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Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)

by princepawn (Parson)
on Apr 17, 2001 at 04:11 UTC ( [id://73011]=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

As you all know, most people spend their waking hours in what is known as beta state. In this state, one reacts to each external stimuli and finds it difficult to maintain concentration on one task.

In contrast, those experienced with meditation (actually concentration --- one-pointed focus) have been shown to spend this meditation period in a different brain state known as alpha.

Several devices are available to encourage the alpha state --- mind-altering substances, baroque music, 30 minutes of continuous movement, etc.

As much as I enjoy writing Perl programs, I often find myself in beta state at work --- I am jumpy, unable to maintain concentration ,browsing Perlmonks instead of working ,etc.

I woud like to know what you gentle-people use as your means on maintaining an unbroken focus on your Perl work tasks.

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(jeffa) Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by jeffa (Bishop) on Apr 17, 2001 at 06:41 UTC
    Happiness. If I am happy, I can focus on anything I want.

    Maintaining focus really depends on external sources, you can practice all you want, but most of us will still be slaves to our emotions - of course, I choose to continue to practice, because the benefits are there.

    As for work, if I can't get anything done - and I know that I won't be missed, I'll take off with a good book to a coffee shop and read up on the craft, without a computer in front of me. But at the same time, if I feel extra creative or just happen to solve a problem at midnight, I'll log on and work from home.

    I don't think creativity can be harnessed to a 9 to 5 schedule. You have to take the moments when you can.

    jeffa's guide to meditation: YMMV and will!

    1. lie down on your back, make sure your neck is comfortable
    2. don't think - take all of your thoughts and direct them to /dev/null, continue when your mind is sufficiently stable
    3. breathe deep - breathe fresh air in from 'the top of your head', and the stale old air out 'the bottom of your feet'
    4. if nobody is around - chant! as you breathe out, low and strong - sounds silly, but the VIBRATIONS in your throat will help you to concentrate and keep the chit chat away
    5. your head should be light and buzzing, keep breathing
    6. start with your feet - put them to sleep, feel them disappear
    7. move up your legs, torso, and arms - neck and face muscles - all completely relaxed and NUMB, but there
    8. your mind should now be awake, but your body is asleep - hold on as long as you can, and don't be afraid: fear is the mind killer, it will snap you back awake
    This really works, and it only takes 30 minutes to feel like you have rested for 8 hours. It is hard and takes a lot of practice, however. I have successfully achieved meditation before, but only 3 times. Most of the time I can only practice at keeping my mind quiet.

    Hope this helps . . .Oh yeah, almost forgot - control. Don't try to take control of everything, just let it go. I am still working on this one. :)

    The opinions and views expressed by jeffa are by no means shared by PM or E2, readers are encourage to seek a professional guru

      The funny thing is that you concentrate best when you're not trying to. It's one of those classic contraditions. The worst thing is realizing how much work you've just been doing, and how smoothly it was going, only to have trouble getting 'back into the groove'.

      An interesting read is "How To Meditate" which is a very broad overview of the subject. Instead of focusing on any one religion and its methods, there is a discussion of the historical initiatives and techniques of most popular beliefs.

      There is no "How to Be a Zen Master in 21 Days", or "Enlightenment for Dummies". Like learning programming, these things take a long time to master.
      Oh yeah, almost forgot - control. Don't try to take control of everything, just let it go.

      How do you manage this without falling asleep? Whenever I've tried meditating before, I've just ended up falling asleep. :)

      This is my main problem with relaxation in general -- relaxing tends to make me feel sleepy, and sleep (in mid-day) tends to make me more tired, and less focused than I'd be otherwise.

        Actually, I was referring to control in a general sense of your daily experiences. A good example, anytime I have a conversation with a group of people and try to interject something, if I am repeatedly interrupted, I will drop what I am going to say. Nobody is really paying attention anyway, and in generaly I find that I end up looking a bit foolish for trying to repeatedly say the same thing.

        When someone cuts you off while driving, let your anger follow them - forget about them.

        Now, as for keeping from falling asleep - practice practice practice.

        Once I was able to shift back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness. My mind was fully awake, yet I could not feel my body at all. I could drift off into a dream and watch as a complete 3-dimensional world was being creating before me in one master artist's brush stroke - a world with individuals, scenerios, plots - more than a book could ever represent. Before I 'fell into' this world - I pulled myself back without 'waking up'. Then, I allowed myself to drift once more, and a whole NEW world was created. I pulled myself out the second time, and woke up.

