Perhaps this might feel familiar to you.
When you wake up, do you know what day of the week it is? How about month and year? Are you aware of the weather? Do you remember why you walked into a room to retrieve something, and then stand in the room with no idea why you are there? Welcome to “Pandemic Brain”.
Pandemic Brain is what happens when you have been in lockdown/COVID confinement for an average of fifteen months, binge watching Netflix until you glaze over, omitting any activity that could stimulate your brain, i.e. a visit to a museum. Add an undergirding of extended trauma and anxiety which ignites your amygdala and, just like that, your thinking brain shuts down. Our ability to focus and retain information has been diminished. Welcome to the pandemic world of “Digital Dementia”.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been many positives which have come out of this pandemic. People have become more vulnerable, authentic and digitally connected. Conversations about mental health are now more common than ever before. In pre-pandemic times, these conversations were either hidden and hushed under a veil of shame or they didn’t take place at all. Another silver lining is increased family time within your particular “bubble” of safety. However, I am dedicating the June Newsletter to why so many of us have lost our marbles, how we can find them again, and the habits we need to practice during the summer to get our neuroplasticity back on track.
Is your brain in hibernation mode?
If you have experienced a lack of stimulation (see bullets below) for an extended period of time, such as the past fifteen months of the pandemic, then your brain has migrated into hibernation mode. The only way to wake it up is to enroll in a metaphorical “Brain Training Boot Camp”, starting with this Newsletter.
Examples of putting your brain into hibernation mode:
- Not having an adventure to a place where you have never been
- Not experiencing an art museum in person where you have analyzed light, shadow, meaning and perspective among many different paintings
- Not having a sense of awe and wonder about anything (i.e., a sunset that takes your breath away)
- Not having adequate cardiovascular exercise
The Four Ds
It is going to take an intentional mental workout plan to strengthen your mental muscles, and fight back against the Four Ds.
- DIGITAL DELUGE
You’re not imagining it. Every day your email inbox more than doubles with messages and thus it takes significantly more time and focus to read through each message to decide what’s important and what is junk. Effectively, we find ourselves on an endless hamster wheel trying to get ahead of the curve only to find ourselves buried under an email avalanche that demands our attention.
How many of you have bought books thinking you’d have all the time in the world to read, only to find them piled up in stacks collecting dust? Let’s call it “Shelf- help rather than self-help”. This digital deluge has prompted information fatigue, zoom fatigue, compassion fatigue and overwork fatigue. It’s no wonder we don’t know what day it is anymore.
- DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS
Our ears are now trained to hear and delineate the difference between the infamous “ring, ding and ping”. It means that our ears are auditorily multitasking while our brains are clouded and on overload. Ring, ding and ping breaks our flow, mental momentum and what we were in the middle of, perhaps never to return again.
There are specific ways to train your brain to focus and not get distracted: DO NOT start your day with answering emails, which represent other’s agendas; DO NOT peruse Twitter, Flipboard or Facebook. Your brain will become trained to be reactive, your own agenda more elusive and before you turn around, your morning has disappeared. Change up your routine by brushing your teeth with the opposite hand to keep you centered and paying attention to the task. Another challenge toward this end is to ask yourself and then write down what is most important to accomplish today. Nothing else gets your attention until it is completed. Full stop.
- DIGITAL DEMENTIA
Memory is a muscle, and we either use it or we lose it. For example, ask me the most important phone numbers of my childhood. In a Nano-second, here they are: DE8-8725; RA1-0218; ES9-8135. These are the phone numbers of my grandmother, my favorite aunt, and my childhood home phone. But if you asked me about the phone numbers of each of my children, my father or my dearest friends? I have no idea. I’m clueless. Take a look at how you have experienced digital dementia. Do you use calculators for simple math that you could otherwise solve in your head? Do you memorize phone numbers with frequency or do you need to write numbers down immediately, lest they be forgotten? Along with our mental health, we need to work on our mental fitness.
- DIGITAL DEDUCTION
Lastly, consider the effects of digital deduction. (DDD). Our phones are doing the thinking for us. I need my cell for every person and connection in my life, including my children. Digital algorithms have robbed us of any impetus to think. Our memory is shrinking. Our retention is limited. Our depth of thought is becoming more shallow. Pushing and testing capacity is the only way to work this muscle. Be humble, uncomfortable, and stretch your mind!
5 of my Favorite Books to Jump Start your Mind:
- Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, by James Kwik
- How to Make the Most of Your Mind, by Tony Buzan
- Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain, by Betty Edwards
- The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, by Roger L. Martin
- Unlimited Thinking: How to Improve Memory and Concentration in an Extraordinary Way, by James Blaze
5 of my Favorite Ways to Focus:
- The Memorization Game: Find ten unrelated objects from your home. Put them on a tray or a plate. Stare at them for three minutes while memorizing them. Then move the tray out of sight. Write down every object from memory. Repeat this process every day with new and more numerous objects, or memorizing names in an audience or what is on your grocery list. Keep working your mind.
- Synectics: Make connections through a direct analogy, the more the better. Based on creativity research, your most unique connections will usually happen after the eighth idea, so let them roll without judgment. “My life is like a circus because….” “The pandemic is like a blender because…” “My work is like a box of chocolates because…” “Apartheid is like a toaster oven because…” “Fear is like a cave because….”
- Categorizing: Google a list of anything: headlines from a decade; song titles; famous actors; movie titles, etc. Reorganize them by category, and reconfigure your list. For example, use a list of movie actors and actresses. You can organize them under tall, short, handsome, ugly, never heard of them, saw them in bad movies, least famous, favorites, most memorable lines, won as Oscar… you come up with the categories and watch your brain expand.
- Vocabulary Tic-Tac-Toe: Brain storm nine words from a favorite sport or hobby of yours. For example, if you like tennis try the following: love, lob, backhand, ace, break point, deuce, bye, advantage. Write each word on a single post-it note for a total of nine post-it notes, arranged like a tic-tac-toe board. Then link three of the words (vertically, horizontally, diagonally) and create a connections story that links the three words of your choice. You can also explain the words to a colleague and see who winds first!
- Rebus Puzzles: Stretch your brain by getting out of a thinking box and go under it, over it, look sideways or backwards instead. Can you answer the Rebus puzzles below? Check out the Leadership Lessons newsletter online for more Rebus puzzle examples.
Want to try Rebus puzzles?
- Start with these easy Rebus puzzles. The answers are in the comments.
- See if you can decipher these harder Rebus puzzles. The answers are at the bottom.
- Really stretch your brain and try solving these hard Rebus puzzles from Reader’s Digest.
The answers to the 3 puzzles pictured above are: blackeye peas, minimize, and decide