Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

The ability to focus is an important driver of excellence. Focused techniques such as to-do lists, timetables, and calendar reminders all help people to stay on task. Few would argue with that, and even if they did, there is evidence to support the idea that resisting distraction and staying present have benefits: practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes a day, for example, can enhance leadership effectiveness by helping you become more able to regulate your emotions and make sense of past experiences. Yet as helpful as focus can be, there’s also a downside to focus as it is commonly viewed.

The problem is that excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. It can drain your energy and make you lose self-control. This energy drain can also make you more impulsive and less helpful. As a result, decisions are poorly thought-out, and you become less collaborative.

So what do we do then? Focus or unfocus?

In keeping with recent research, both focus and unfocus are vital. The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.

When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the “default mode network.” Abbreviated as the DMN, we used to think of this circuit as the Do Mostly Nothing circuit because it only came on when you stopped focusing effortfully. Yet, when “at rest”, this circuit uses 20% of the body’s energy (compared to the comparatively small 5% that any effort will require).

The DMN needs this energy because it is doing anything but resting. Under the brain’s conscious radar, it activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas. Using this new and previously inaccessible data, you develop enhanced self-awareness and a sense of personal relevance. And you can imagine creative solutions or predict the future, thereby leading to better decision-making too. The DMN also helps you tune into other people’s thinking, thereby improving team understanding and cohesion.

There are many simple and effective ways to activate this circuit in the course of a day.

Using positive constructive daydreaming (PCD): PCD is a type of mind-wandering different from slipping into a daydream or guiltily rehashing worries. When you build it into your day deliberately, it can boost your creativity, strengthen your leadership ability, and also-re-energize the brain. To start PCD, you choose a low-key activity such as knitting, gardening or casual reading, then wander into the recesses of your mind.

But unlike slipping into a daydream or guilty-dysphoric daydreaming, you might first imagine something playful and wishful—like running through the woods, or lying on a yacht. Then you swivel your attention from the external world to the internal space of your mind with this image in mind while still doing the low-key activity.

Studied for decades by Jerome Singer, PCD activates the DMN and metaphorically changes the silverware that your brain uses to find information. While focused attention is like a fork—picking up obvious conscious thoughts that you have, PCD commissions a different set of silverware—a spoon for scooping up the delicious mélange of flavors of your identity (the scent of your grandmother, the feeling of satisfaction with the first bite of apple-pie on a crisp fall day), chopsticks for connecting ideas across your brain (to enhance innovation), and a marrow spoon for getting into the nooks and crannies of your brain to pick up long-lost memories that are a vital part of your identity.

In this state, your sense of “self” is enhanced—which, according to Warren Bennis, is the essence of leadership. I call this the psychological center of gravity, a grounding mechanism (part of your mental “six-pack”) that helps you enhance your agility and manage change more effectively too.

Taking a nap: In addition to building in time for PCD, leaders can also consider authorized napping. Not all naps are the same. When your brain is in a slump, your clarity and creativity are compromised. After a 10-minute nap, studies show that you become much clearer and more alert. But if it’s a creative task you have in front of you, you will likely need a full 90 minutes for more complete brain refreshing. Your brain requires this longer time to make more associations, and dredge up ideas that are in the nooks and crannies of your memory network.

Pretending to be someone else: When you’re stuck in a creative process, unfocus may also come to the rescue when you embody and live out an entirely different personality. In 2016, educational psychologists, Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar found that people who try to solve creative problems are more successful if they behave like an eccentric poet than a rigid librarian. Given a test in which they have to come up with as many uses as possible for any object (e.g. a brick) those who behave like eccentric poets have superior creative performance. This finding holds even if the same person takes on a different identity.

When in a creative deadlock, try this exercise of embodying a different identity. It will likely get you out of your own head, and allow you to think from another person’s perspective. I call this psychological halloweenism.

For years, focus has been the venerated ability amongst all abilities. Since we spend 46.9% of our days with our minds wandering away from a task at hand, we crave the ability to keep it fixed and on task. Yet, if we built PCD, 10- and 90- minute naps, and psychological halloweenism into our days, we would likely preserve focus for when we need it, and use it much more efficiently too. More importantly, unfocus will allow us to update information in the brain, giving us access to deeper parts of ourselves and enhancing our agility, creativity and decision-making too.

