Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Where your attention is, there change will be

To what did you pay attention today? Paying attention makes a difference - sometimes in situations or other people, sometimes in ourselves. When we pay attention, our minds work differently and the way we access information is changed.

Consider experiments on what happens when a particular patch of skin receives stimulation. If the tip of one finger, for instance, is touched repeatedly over a period of time, then the "brain map" of that tip will grow larger. By this I mean that the tiny collection of brain cells associated with information from that finger tip spreads sto include neighbouring cells. The tip of your finger now takes up a bigger part of what is, quite literally, your mental real estate. Unless. . .

Unless you weren't paying attention. If your attention were elsewhere while that fingertip was touched, the stimulation would not result in a larger number of brain cells associated with that finger tip. No attention, no growth.

When we pay attention to something, we can actually change not only how we think but the neurological equipment we use to think. Attention makes a difference. It alters our 'mental real estate' by creating larger or smaller collections of neurons dedicated to particular kinds of information.

What did you miss today? When you chose to be distracted, you chose to give up the possiblity of thinking about something now, and the possibiity that it would be easier to think about in the future because you gave it attention today. Most of the time, we are okay with that. Most of the time, what we miss is not what we needed today and not what we will need tomorrow.

But what did you miss today? Can you fill in the blanks? If not, think about where you could get the skills and information necessary to have more choice about what catches your attention and how you process it.

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