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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 1:35 pm | Fair 62º


Tam Hunt: How to Reclaim Your Mind

Has your mind fallen out of your head in recent years? Well, you’re not alone. In this article, I’m going to provide some tips for how you can pick that brain of yours back up and put it back in your head — in a way that allows you to reclaim your mind and learn how to focus on things that matter again.

» 1. Turn off all electronic notifications except truly essential ones. Electronic pollution is killing our minds. The iPhone’s Do Not Disturb (DND) option is your friend.

» 2. Similarly, get in the habit of checking email or social media only when you really need to. Most things don’t need to be attended to immediately, and if you want to cultivate the life of the mind, you need to create the space to let your mind grow.

» 3. Make a point of picking up a book or good magazine on a regular basis (every day if you can) and actually reading for more than a few minutes at a stretch. We are losing the ability to focus on reading as we are constantly bombarded by electronic distractions and pretty, moving images.

» 4. Read actively by taking margin or end notes. This is a great way to improve focus and to actually retain what you’re reading. I go even a step further and take photos of my notes at the end of the book and keep these pictures of books that I’ve read in my Dropbox.

» 5. Re-learn the ability to write. I don’t write by hand — I type. But I’ve found that there is no better way to learn and organize thoughts than by writing. Write for yourself, or a blog, or for friends, or to make a living as a writer. Just write.

» 6. Join or start a book club. Minds thrive in the presence of other minds and the commerce of mind that is made possible by proximity.

» 7. Join or start a local salon discussion group. Salons are like local TED talks in someone’s home, often with social time built in. These forums can be a great way to promote intellectual engagement and discussion. And they may even provoke some needed change in individuals and communities.

» 8. Listen to audiobooks when driving, running or doing errands. If you’re really not a reader, you surely are a listener. Audible.com is only $15 a month for one monthly credit that can buy literally any audiobook. It’s a steal, and I love, love, love listening to audiobooks on many diverse topics.

» 9. Take copious notes in general, and use them to externalize your memory and your insights. Evernote and other note apps, many of which appear automatically with new smartphones, are an excellent way to keep track of just about everything. I have thousands of notes and find this way of enhancing my memory and ability to organize thoughts an excellent tool to multiply the power of my natural brain functions. I don’t have to worry about remembering everything, and when I put it in a note, all I have to do is remember — which can still be hard sometimes — that I created a note on that topic and where I put it.

» 10. Take classes. Go back to school. There are tons of online classes available now for free. And most communities have colleges that offer continuing adult education programs for very reasonable prices. These are a great way to pass the time, learn, become engaged in the community, meet new people, etc.

» 11. Cultivate correspondence with intelligent people. Don’t be shy. What do you have to lose in looking someone up online and emailing them your questions or thoughts? I do it all the time, and I get a response maybe half the time.

» 12. Meditate. Many studies have found enormous benefits from meditation and mindfulness more generally on the ability to focus, on the ability to learn, and the ability to reduce anxiety and other distractions from healthy mental functioning.

» 13. Run! And otherwise be active. Healthy body, healthy mind. It’s true. Live by it. I work out regularly by running, swimming, doing yoga, playing tennis, dancing ecstatically (a really fun workout), going to the gym and hiking. Numerous studies have found a close connection between physical activity and good mental functioning. I think of it as keeping all the pipes clean in the body at many levels. Clean pipes equals clean, well-functioning minds.

Looking to the future, before long we may feel the need for electronic cognitive enhancements in order to keep up with not only the Joneses but also with the soon-to-come artificial intelligences (AIs) that will increasingly run parts of our world. Elon Musk’s latest company, Neuralink, aims to do just that by providing a “magic wizard hat” (an advanced brain-mind interface, or BMI) to allow real-time communication between humans with thoughts only, but also to interface in real-time with AI companions like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant, etc., which will grow increasingly powerful in the coming years. But this is a topic for a different article …

Good luck reclaiming your mind, and I hope the tips I’ve suggested here are helpful.

— Tam Hunt is a writer and lawyer based in Hawaii.

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