“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” Chinese Proverb
"The limits to multitasking are clear when one realises that learning is done by reading or listening to the information being relayed, this information then needs to be reasoned and subsequently it needs to be memorised. The ability to capture the information in the first place is directly proportional to how much attention you provided.
With constant interruptions it is simple to see that lack of attention requires the inefficient revisiting of ideas that have already been reasoned and greatly hinders any momentum in the thinking process which ends costly in terms of time.
Baldwin effect (Baldwin effect- a theory in evolutionary biology suggesting a selection process in learnt abilities that make them innate in future generations) applied to attention and memory (see “Did Meditating Make Us Human?” by Matt J. Rossano).
The brain is believed to function on different frequencies with each corresponding to a state of mind. These are classified as follows:
1. Delta- up to 4Hz, associated with deep sleep.
2. Theta- 4-8Hz, associated with drowsiness.
3. Alpha- 8-13Hz, associated with relaxed awareness.
4. Beta- 13-30Hz, associated with being alert and active.
5. Gamma- 30-100+Hz, associated with cross modal sensory processing.
It is the Alpha frequency that we should aim to attain for the purposes of learning.
The techniques should be practised daily, preferably 3 times a day, consisting of two long sessions and one short.
Technique 1- Mantras Mantra chanting is a very popular technique in eastern traditions which was popularised in the west during the 1960s. The idea is to repeat a phrase, prayer or syllable over and over either vocally or in one’s mind.
Technique 2- Letters Visual techniques are favoured by many, given most people’s tendency to rely on this modality (compare how much time you spend on TV or PC versus smelling flowers). However, the technique presented here relies on the ability to picture a letter with the inner eye, an ability that some find difficult at first.
Technique 3- Breathing Breathing techniques play a key role in the meditative practices of Indian Yoga and Chinese Qigong. There is a great deal of variety in the teaching approaches and some conflicts depending on the branch of the art practised. The subject is deep and the subtleties of each technique can take a long time to master. The aim of this manual is to be practical yet effective, hence the technique introduced below is the one that has shown to be the easiest to master whilst being valuable in terms of the results produced.
The technique is sometimes called “Buddhist breathing” or simply “abdominal breathing” and the procedure is as follows: 1. Set an alarm to ring after 10 minutes. 2. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your thighs, eyes closed. 3. Breathe in whilst allowing your abdominal area to expand, breathe out whilst pushing your abdominal area in. 4. The breaths should be slow and natural, you should not force your stomach in or out, the movement should be without tension.
5. Progress slowly and do not tense, begin with 5 seconds for the in breath and 5 seconds for the out breath and allow for longer if you are able to do so (7-10 seconds for in and out); the key point is not to tense and not to force it to happen. This movement is very natural (it is how one breathes as a baby until early childhood) and can be relearned with practise. Tension defeats the purpose and can have undesirable effects. 6. When thoughts intrude (and they will), just let go. When they come back, let go again and again without reacting, without analysing the reason why the thoughts recur. Just let go and focus on the abdominal area moving in and out with your breathing.
At the beginning, the physical method needs to be learnt. With 10 minutes every day, a reasonable comfort with the technique can be attained in 2-3 months, but each person is different and timelines should not be the gauge. It is whether you feel relaxed and focused that should signal whether you are progressing along the correct path.
Technique 4- Countdown We tend to use numbers frequently in our everyday life and the notion of countdown tends to solicit an expectation of an event to follow. This technique is simple to complete and involves a dynamic audio and visualisation processes which progress according to your thoughts. The procedure is as follows: 1. Set an alarm to ring after 10 minutes. 2. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your thighs, eyes closed. 3. Begin with 100 and slowly countdown to 1 waiting approximately 3 seconds between each number. Try and picture the number (black number on white background) as well as saying it in your mind (not out loud). 4. Do not count the seconds between each number, just get into a comfortable rhythm and count down. 100...99...98...97 etc
(counting in your mind and visualising at the same time). The slower you count down the better. 5. When thoughts intrude (and they will), just let go. When they come back, let go again and again without reacting, without analysing the reason why the thoughts recur. Just let go and focus on the countdown. 6. Once you reach 90, with every thought that distracts you, let go and return to 90. For example: 93...92...91...90...89...88...thought...90...89...88...87...86...thought...90... etc. 7. Do not let the fact that you are going over and over back to 90 because of repetitive thoughts, distract or disturb you. You should also avoid analysing the thoughts-- just let go. With practise, this technique will allow you to measure your progress by realising how long you can countdown without any distracting thought.
Once you have mastered the technique and can proceed to 1 easily within the 10 minutes session, begin with 200 and increase as necessary.
Technique 5- 3D objects This is another visualisation technique that builds on the previous by introducing a 3-dimensional object compared to the 2-dimensional nature of visualising a letter or a number. This practise helps the development of the inner eye, which is extremely useful for memory techniques as well as mental arithmetic. The easiest objects to begin with are items that are viewed on a daily basis,
Technique 6- Smell To the author’s knowledge, this technique has not been covered by previous work on the subject of meditation; it uses an important sense that is often neglected but whose significance in mental performance is substantial. The idea is to use the memory of a strong pleasant smell and to meditate only on it.
