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Comment author: EvelynM 16 September 2014 11:37:42PM 4 points [-]

You may want to ask Yvain for assistance.

Comment author: sediment 14 July 2014 05:16:22PM *  18 points [-]

Request for advice:

Like many people on lesswrong, I probably lie towards the smart end of the bell curve in terms of intelligence, but I'm starting to suspect that I lie somewhere below the mean in terms of ability to focus, concentrate, and direct my attention.

I only recently became concerned about this because it wasn't much of a problem when I was in school. There, I was able to do acceptably well overall by doing well in the subjects that came easily to me without working hard (science, maths... you know the score) and mediocrely in those that didn't. Ditto my undergrad/bachelor's degree.

But I'm currently struggling rather with the thesis project for my master's degree in computer science. The specifics of the thesis itself don't matter, other than that it's a piece of empirical/numerical research involving a lot of coding and a prose write-up. None of the technical aspects of it are beyond me, and yet I feel like in some way it's the first very difficult thing I've ever tried, really tried, at. The hard part is sustaining interest over the whole length of the thing, planning and organizing the overarching, erm, arc of the project as a whole, and forming a 'narrative' out of all the hard-won bits and pieces of data. (I suppose the fact that I feel fairly sure that the project is likely to find a negative result (i.e. that the method under inspection doesn't offer any gains over simpler methods) also doesn't help my motivation.) Luckily, I did well enough in the taught part of my course that I only need to get a mediocre mark in this part in order to get a 'merit' overall.

But I'm also concerned about how this bodes for my future career. I'd like to do well in work, but I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm deficient in a skill which would allow me to do much better.

To convey what I'm talking about: often when I'm trying to work at home I flit between coding for work, reading, coding for fun, listening to music, etc., etc., etc., and consequent don't engage with any of them very deeply, or get much done. Also, I have almost always taken a very long time to get to sleep, often an hour or more, because I find it hard to 'switch off' my brain when I'm in bed and have decided it's time to go to sleep. (I've recently been making the paradoxical attempt to try very hard to switch my brain off and stop thinking in bed, with, surprisingly, some limited success.)

I feel like I lack the five-second level skill to suppress (or at least, to decline to pursue) any old interesting thought which appears while I'm doing something else.

Things I've attempted:

  • Meditation. It seems plausible that meditating could help to 'train' deliberate attention direction in other aspects of life. Does anyone have any experience with this? I tried checking the literature, and found only one weak-ish study supporting such a hypothesis, but I'd be open to anecdotal evidence. I've tried to meditate a few times (less than ten), for about half an hour each time. The first couple of times I became weirdly aggravated and agitated at how bad at it I was: I was frustrated by the realization that something as simple as focusing on one thing and avoiding other thoughts was beyond me. After the first couple of times, I no longer find it aggravating, but I have yet to find it rewarding, either. I haven't yet managed to obtain the focused, quiet state which I understand is the aim, at least for more than a handful of seconds a couple of times. (Is this normal beginner-level performance?)
  • Pomodoros. I've had some success with doing pomodoros of work, including beeminding them, but I find that they're best suited to well-defined, discrete tasks. Tasks which are more nebulous seem less suited to it. Also, I find it hard to do pomodoros unless I'm feeling high-willpower, but perhaps this is fixable with, erm, the application of more willpower.

Things I've considered but haven't attempted:

  • Medication, self-. Is this the sort of thing which would be amenable to a course of Modafinil, or some other nootropic? I could be open to trying this, if it were likely to work.
  • Medication, other. I could try seeing a doctor to see if what I'm talking about warrants a diagnosis of ADD, and a prescription of Ritalin or a similar drug. I have no idea whether what I'm describing would be considered drastic enough to warrant either of those, though.

Any experience with any of the above, speculation on which of them might bear fruit, or suggestions of completely different ideas welcome.

Is this the sort of thing that can be 'trained' through willpower? It seems like a fairly 'deep', even a fundamental, aspect of brain function, so I wonder how plastic such a thing is. Any thoughts on this welcome also.

Finally, am I just worrying too much about this? I was recently heartened to come across this Nassim Nicholas Taleb quote:

If you get easily bored, it means that your BS detector is functioning properly; if you forget (some) things, it means that your mind knows how to filter; and if you feel sadness, it means that you are human.

Perhaps I just have a very stringent bullshit detector. Evidence in favour of this proposal: I think I am able to focus extremely well on personal projects (typically things that I code for fun and find intrinsically rewarding). In fact, when I stop those, it's less often from boredom and more by guiltily tearing myself away in order to get back to my "real" work. (On the other hand, perhaps there's such a thing as a too-stringent bullshit detector - one so stringent as to give false positives.)

Summary: I'm concerned that my focus/concentration skills are significantly worse than average, and that this could be detrimental to my outcomes in life. How can I improve them?

