Improving Concentration

October 3, 2008

No one would argue that concentration is a must in each activity one’s undergoing, in work and daily life. Although all of us have already known about this immutable fact, in the contrary, there are still numerous individuals out there who cannot concentrate very well, regardless of their sex, age and other parameters. This phenomenon can be understood since there’s no curriculum in the formal education that is specifically designed to discuss about concentration. In other words, since early age, most pupils have no ideas of what concentration is all about. The inability to concentrate would make one can not give optimal performance in his/her activity, which led to mediocre results.

There are many methods that we can do to improve our ability to concentrate. Because concentration is very much related to the state of mind, therefore you can only develop your concentration by training your mind. One of the ways is through meditation. There are many sources from where you can learn to master meditation, e.g. books, websites etc. The most prominent aspect in mastering it is consistency and perseverance. You might not master meditation in short time, but don’t be discouraged. If you keep train yourself, soon enough meditation would be second nature to you. It surely takes discipline, like mastering any other skills.

There are many factors that contribute to one’s inability to concentrate. One of which has something to do with pain, more specifically headache. Maybe you are one of many who have this problem and you’ve tried so hard and for so long to come out with a real solution. In that case this recent study might help you to overcome your problem.

Everyone knows that it is impossible to concentrate with a splitting headache, but now neuroscientists can explain why. Researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany have identified a region of the brain that processes both working memory and pain, and it seems to give preference to painful stimuli. Using functional

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the researchers found that applying pain to volunteers hand increased activity in brain areas involved in pain processing, while decreasing activity in areas that working on the assigned visual test.

Ulrike Bingel, who led the study, says the work might have implications for pain management. When doctors decide whether to use strong painkillers such as opiates, they weigh the cognitive side effects of treatment, Bingel says, do not always consider that the pain itself can interfere with mental function.

Stress could lead to memory problems and disease

September 30, 2008

Everybody wants to have good memory, since it enables one to remember important facts and information. This writing is the continuation of my previous writings related to the ways of boosting one’s memory.

I’ve helped so many individual from all walks of life, students to professionals, to boost their memory. Based on my experience as a mind coach, to have good memory, not only individual must know the principles and tools of memory boosting, but one should also protects himself from chronic exposure to emotional stressor. This fact surely easy to understand since everybody must have situations when they forget the information they should remember in the moment of stress. Situation like school/university test, job interview and others alike might cause stress to individuals. Maybe you have a situation like one of my client, a university student. Often times the night before test he learned really hard. But by the time he was in the class room, having the test paper on his hand, the answers like vanished from his mind. The “miracle” happened when the test’s over, as he went out the class, all of sudden the answers came on his mind one by one. But at that time, it’s already too late since the answer sheet already submitted.

This phenomenon is what I called as “the non-technical factors” that cause student getting poor grade. It’s called non-technical because it’s not related to one’s ability on certain subject. I would say the situation where student gets poor grade 80% is caused by non-technical factors while 20% caused by technical counterpart (related to one ability on certain subject). But ironically, most students put 80% of their resources handling the technical factors while the rest 20% they use to solve the non-technical factors. This answers why the best students of the class would remain the same on every semester, as well as the worst students, regardless on how hard they’ve studied.

It’s very much important for students to be able to control his mind in responding to the stressful situation. The recent study on neuroscience also emphasis on the importance of stress management to have good memory.

Simply being prone to worry and tension can cause memory problems in old age, another recent study shows. Robert Wilson and his colleagues at Rust University Medical Center in Chicago evaluated the distress susceptibility of more than 1,000 elderly people by rating their agreement such as “I am often tense and jittery.” Over a period of up to 12 years, volunteers who were anxiety-prone had a 40 percent higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment than more easygoing individual did. Mild cognitive impairment is thought to be a precursor for Alzheimer’s.

Brain autopsies on participants who have died did not turn up evidence of neurofibrillary tangles or any of the other knows features indicative of Alzheimer’s, Wilson says. But the thinks it is possible that chronic distress gradually compromises memory systems, ultimately rendering a person more vulnerable to the physical changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s.

Watching Comedy as a Remedy

September 17, 2008

I’m a comedy buff. Shows like video zonkers, Tom and Jerry and whacked out sports are some of my favorites. I watched them in my leisure time after work. It makes me relax and loose all tension caused by all day long activities.