By: Srini Pillay

Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

Source: Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

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Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

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More Contents:

Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child

Behavioral and Physiological Bases of Attentional Biases: Paradigms

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders

Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD

Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Differential Diagnoses

Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications

Stimulus-Driven Reorienting Impairs Executive Control of Attention: Evidence for a Common Bottleneck in Anterior Insula

Functions of the human frontoparietal attention network: Evidence from neuroimaging

Bottom-up saliency and top-down learning in the primary visual cortex of monkeys

The extent of processing of noise elements during selective encoding from visual displays

Testing the behavioral interaction and integration of attentional networks

Perceptual Load Affects Eyewitness Accuracy and Susceptibility to Leading Questions

wo Polarities of Attention in Social Contexts: From Attending-to-Others to Attending-to-Self

Selective attention and serial processing in briefly presented visual displays

Why Having Too Much Free Time Might Actually Be a Bad Thing

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, having too much discretionary time is “linked to lower subjective well-being.” In other words: more free time won’t always make you happier.

It sounds pretty damn counterintuitive — who wouldn’t want to lie on the beach or couch all day long? — but the project’s researchers discovered that having an abundance of task-less time often leads to a “lacking sense of productivity,” which can only be reduced when people spend time on activities that give them a sense of purpose.

Marissa Sharif, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study, told The Washington Post that a “moderate” amount of free time appears to be best: “[It] leads people to be better off or happier compared to having a large amount of free time.”

What does moderate mean? Somewhere between two to five hours a day. Push past five hours and human beings tend to feel aimless and idle. They rue their lazy choices (e.g., Netflix binges) and have trouble commencing whatever creative project they swore they’d start (e.g., the next great American novel).

In order to reach these conclusions, the authors analyzed data sets from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey and the Society for Human Resource Management’s National Study of the Changing Workforce to get a feel for how much free time Americans have, and how they generally respond to that free time.

Fascinatingly, the study also pointed out that having too little free time is a poor mental health play. That may not seem particularly revelatory, but it’s a reminder that the American worker — one of the most over-stressed employees in the world — gravely needs. In this case, spending less than two hours a day on time to oneself (whatever that may mean to you), will lead to a drop in well-being.

The key here is to find an amount of time between two to five hours that works on a consistent basis, and can be revisited after life-changing events. Consider: the period in between jobs, or immediately after your retirement. Having a plan (which you can keep reasonably loose, for spontaneity reasons) is your best friend.

And speaking of friends, about the only situation in which having too much free time actually helped subjective well-being was when it was spent with friends, family and colleagues. So pencil in leisure time with peers. Think dinners, tennis leagues, game nights. Alone time can be healthy too — a reading habit is dynamite for your mental health — but too much of it could put pressure on your psyche in the long run.

We long to get all our work done in order to have free time. But we should be very careful with leisure. Having nothing left to do work-wise can be a very dangerous challenge for our psyches: it can bring on despair and self-loathing. It may be that always having projects on the go can insulate us from mental unwellness. Sign up to our new newsletter and get 10% off your first online order of a book, product or class: https://bit.ly/2TMs0dT For books and more from The School of Life, visit our online shop: https://bit.ly/34vN4uL Our website has classes, articles and products to help you lead a more fulfilled life: https://bit.ly/2EzjKsp Join this channel to get access to exclusive members perks: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Ic…

Source: https://www.insidehook.com

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How To Build Digital Tools That Health Plan Members Will Use

According to recent Cognizant-sponsored research, to boost digital usage and member loyalty, healthcare payers need to prioritize investments in analytics, awareness, strategy and design, say Bill Shea and Jagan Ramachandran, leaders in Cognizant’s Healthcare practice.  

From our perspective, these lagging adoption rates are a result of payers underinvesting in awareness campaigns, analytics, strategy and design. Here are the steps payers can take to address these critical components of successful digital adoption.

1. Aggressively promote awareness of digital capabilities.

Our research over the last six years has shown increasing enthusiasm among members for conducting health plan transactions digitally. Yet even when health plans build desired digital features, members don’t use them. Our current survey shows that in 2020, when telehealth use was growing by 24%, 39% of plan members used telehealth capabilities — but from third-party service providers, not their health plans. At least one reason why is that 40% of members said they didn’t know their plans offered a telehealth option.

Payers must close these awareness gaps. Many do a poor job of promoting the tools they have and/or bury them several layers deep on their websites and don’t push them out to members when/where they need them most.