Comment author: EvelynM 14 July 2014 06:38:18PM 3 points [-]

The life hygiene issues of exercise, sunshine, good sleep, social support are all helpful in getting stuff done.

Beyond that, don't rely exclusively on your working memory for keeping track of all of the things you need to do. You are already taxing that with learning, and offloading everything you can to external aids is helpful (todo lists, experimental journals, daily 3 page mind-dump journaling). A regular review cycle of what you have written can give you a sense of accomplishment, which can be lacking in multi-year projects with few intermediate wins. Count volume of output as a goal, and use beeminder or something similar to remind you to track it, and show you what you have accomplished (pages written, commits made, hours worked...).

Comment author: ephion 14 January 2014 03:06:03AM 1 point [-]

This is a minor optimization, but I just got an aeropress for coffee. It'll save me some time in the morning vs my espresso machine, take less work/time to clean, and produces much, much, much better coffee. I'd highly recommend anyone that likes more intense coffee brews to check it out.

Comment author: EvelynM 14 January 2014 11:39:19PM 0 points [-]

I switched from an espresso machine, to a Clever dripper. The coffee tastes great, and is much simpler to clean up.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 January 2014 08:48:25PM 4 points [-]

I have a bunch of recommendations, but I'm no expert.

Generic advice: sit or stand with your back straight and unsupported. If sitting, your knees should be below your hips. This means straight chair (soles of feet on the ground), cross-legged on a cushion, or full lotus.

Pay attention to something low-stress. Your breath (possibly just the feeling of it going in and out of your nostrils), a candle flame, your heart beat (if low stress), counting from one to four and back again.

20 minutes is commonly recommended, but I don't think it's crazy to work up from 5 or 10 minutes if 20 is intolerable.

Meditation isn't easy. One of the useful parts of the training is gently putting your attention back where you want it when you notice you're thinking about something else. It may help to have a few simple categories like thought, memory, imagination, sensation to just label thoughts as they go by.

I recommend The Way of Energy by Lam Kam Chuen-- it's an introduction to Daoist meditation (mosly standing). I'm not going to say it's the best ever (I haven't investigated the field), but it's got a good reputation and I've gotten good results from it.

There. Now that I've said some things, I predict that other meditators will come in with more advice.

Comment author: EvelynM 14 January 2014 11:29:27PM 1 point [-]

That advice is reasonable. The hospital/Doctor may be able to refer you to a local Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. Many people find the social support of meditating in a group, helpful.

I hope you make a speedy recovery to full health, XiXiDu.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 06 January 2014 10:58:16PM 40 points [-]

OK. I already mentioned that I'm preparing a longer post about it, but I didn't brag about it:

Despite being left by my wife for a younger guy after 15 years and 4 children I have acted sensible, rational you might say, and bought a house, negotiated a fair marriage contract (separation of property), completed a much overdue freelance project and cared for the children a lot. I didn't break. I didn't hate. I didn't run away. I think I succeeded in saving my sanity (salvaging instead of destroying emotions from the relationship), providing a dependable, caring and safe environment for the children now and in the future (the house is on the other side of the street). And get along well with my future ex-wife and her new partner and avoid alienation of her by family and friends.

Actually all of that didn't happen in December but it is effectively done now. The children moved into the new house on Jan, 1st and all paperwork and such is done.

Comment author: EvelynM 08 January 2014 01:28:17AM 6 points [-]

That is a hard thing you've done well. For all the people who will never thank you for this, I thank you.

Comment author: EvelynM 01 January 2014 04:37:29PM 1 point [-]

I'd be interested in participating in this, though would prefer a video conference meetup, to a face to face one.

The topic is likely to be of wide interest beyond Colorado, and that format would allow for wider participation.

Comment author: 9eB1 03 December 2013 06:03:30AM 17 points [-]

Yesterday I received the following message from user "admin" in my Less Wrong inbox:

We were unable to determine if there is a Less Wrong wiki account registered to your account. If you do not have an account and would like one, please go to your preferences page.

But the link goes to a 404.

Comment author: EvelynM 05 December 2013 04:15:22AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2013 03:54:49AM 3 points [-]

Am I running on corrupted hardware or is life really this terrible? I don't think I can last another decade like this one, let alone whatever cryonically-supplied futures that would await. At this point, I think I would pay not to be frozen.


In response to comment by [deleted] on Open Thread, October 20 - 26, 2013
Comment author: EvelynM 23 October 2013 04:04:38PM 8 points [-]

An external view of your life and health, from a trusted professional, may help you identify causes of your discomfort and, most importantly, strategies to improve your life.

Comment author: EvelynM 15 October 2013 02:35:05PM 1 point [-]

Encourage creative projects, which build skill and accomplishment, and create opportunities to meet people who share common interests.

Comment author: EvelynM 15 October 2013 02:32:22PM 2 points [-]

This sounds delicious and fun. You may want to put the City in the title.

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