        It is tough stuff - you should never meditate with aspirations of achieving some kind of enlightenment or vision. Instead, your goal should be to merely relax, and to practice siliencing the voices in your head.

        If I mediatate 50 times, maybe 3 or 4 will be enlightening.

        A good clue that you are doing something 'right' is if you can feel your body vibrate. I have heard of masters that can change their vibration frequency and even shift the phase 180 degrees. If you feel the vibrations, try to maintain them, amplify them if you can.


        I'm not crazy, it's the voices in my head, they're the ones who is crazy!

        All depends on what level of meditation you're going for, and how deep you allow yourself to go.
        A deep meditative state is very similar to the hypnoidal state, where the conscious mind is in recession (although, without the suggestability of the hypnoidal, as meditation is autosuggestion, rather than external suggestion).
        Muscles are relaxed, heart rate is down, and generally, you're awfully close to sleep.
        However, it's something that's tunable. When you get used to being able to relax your muscles, clear the mind to a good degree, focus the thoughts on nothing (and that's harder than focussing on something), you can choose what aspects of it you wish..
        While sitting at a desk, you can put yourself in a self-sustaining posture (you won't collapse like a rag doll when you relax down). You don't need legs and torso to code, so you relax the muscles there, relax the arms a lot, and clear the mind of all extraneous stuff. If you manage to achieve the 'clear' state of mind, you'll have no trouble refocussing it.
        If you're not quite there, still, it helps, as you've just cleared a load of chaff that, even if you didn't realise it, was chattering away at the back of your mind. :)
        I guess it's like driving a car. :) you don't go everywhere with the accelerator pedal pressed to the floor.

        How do you manage this without falling asleep? Whenever I've tried meditating before, I've just ended up falling asleep. :) This is my main problem with relaxation in general -- relaxing tends to make me feel sleepy, and sleep (in mid-day) tends to make me more tired, and less focused than I'd be otherwise.
        Stuart Wilde said that was the whole point. Most people associate a relaxed state with sleep and the only time they ever get into alpha is on their way to delta and unconsciousness. Mystical trance is achieved when you remain awake, but the mind enters the alpha state.

        Forcing yourself to sit up can help.

Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by lemming (Priest) on Apr 17, 2001 at 05:45 UTC
    Getting people to leave me the hell alone.

    When I knew people wouldn't be bugging me, I would be generating work, but once there even was the possibility of people coming by I wasn't able to work as well. When I had time to hit a stride then I could keep working until someone actually came up and asked for something. Sometimes it meant coming in a 6 in the morning, but at 9-10am when everyone else got there, work started sputtering. But that was just my experience at one company.

    To help ensure privacy with no distractions while trying for that alpha state I found that music helps. Antisocial behaviour can get certain people to avoid you, but it tends to show up in reviews.

      Antisocial behaviour can get certain people to avoid you, but it tends to show up in reviews.

      LOL! That's one of my tricks too. The people at work* probably would be very surprised if they met me outside work and might even ask: "Hey, why aren't you this friendly and talkative at work?" Um...maybe it's because I want to get *work* done at work, and programming does not lend itself well to being interrupted every 5 minutes with a phone call, sports blabber, chit-chat, etc.

      Heck, I've been too busy to visit PerlMonks lately - now that's *busy*! ;)

      *This applies to the non-programmers only, of course

Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by Malkavian (Friar) on Apr 17, 2001 at 14:41 UTC
    Good quantities of sleep.
    That's what leaves me with a clear mind, in the state that I'm able to concentrate.
    I studied relaxation techniques and meditation for years way back, and still use them to this day, to make sure that I can function in whatever environment I'm thrown, but, without sufficient sleep (for me, that's about 3 hours to be functional, 5 to be good for most things, and about 7 to really be on form), with it's associated REM sleep and dreams, I don't seem to be quite as sharp as I should be.
    One very useful technique for actually solving problems is 'lucid dreaming'. Which is fun once you get used to it.
    But, overall, it's the sleep that does it for me:
    When I keep going using meditative states, then I'm able to keep going, without most of the side effects of sleep deprivation for several days. However, I don't seem to be able to maintain the longer concentration spans, or the levels of creativity.
    Good sleep, and a lack of pressing problems are the best aids I know of for clarity of mind, readying for a good long problem solving session. :)

Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by tinman (Curate) on Apr 17, 2001 at 04:18 UTC

    Loud techno music! Right now, I'm listening to a mix of Moby, Fatboy Slim, the Prodigy etc :o)

