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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Non-Distraction 101

College educators these days see students who check Twitter, email, and text messages while playing Internet games and sitting in class. They write papers while switching between YouTube, Facebook, Spotify. Stanford University multitasking researcher Clifford Nass describes a radical shift in the nature of attention that some fear may affect developing brains so that a generation from now, students won't have the attention span to read a novel.

David M. Levy, a professor at the University of Washington, teaches a college course called "Information and Contemplation" that helps technically adept students look critically at how multitasking affects their lives, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Those who happen to glance into this seminar, in Room 420 of Mary Gates Hall, might wonder whether the students had fallen asleep.
Just the opposite: Meditation sharpens their focus. The practice, as Mr. Levy teaches it, involves repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breathing as the mind wanders away. Think of it like lifting weights. Just as you can build up your biceps by doing reps, he says, meditation can strengthen attention.
Meditation works like an eraser that rubs out the mental chatter you carry up the stairs to class, says student Michael J. Conyers, allowing him to focus on the class.

We may be out of college, but some of Levy's assignments could be useful. Try these:

--Spend 15 minutes to half an hour each day observing and logging your e-mail behavior. The idea, an outgrowth of meditation, is to note what happens in the mind and body. Notice when you have the initial impulse to check e-mail and what you're thinking and feeling. What emotions come up? Does your posture and breathing change as you e-mail? (Levy has students use a camera and watch themselves later.)
-- Email meditation -- for a set period of time, do nothing but work with email. Notice the impulse to switch. What are the causes and conditions? What do you want to switch to? How long can you maintain concentration?