While payers often tell us, members don’t interact with them frequently enough to learn about their digital capabilities, the experience in the property and casualty insurance industry negates that excuse. The average consumer has far fewer property and auto claims in a year than they do healthcare claims. Yet P&C insurers enjoy much higher digital adoption rates than healthcare payers do, according to our research.

Why? P&C companies continually promote their apps and digital capabilities in their advertisements, websites, social feeds, etc. While they may use the apps infrequently, P&C customers do download them. Health insurers should similarly tout their digital capabilities in their marketing campaigns.

2. Make foundational investments in analytics.

Payers won’t get the value they expect from digital initiatives without strong analytics. Analytics and intelligence are prerequisites to anticipating member needs and prompting them to use a digital feature or other next best action in an app or on a website.

Analytics are also invaluable for learning about member needs. For example, most payers view call center deflection as a win. Analytics can help achieve that goal by learning from data about why and when members call for help so that payers can anticipate and proactively address those issues. If the data shows nine out of 10 members contacting the call center for updated deductible data after an emergency department visit, that function can be built into an app or website and advertised.

3. Adopt business-led strategy and design for each digital initiative.

Consumers today expect great digital experiences that payer tools don’t seem to deliver. However, health plan members reported unsatisfying experiences with payer tools, even when these tools offer self-service and other functions, they want most, such as provider search and cost estimation.

To avoid delivering disappointing member experiences, payers need to ensure the business, not IT, is leading these initiatives. In turn, the business must lead with in-depth strategy and design activities to ensure the digital capability meets actual member needs while creating business value.

Whereas business-led digital development follows a rigorous methodology that includes creating personas and journey maps and using outside-in analysis for examples of how other industries deliver similar solutions, IT-led development often starts with technology selection, and then fits processes to the technology’s capabilities. The business-led approach fully scopes out member needs first. These needs then drive the technology architecture design and technology selections so that the technology serves the business vision vs. defining it.

A large health plan we worked with took this approach to create new experiences for how brokers interact with members. We developed and designed personas, user journeys and eight future-state business processes before developing technology requirements.

4. Change funding mechanisms.

It’s accepted practice today to spend heavily on implementation while strategy and design efforts receive limited funds despite being prerequisites to successful outcomes. One organization we worked with was trying to build an industry-leading artificial intelligence model but lacked adequate budget to estimate ROI. Organizations must reallocate more budget to strategy and design efforts.

Advances in platform solutions that minimize customization needs support this funding shift. Organizations also must redefine how they identify OpEx and CapEx spend because many strategy and design efforts (e.g., journey maps, process models, business architecture, etc.) are critical to building required future capabilities and may be capitalized.

Our study revealed a number of immediate investment priorities for payers, including tools for estimating procedure costs, looking up benefits, searching for providers, finding plan options, reviews and features, checking on claims status, and calculating out-of-pocket expenses. But to realize high adoption and commensurate returns, payers must build these capabilities on a foundation of analytics and business-led strategy and design, followed by strong awareness campaigns.

By taking this approach, payers will set the stage for future member interactions that are more relational vs. transactional, such as health coaching, which will build loyalty and market share.

For more, read our report “Health Consumers Want Digital; It’s Time for Health Plans to Deliver,” produced in partnership with HFS Research.

Jagan Ramachandran is an Assistant Vice President and Partner in Cognizant’s Healthcare advisory practice. He leads Cognizant’s stakeholder experience management service line with over 20 years of experience at the intersection of healthcare business and technology. Jagan has executed a wide range of management consulting projects in the health plans space in the areas of digital strategy, member experience, broker experience, provider experience, establishing new lines of business, platform selection, M&A, and automation advisory. Jagan is a speaker on emerging trends in healthcare in several industry forums. He can be reached at Jagan.Ramachandran@cognizant.com

William “Bill” Shea is a Vice-President within Cognizant Consulting’s Healthcare Practice. He has over 20 years of experience in management consulting, practice development and project management in the health industry across the payer, purchaser and provider markets. Bill has significant experience in health plan strategy and operations in the areas of digital transformation, integrated health management and product development. Bill can be reached at William.Shea@cognizant.com

Source: How To Build Digital Tools That Health Plan Members Will Use

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Scan QR Code Menus With a Side of Caution, Say Privacy Experts

Restaurant patrons who’ve grown accustomed during the pandemic to whipping out their phones to access menus using QR codes should understand the implications for their personal data, say privacy and cyber-security experts.

