaly, it’s a habit!  Does everyone do this?!

I spent the next 6-7 months observing and interviewing over 200 people.  I watched and spoke with people in their offices, in cafes, in their homes, and, roughly 80% of this sample appeared to have what I called, email apnea.   I interviewed a variety of healthcare practitioners and researchers on the physiological impacts of breath holding.  I’m grateful to these professionals for answering my questions, referring me to other professionals, and referring me to relevant research.

I posted on this on HuffPo and Radar.  The comments posted on Radar are worth reading.

Since posting the original pieces on email apnea, the Steelcase Walkstation has come on the market.   There is some evidence that we’re likely to have better posture at a standing or walking workstation.

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Filed under attention, Blackberry, breathing, continuous partial attention, email apnea, health, Huffington Post, information overload, iPhone, O'Reilly Radar, screen apnea, Steelcase Walkstation, technology

Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention

What I call continuous partial attention is referred to as complex multi-tasking in cognitive science.  Most of us don’t walk around distinguishing between simple and complex multi-tasking when we talk about our day:  “I multi-tasked all afternoon and I’m exhausted.”  “Yes, I multi-task when I drive.”  “A good chef has to multi-task.”

Were those examples of simple or complex multi-tasking?  There’s no way to know.  The differences between simple and complex multi-tasking are profound.  So, when I noticed that complex multi-tasking was increasingly pervasive in our culture, I took the liberty of giving it a new name:  continuous partial attention.   WordSpy, a fun site that tracks new words and phrases, recognizes cpa, and so does Wikipedia.

Continuous partial attention and multi-tasking are two different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses.  When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient.  Each activity has the same priority  – we eat lunch AND file papers.   We stir the soup AND talk on the phone.  With simple multi-tasking, one or more activities is somewhat automatic or routine, like eating lunch or stirring soup.  That activity is then paired with another activity that is automatic, or with an activity that requires cognition, like writing an email or talking on the phone.    At the core of simple multi-tasking is a desire to be more productive.  We multi-task to CREATE more opportunity for ourselves –time to DO more and time to RELAX more.

An image, that comes to mind for me here, is the contrast between the organization man (Whyte, 1956): a dutiful employee who ate lunch in a cafeteria or restaurant and certainly not at his desk; and the entrepreneur of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, who ate lunch at his/her desk or while filing papers, in order to get more done in a day.

Simple multi-tasking made it possible to cram more into our workday, and often, helped create a little more free time for drinks with friends, or time with family, or a favorite television show.

In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything.  We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.  We’re talking on the phone and driving.  We’re writing an email and participating in a conference call.  We’re carrying on a conversation at dinner and texting under the table on the Blackberry or iPhone.

Continuous partial attention also describes a state in which attention is on a priority or primary task, while, at the same time, scanning for other people, activities, or opportunities, and replacing the primary task with something that seems, in this next moment, more important.  When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel.  Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.

Continuous partial attention involves a kind of vigilance that is not characteristic of multi-tasking.  With cpa, we feel most alive when we’re connected, plugged in, and in the know.  We constantly SCAN for opportunities – activities or people – in any given moment.  With every opportunity we ask, “What can I gain here?”

Why care about the difference between multi-tasking and cpa?

Continuous partial attention is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis. We are always in high alert.  We are demanding multiple cognitively complex actions from ourselves.  We are reaching to keep a top priority in focus, while, at the same time, scanning the periphery to see if we are missing other opportunities.  If we are, our very fickle attention shifts focus.  What’s ringing? Who is it?  How many emails? What’s on my list?  What time is it in Bangalore?

In this state of always-on crisis, our adrenalized “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in.  This is great when we’re being chased by tigers. How many of those 500 emails a day is a TIGER?  How many are flies? Is everything an emergency? Our way of using the current set of technologies would have us believe it is.

Over the last twenty years, we have become expert at continuous partial attention and we have pushed ourselves to an extreme that I call, continuous continuous partial attention.  There are times when cpa is the best attention strategy for what we’re doing; and, in small doses, continuous partial attention serves us well.  There are times when cpa and ccpa compromises us.

The “shadow side” of cpa is over-stimulation and lack of fulfillment. The latest, greatest powerful technologies are now contributing to our feeling increasingly powerless. Researchers are beginning to tell us that we may actually be doing tasks more slowly and poorly.

And that’s not all. We have more attention-related and stress-related diseases than ever before. Continuous continuous partial attention and the fight or flight response associated with it, can set off a cascade of stress hormones, starting with norepinephrin and its companion, cortisol.  As a hormone, cortisol is a universal donor.  It can attach to any receptor site.  As a result, dopamine and seratonin –the hormones that help us feel calm and happy – have nowhere to go because cortisol has taken up the available spaces.  The abundance of cortisol in our systems has contributed to our turning to pharmaceuticals to calm us down and help us sleep.  Read about email apnea to understand how our relationship with screen-based activities plays a role in this fight or flight response.

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Filed under continuous continuous partial attention, continuous partial attention, multi-tasking, stress