Technique 7- Touch This is another technique, which to the best of this author’s knowledge, has not been made available in the literature yet. The idea is to train another modality that tends to be ignored in mental activities. The sense of touch can trigger a very relaxing response and meditating on it can train the user to solicit these responses without the physical stimulus being present.
Technique 8- Relaxing scene This technique builds on the previous exercises and allows you to experience a full scene with all the feelings that your senses were able to capture. The procedure is as follows: 1. Set an alarm to ring after 10 minutes. 2. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your thighs, eyes closed. 3. Try and think of a pleasantly relaxing scene that you would like to experience; a prototypical example would be sitting on a deserted beach by the water, feeling the waves wash over your body and then recede back to the ocean and the warmth of the sun sprinkling over your body until the next wave washes to the shore with a great whooshing sound.
4. You start the exercise by focusing on each individual sensation (i.e smell, touch, sound, view and taste) just once and then let go. Spend a few seconds on each modality and then move to the next step. 5. Then feel as though you are in the scene, this is now the point of focus, do not try and focus or shift from each individual sensation, instead just focus on being in the scene and experiencing the overall scene. When you are able to just feel as though you are there, the individual sensations will creep in on their own- all you need to do is maintain the feeling of being there as your point of focus.
6. When thoughts intrude (and they will), just let go. When they come back let go again and again without reacting, without analysing the reason why the thoughts recur. Just let go and focus on the feeling of being there. 7. Essentially you are focusing your attention on one feeling here, it is just that this feeling is complex and carries several modalities within it.
Technique 9- Background Sound This technique aims to utilise noises that are present in one’s environment and demonstrates to the practitioner how such sounds, that may cause frustration at times, can be equally soothing if a different interpretation is takes place in the mind. Mastery of this technique would provide the practitioner with a substantially improved control of his environment, allowing it to affect him in the way that he chooses. This is a valuable tool for competitive performances or any pressure situations that take place in noisy environments.
It is therefore paramount to have a specific training plan in place and basic rules to enforce compliance with the training. Most importantly it is necessary to have a tool to measure progress in order to verify whether the approach taken is effective.
With concentration, measuring of progress is challenging since it is highly dependent on the environment, external factors, general mood of the day, worries/concerns recently experienced, as well as due to the difficulty in defining the unit of measurement. To achieve the task of measurement, we will use the countdown technique to plot how far down the countdown the practitioner was able to descend. This should not be done daily since such a period does not allow sufficient time for improvement; doing so fortnightly and plotting the results may be a reasonable time period.
Rules 1. Train every day- the refined skill of concentration is built gradually on previous days’ progress. Missing a day can take you a several steps back and cause frustration due to apparent lack of progress. It is therefore paramount that the training is completed every day without fail; if urgent circumstances present themselves then the training can be reduced to just one 10 minute session.
2. Do not try to catch up- do not try to make up for a missed day by doing double the next day; this may overload your system and cause frustration and perhaps even make you feel as though this is a chore. It is certainly not a chore; these are relaxation exercises and should be viewed with anticipation just as much as one would anticipate a tasty meal or a good movie or finishing work on Friday. Regular practise is the key, do not overdo for the wrong reasons.
3. Measure your progress every two weeks using the countdown technique- As discussed above, progress can be measured using the countdown technique, i.e. by recording the lowest number the practitioner arrived at during the session once 10mins have elapsed. The training schedules below only include the countdown technique from week 5 onwards because it is advisable to have a month of training that does not involve any pressure of achievement. For some, this is a crucial component in gaining confidence with the ideas being taught.
4. Follow the training schedules and continue your practise even after mastery- below are simple training schedules that focus the first few months on the core techniques, those that are simplest to perform and most effective. Once mastery has been achieved you can design your own schedule or continue with the one suggested. The important point here is that training should not be stopped after the 12th week; to maintain the skill gained would require regular practise, and, with concentration, the level of mastery is never finite- there is always a deeper experience that one can strive towards. 5. Do not compare your progress with others- concentration and relaxation are not competitive sports, once ego begins to interfere with the training, all effort would have been wasted. Concentration is a means to an end; it is there to improve your ability to learn as well as to relax. Comparing progress is fraught with dangers since the person you are discussing with may have different views, may not be honest with his views or may discourage you altogether by suggesting something else to try.
Schedule The schedule below requires the user to set aside 20 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes in the evening. This may not be possible for all readers but it is encouraged for optimal results. If these three daily sessions cannot be completed on a regular basis then at the very least, practise once a day for 20 minutes. It should be noted that practising only once a day would result in a longer period before measurable progress takes place. This is not a bad situation if it is the only available choice, but the key is to be realistic with what is possible within one’s schedule and execute regularly on that basis without fail.
It is quite simple, without memory of an event or experience, no learning can take place; and if no learning takes place no growth in ones abilities can materialise: you are left in a state of stagnation and inertia."
The Manual- A guide to the Ultimate Study Method (USM); covering Speed Reading, Super Memory, Laser Concentration, Rapid Mental Arithmetic and the Ultimate Study Method (USM) by Rod Bremer