Watching comedy is a good habit. There are many advantages of watching great comedy. Not only relaxing, watching movies that make you go laugh out loud also related to intelligence improvement, specifically at the problem solving skills. Unlike watching suspenseful movies or reading a speech in front of others which will inhibit your problem solving capability, comedy will make you relax hence ready to access personal resource. This conclusion is based on two latest scientific studies in the field of neuroscience conducted by Ohio State University neurologist David Q. Beversdorf in November 2005.

In the first study, student volunteers watched 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, a graphic depiction of the World War II invasion of Normandy. After the movie clip, they had to complete a word-association task. The volunteers also saw 20 minutes of the animated comedy Shrek. The cartoon watchers’ test scores were 39 percent higher. For Beverdorf, this concludes that the induced stress to the violent movie impaired mental flexibility.

The second investigation compared volunteers who had the give speeches in front of a panel of cold-looking “judges” with others who simply had to sit in a room and read. Some of the subjects were given the beta-blocker drug propranolol, which might provide an antidote. Propranolol is used to treat high blood pressure and migraines and which counteracts the stress hormone norepinephrine. Mental and physical tests administered after the activities indicated that the people taking propranolol experienced less stress and displayed greater cognitive flexibility than the other study volunteers.

This finding might open a new alternative as a treatment for people who suffer from serious anxiety disorders. For those feeling pressed, why not trying this easy and fun solution.

Psychological Consequences Of Plastic Surgery

September 15, 2008

Maybe some of you, Indonesian, still remember the accident, which happened to a woman severely burned by her husband out of jealousy. The accident took place a couple of years ago in Jakarta. The news suddenly becomes major headlines in all media, printed and electronic. The public opinion is all stirred to sympathy towards the woman and curse for the husband. Because the woman, who used to be a very beautiful, after the accident became unrecognizable. The husband did his action based on his suspicion that his wife might have an affair with other man. So to prevent that from progressing even further, the husband took the precaution step by burning his wife, alive. Luckily the woman managed to escape and sought help although she had burn wound.

Although her wound could be well treated, still her face won’t be the same again. There would be major changes in her face and skin. This phenomenon intriguing some psychologist when they began to question whether the patient was mentally stable enough to handle the stressful, high-risk procedure. People around her might not be able to recognize her again.

Experts have begun to discuss how any analyst could fully know if an individual were “ready” for such a novel procedure. Some psychological readiness criteria exist for patients who seek elective plastic surgery, but there is little literature about the mental
attributes that make someone a good candidate for reconstructive surgery, much less a highly visible transplant.

Critic of the operation say that in addition to needing the mettle to follow post surgical procedures and stick with anti-tissue-rejection medication and side effects, the woman will have to withstand intense public scrutiny, and they wonder if she is up to it. But Elaine Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Emory University, notes the patient’s perspective, “the stresses may not trump the stress of living with the original disfigurement.”

Walker points out that the patient essentially had to choose between three psychologically challenging options: live with a terrible disfigurement that would very likely instill in her significant social anxiety, attempt a protracted series of reconstructive surgeries that doctors said might not succeed, or undergo the risky face transplant. “None of the alternatives would be free of psychological stress,” observes.

In the end, life is full of options. For each option, there would be consequences regardless the stress that would come along. And the patient, like every human being must choose one with consequences he/she can handle best.

Forgetting helps brain to work effectively and efficiently

August 23, 2008

Related to previous article, in this article we’re still discussing another benefit of forgetting.

People do forget sometimes for various reasons. Although there’re numerous disadvantages out of this, still people need to forget. Forgetting is the natural mechanism of human brain to work efficiently and effectively. In addition, forgetting also protects people from all traumas and phobias that happened in the past. But if you forget a lot, when the forgetting happens more than the remembering, then you might need professional’s help. Visiting your therapist or other professionals might help. Nowadays they’re so many professions that help people to overcome forgetting, namely therapist, psychologist, mind-coach and many more.

If you need more scientific facts that back up the fact that forgetting has benefits to people, below is one scientific conclusion derived from the latest study of memory on mice.

When you forget, one of the reasons is you cannot recall the information stored in the memory. Human memory generally can be divided into three categories; namely sensory register, working memory and long-term memory. The duration of storage varies from one to another, the first is the shortest and the last is the longest (where in some cases more permanent). Working memory, a form of short-term memory that both passively stores and actively manipulates information, benefits from an inhibition of long-term memory.

Researchers investigating mice used x-rays or genetic techniques to stop the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, which is important for long-term memory. These mice performed maze-related working memory tasks better than normal mice did, suggesting “that by impairing one from of memory, long-term memory, it is actually possible to improve another form,” says Gael Malleret, a neuroscientist at Colombia University and co-author of the study.