That’s especially important given some restaurant owners are finding electronic menus efficient and cost effective, and that they may hold onto the practice even after COVID-19 is more contained.

It’s not the QR code itself that collects customer data, said Dustin Moores, a privacy lawyer with nNovation LLP in Ottawa.

“What the QR code does is it sort of acts as a web link to a web page. So when you scan a QR code on your phone, in all likelihood it is going to send you to either the restaurant’s website, or to the website of a service provider that’s being used by the restaurant,” he told Cost of Living producer Jennifer Keene.

“What’s happening is we’re replacing a very sort of innocuous object, a restaurant menu, with a website that comes with all the sort of tracking technologies that you see in modern e-commerce today.”

A marketing device

Bringing up an online menu on your phone doesn’t mean you’re handing data such as your birth date and banking details to bad actors on the internet.

The more immediate implication is that it gives your local pub, or the platform they use, new knowledge of your behaviours and preferences that it can use to better sell to you.

“If you’re a returning customer to to one of these restaurants that use the QR code technology, they might be able to say, ‘Hey, we know that Jennifer ordered the Caesar salad last time; let’s put it at the top of our menu this time because we know that she likes it,'” said Moores.

The restaurant could also use the information it has gathered to upsell customers, such as suggesting the customer add chicken to that salad, he said. Ot it could try to influence your choices by offering a discount on the dish you enjoyed last time.

Moore said it’s also likely that the QR code will take you to a website that uses third-party cookies that can be used to track your web browsing habits. “Let’s say it was a Hungarian restaurant that you visited. Well then other Hungarian restaurants in the area might start advertising to you all of a sudden,” he said.

An issue of consent

Moore said his biggest legal concern about the spike in use of QR code-enabled menus is consent.

“I think what might get lost on a lot of restaurant owners is that, like every other business in Canada, they’re subject to our privacy laws,” he said. “Whenever a business collects, uses or shares personal information in the course of commercial activities, they need to have people’s consent to do that.”

Cyber-security expert Yuan Stevens, policy lead for technology, cyber-security and democracy at Ryerson University’s Leadership Lab, said the security concerns related to QR codes remain “fairly hypothetical.”

“I have not yet found any cases in Canada of QR codes being used for stealing data or violating your privacy,” she said. “But I also think it is useful to keep in mind what concerns we should be aware of as technology becomes ubiquitous.”

Someone who wants to direct you to a malicious website could “fast track” that process using a QR code, said Stevens. “Phishing and scams are already happening. And QR codes would just be another conduit to that.”

She said some restaurants are using QR codes to gather contact tracing information as well as for menus.

With the drive to reduce contact with surfaces and each other, QR codes have increased in popularity during the pandemic, said Stevens, particularly in China, where their use increased six per cent between 2019 and 2020.

Stevens notes that last month a benevolent hacking group already alerted the public that it had been able to hack the Quebec government’s new vaccine passport system, which led to 300,000 QR codes being exposed. The developer resolved the issue within 24 hours, but it’s good to be aware that there are privacy and security tradeoffs that come with using technology, she said.

QR-code enabled vaccination verification systems are now in place in Manitoba and New Brunswick, and will be in Ontario as of Oct. 22.

Jenny Burthwright, owner of Jane Bond BBQ in Calgary, said her business introduced QR code menus in the fall of 2020 when they’d been “ripping through” paper menus while trying to keep COVID-safe.She plans to keep the higher-tech system in place post-pandemic.

“There’s a very obvious cost savings to it,” she said. “With the rising costs of everything, we considered that, and also environmentally just wanted to move away from that paper.

Restaurants are also finding it easier and faster to update an online menu than a printed one, said Olivier Bourbeau, a vice-president of Restaurants Canada, the industry association representing food-service employers.

Being able to quickly add or remove a menu item, or update the price of the dish, is particularly useful given the complexities of running a food-service business during this crisis, including rising food costs and supply-chain problems that delay delivery of ingredients.

Those advantages will likely mean many restaurants will keep the QR-code system in place, Bourbeau said.

Protective measures

To mediate the risks associated with leaving a digital trail every time you order a brisket sandwich or a poke bowl, there are some precautions consumers can take, according to cyber-security expert Stevens.

The same principles that you’d apply to avoiding phishing and other online scams generally also apply to using QR codes, she said.

“Be careful of offers that seem too good to be true. Don’t give sensitive information over email or phone to untrusted sources. Be careful what you click on.”