This study backs up the facts that forgetting brings benefit, by making the brain to work more effectively and efficiently. So, if you accidentally call “Primus” as “Sarudin,” take heart – your brain probably just chose to dump his name in favor of a more crucial fact, such as where you left your cell phone.

The Benefit of Forgetting

August 14, 2008

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In most workshops of Prima Memory, a program intended to boost one’s memorizing ability, often times people ask me about the phenomenon of forgetting. The questions people asked are almost alike; such as why do they forget a lot, how to remember more, how to omit forgetting and other questions related.

One of the earliest scientists who study scientifically about forgetting is Hermann Ebbinghaus, which dated back in 1800’s. In 1885, he published his groundbreaking Über das Gedächtnis (“On Memory”, later translated to English as Memory. A Contribution to Experimental Psychology) in which he described experiments he conducted on himself to describe the processes of learning and forgetting.

You might think that forgetting is bad, since you have to face risks caused by this. But, is it true that forgetting is bad? If not, can you be benefited from forgetting? Well your answer to those questions might be “yes” and “no”. To grasp a better understanding, this latest study on forgetting might worth to look at.

According to the latest study about forgetting, conducted by Stanford University Scientists, forgetting not only helps the brain conserve energy, it also improves our sort-term memory and recall of important details. The team asked students to study 240 word- pairs and then structured them to memorize only a small subset of the list, requiring the students to selectively retain some pairs and mentally discard others. Those who could most often summon the target pairs were also the worst at remembering the others, suggesting that they were better at unconsciously filtering out unwanted memories.

Then the researchers performed MRI scans on the participants while testing them to see how well they learned all the pairs. These subjects’ MRI scans; the ones who could most often summon the target pairs showed reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with detecting and resolving memory conflicts.

Asked to explain this finding in plain English, psychologist Anthony Wagner, a co-author of the paper, says, “When we want to remember things that are relevant, we put in much less neural effort if we have forgotten the things that are irrelevant.”

This finding suggests that memory suppression helps to conserve energy and improve efficiency; hence this makes you think smarter. Some researches also back up this conclusion by indicating that efficient brain think faster.

So, it’s practically OK when you forget sometimes, as long you’re not forgetting the very most important facts such as your wife/husband. Don’t even dare to think about it :)

Mind your head to be healthy

August 8, 2008

Health related issues nowadays becoming trends, as people gradually realizing the importance of healthy living. Especially in big cities where pollution is every day consumption. In the city where I live in, the dangerously beautiful Jakarta, we have many kinds of pollution to offer, water, noise, air, food, sight you name it. You don’t have to look anywhere else to learn kinds of pollution.  Sometimes on the street, I get so confused seeing a nice vehicle modified into some kind of “monster from hell” with noises screaming out of the exhaust system as if they trying to scare you.

Luckily, all of these depleting health, physical and mental. But regardless all of those scary things, there is still hopes remain for those who want to be healthy. One of these has something to do with how you operate your “head”, being optimist. But it is very important to notice, this is not some kind of new-agey or wishful thinking. In fact it’s scientifically proven.

The latest study comes from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. For 999 elderly Dutch men and women, agreement with statements such as “I still have many goals to strive for” were highly predictive for longevity. When subjects were traced nine years after being surveyed, death rates of optimistic men were 63 percent lower than those of their pouty peers; for women, optimism reduced the rate by 35 percent.

Now you might ask maybe be it has something to do with their diet. Nope, you have to guess again. Because by controlling for dietary factors, smoking habits, obesity physical activity and alcohol dependence in participants, researchers can isolate optimism’s protective influence. Some of that influence drives healthy behavior. “Optimists will try to avoid and escape bad events,” explains Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania not linked to the Dutch team. For example, they are more likely to follow prescribed medical routines.

This finding can be brought also to homes and schools. If you’re a mom/dad or a teacher, you should inform your kids or your students about the following. In a study by Seligman, pessimistic college students randomly assigned to optimism workshops subsequently had fewer visits to their school’s health services department and had lower rates of depression and anxiety than classmates who had no happiness classes. Positive self-talk can help, too. For example, says Robert C. Colligan, professor emeritus of psychology at the mayo clinic, “a student with a bad grade should replace `I’ll probably fail all of my other courses too’ with `it’ll go better next semesters.'”

Why employees hate meeting?

July 31, 2008

Have you ever wondered why it’s such difficult to bring people together in one time? Or are you one of those who have had difficulties in solving complex challenges that require teamwork, mainly because the people you’re working with not ready to cooperate. What should we do to cope with this challenge?