Treat a QR code with the same care as an email attachment, and keep your eyes peeled for printed QR codes that look like they’ve been duplicated — one stuck on top of another, said Stevens.

It’s worth taking the time to check with your host or server to make sure the QR code you’re about to use is legit, she said.

“You want to be really careful that the QR code you’re scanning is actually the restaurant’s, otherwise you could be misled. And that’s when you’d be scammed.

By Brandie Weikle. Produced by Jennifer Keene.

Source: Scan QR-code menus with a side of caution, say privacy experts | CBC Radio

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Maritime Rope May Be a Large Source of Microplastics Pollution

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how disintegrated waterborne trash is one of the main sources of ocean microplastics pollution. A new study, however, suggests that aging maritime rope could also be making a significant contribution.

Ocean microplastics are tiny particles or fibers of plastic that are suspended in the water, where they get consumed by fish. When those fish are eaten by humans or other animals, the microplastics get passed along into their bodies, potentially causing health problems.

Previous studies have determined that a great deal of microplastics come from plastic packaging and other garbage, which gradually deteriorates after being dumped in or washed into the sea. Other sources include synthetic textile fibers that enter the wastewater stream from washing machines, and even particles of automobile tire rubber that get washed off the roads and down into storm sewers.

All of that being said, scientists from Britain’s University of Plymouth wondered if the polymer ropes used for hauling in fishing nets might also be to blame.

In both lab-based simulations and field experiments, it was initially determined that one-year-old ropes release about 20 microplastic fragments into the ocean for every meter (3.3 ft) hauled. That figure rose to 720 fragments per meter for two-year-old ropes, and over 760 for 10-year-old ropes.

With those figures in mind, it was estimated that a 50-m (164-ft) length of new rope likely releases between 700 and 2,000 microplastic fragments each time it’s hauled in. For older ropes, the number could be as high as 40,000 fragments. It was further estimated that the UK fishing fleet – which includes over 4,500 vessels – may be releasing anywhere from 326 million to 17 billion rope microplastic fragments annually.

“These estimates were calculated after hauling a 2.5-kg [5.5-lb] weight,” says the lead scientist, Dr. Imogen Napper. “However, most maritime activities would be hauling much heavier loads, creating more friction and potentially more fragments. It highlights the pressing need for standards on rope maintenance, replacement and recycling in the maritime industry. However, it also shows the importance of continued innovation in synthetic rope design with the specific aim to reduce microplastic emissions.”

The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Source: Maritime rope may be a large source of microplastics pollution

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John D. Mather, Special Publications, 2019

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Zhou et al., Fundamental Research, 2021

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Chalabi, Mona (9 November 2019). “Coca-Cola is world’s biggest plastics polluter – again”. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 18 November 2019.

“Global Brand Audit Report 2019”. Break Free From Plastic. Retrieved 18 November 2019.

McVeigh, Karen (7 December 2020). “Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé named top plastic polluters for third year in a row”. The Guardian. Retrieved 20 December 2020.

“Top 20 Countries Ranked by Mass of Mismanaged Plastic Waste”. Earth Day.org. 4 June 2018.

Kushboo Sheth (18 September 2019). “Countries Putting The Most Plastic Waste Into The Oceans”. worldatlas.com.

National Geographic, 30 Oct. 2020, “U.S. Generates More Plastic Trash than Any Other Nation, Report Finds: The Plastic Pollution Crisis Has Been Widely Blamed on a Handful of Asian Countries, But New Research Shows Just How Much the U.S. Contributes”

Science Advances, 30 Oct. 2020 “The United States’ Contribution of Plastic Waste to Land and Ocean” vol. 6, no. 44

EcoWatch, 18 Mar. 2021 “U.S. Continues to Ship Illegal Plastic Waste to Developing Countries”

Lebreton, Laurent; Andrady, Anthony (2019). “Future scenarios of global plastic waste generation and disposal”. Palgrave Communications. Nature. 5 (1). doi:10.1057/s41599-018-0212-7. ISSN 2055-1045. Lebreton2019. the Asian continent was in 2015 the leading generating region of plastic waste with 82 Mt, followed by Europe (31 Mt) and Northern America (29 Mt). Latin America (including the Caribbean) and Africa each produced 19 Mt of plastic waste while Oceania generated about 0.9 Mt.

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Duncan Hooper; Rafael Cereceda (20 April 2018). “What plastic objects cause the most waste in the sea?”. Euronews.

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