Most people would say that employees hate office meeting. “It’s one of the anecdotal things that’s hard to question,” says organization psychologist Steven G. Rodelberg, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Getting people in a meeting sometimes can be such a rigorous task. People mainly will give an excuse not to attend a meeting, one of the classic “I have something else to take care with”.

But is it true gathering people in one place at one time really that difficult? If so, is the reason accurate that they really have something else far more important to deal with? Or is there other culprit that causing this. To find out about this, a team led by Rodelberg did an experiment. He and his colleagues gave 980 workers about their time spent in scheduled meetings and overall job satisfaction. The result of this study is quite astonishing. The get-togethers were not uniformly panned. Employees who are goal-oriented and whose work does not require much outside input do indeed tend to be generally dissatisfied with meetings, while individuals whose work depend on interaction with others and who have somewhat flexible, unstructured jobs are actually more satisfied the more gatherings they sit in on. This conclusion really helps to optimize a meeting, by making it more effective and efficient.

So next time when you want to gather people, make sure you know what kind of people you’re inviting.

IMagination, an innate human capability

July 23, 2008

Have you ever wondered why kids have such immense imagination? Do you think that adults have different kind of imagination compare to kids. Imagination is always important aspect to discuss. It’s one of the most important aspects of human mind. It is playing an important role in learning as well as in living. Our well-being is very much determined by our imagination.

One presupposition states that imagination is already with us since we were born. A scientific study related to this conducted in Yale University. The ability to distinguish multiple fantasy words may be an innate skill. “Children’s metaphysical reasoning is much more complicated than previously, “says Daena Skolnick, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Yale University.

In a recent study entitled “What Does Batman think about Sponge Bob? ” Skolnick and Paul Bloom, a Yale psychology professor, asked 24 adults and 24 children ages four to six questions about familiar fictional characters. For example: Is Batman real? Does Batman think Robin is real? Does Batman think Nemo is real? For kids playing at home, the popular answers might be; no, yes, no. In most cases, the youngsters’ responses closely matched the adults’. This concluded that the way kids thinking did not simply place all make-believe characters in one universe. The Batman’s world is different to Nemo’s.

To find out more about the claim that children make this multiword distinction on their own, the dynamic duo now plans to test three-year-olds and also to explore how kids deal with their own pretend word. “Our hunch is that certain facts about how fiction works
are not learned; they are natural by-products of the architecture of human imagination, ” Bloom explains. That would mean that the flight of fancy needed to write a novel or appreciate a blockbuster might spring from the same skills we use to predict what might be happening around a corner ahead of us or in an upcoming week. From the everyday to the extraordinary, we spent much of our lived immersed in hypothetical scenarios, and Skolnick hopes to track how we manage them all.

Mathematical function of the brain

July 22, 2008

Most students find Math as the most difficult subject in school. This belief then relates with their emotional response toward the subject, which then manifest in the action of not paying enough attention while the course is being held. When they receive their test result, they become more disappointed, which add up their aversion to Mathematics.

I personally find in my daily practice as education consultant, this amusing phenomenon most likely happens with kids of elementary school. Like one recent client that I’m still working with, a son of a Headmaster of one well-known school in Jakarta. Although the kid really study hard with his father, but in the class he is under-performed especially in Mathematics.

Is it true that Math really that difficult, or it is just merely their thought? Scientists estimate that 3 to 6 percent of the population may be unable to count objects quickly. The question is what method should be employed to learn more about the mathematical function of the brain. One logical answer that came upwas by isolating the brain’s counting region.

The challenge in identifying the precise region is that counting typically involves language, and the language areas also come online when the brain enumerates. To keep them offline during experiments, postdoctoral researcher Fulvia Castelli of the California Institute of Technology used colors. With this method, she found that the intraparietal sulcus – a long silver of tissue in the back of the brain – tabulates how “many” and not how “much”. Volunteers were shown a series of blue and green flashes of light filing rectangles on a video chessboard. When the colors appeared in isolated squares the sulcus was activated, but when the colors were strung together in a row it was not.

In daily life, this finding related in deciding quickly which checkout line at a
grocery store is shorter. Some people tote up the inviduals standing in line, while others create a mental representation of how long the queue actually is.

Unfortunately not all people can do this stunt. People with “dyscalculia” cannot develop that mental map, forcing them into slow, deliberate tallying. Castelli hopes to study way to strengthen the representational ability.


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