    Seriously, though, I had that same problem when I was in university.. I couldn't concentrate at all when I was in the labs in the mornings, but I found I used to work much better at home.. so, my solution was to come in late, spend mornings at home... sometimes, though, you just need to relax, or think about/do something else to help regain your focus.. walks and a break near the coffee maker help for me.. :o), also play tetris or minesweeper (yes, I own up to it ;o)

      I balance out curve by sitting on the otherside. My preferred "flow" music is Gregorian chant. Great stuff for putting one into a contemplative mood. It has a good, steady cadence, and since I don't speak Latin, the "lyrics" are unobtrusive. :)

      I have similar problems getting my mind on focus. Either the office is too noisy, or to hot (we have bad ventilation and too many computers), or someone is making unreasonable requests, and I get off track, and unfortunetly it may be a week or more before I can truely get back on track again. But then something else comes and de-rails me. I found that I work best when I have the office to myself, or listening to loud music (Jpop usually). Games also help, taking a 15 minute break to play a quick game helps a lot, unfortunetly some games are more addictive than others, and lead to longer breaks ;)

Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by idnopheq (Chaplain) on Apr 17, 2001 at 06:42 UTC
    This is a highly YMMV topic!

    Personally if go for classical or Jazz, phone on 'busy', email shut down, pager off, cell phone powered down, and loads of caffine and nicotine.

    This, however, is a utopia unattainable in normal user space. So, I like to bemuse my coworkers by sitting zazen in my cube. I trained my manager to turn and walk the other way when I assume this state. He knows things reached a critical mass and his best tack is active avoidance.

    Customers don't get it though. What's up with that? HTH
    Apply yourself to new problems without preparation, develop confidence in your ability to to meet situations as they arrise.

Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by BMaximus (Chaplain) on Apr 17, 2001 at 14:06 UTC
    I listen to while I program.
    Channels - Jungle/D & B or Gothic. Its great if you have a cable/DSL/edu dorm connection. No fiddling with CDs. It even has a Techno channel.

    Occasionally I wander to PerlMonks to look through where I can chirp in with my opinion or advice on things that I know or have knowlege of. Or even to ask a question or two. It's not a bad thing to do realy as long as you don't let it sidetrack you too long.

    If you find yourself not being able to concentrate at all no matter what you do. You might need a break. Especialy if you have been at it for over an hour or so. Step away from the comp and get some air. There is such a thing as too much. When I start feeling like that. I do take a break for 10-20 minutes or so and when I come back to the comp I find I can concentrate better. If its late at night (like after 2am or whatever your usual limit is) and even after a break you feel as though you still can't concentrate it might be time to hang it up for the day if you can. Better to be fresh than to make a huge amount of mistakes only to waste time to correct them later.

Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by KM (Priest) on Apr 17, 2001 at 19:49 UTC
    I have been sitting (meditating) 2+ times/day for about a decade. By using that practice (and the philosophies behind it) I can generally stay in that 'alpha' state much of the time. I try to remember that whatever I am doing, is what I am doing. That moment is it, and all others will happen in their own time.

    "As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts." -- Buddha


      Hi KM, Can you please explain what the Alpha State is exactly? Are there specific physical, mental, emotional, spiritual manifestations? If so, what are they? Thank You! Love & Light, Mystia
Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by stephen (Priest) on Apr 17, 2001 at 18:49 UTC
    For short periods, I find that it's useful to maintain a to-do list. When I'm tired or distracted, a fine-grain to-do list gives me something I can look at and make sure that I'm staying on task.

    That's mainly useful for the home stretch, when I have a contracting list of things to do. Generally, though, being in beta is a sign of unresolved tension, and the best thing generally is to address the source of that tension. Or get some sleep.


Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by one4k4 (Hermit) on Apr 17, 2001 at 20:45 UTC
    I know others have commented already, but I'll give you my personal $.02.

    My ability to concentrate during the day often relates to my ability to relax the night before. Before I go to bed, I usually unplug a bit. Read a book. No, not an OR book, but usually something in some other form of interest I have. (Theology, Philosophy, Math, Russian, Etc.) This way, I'm still thinking, and not completly brain-dead by the end of the evening.

    Getting enough sleep helps too.

    My cube-farm-area is just too quiet. Music ranging from Celtic, to Techno, to Phish, to Rammstein helps. I usually multitask a couple windows between e-mail/pm/and such.

    Granted it doesnt always work. I also have found that a big lunch, leads to a tired body at 2pm.... So I try to in health, instead of in quantity.

    Well, I hope this helps, and if not at least you.. um.. its almost time for my nap. :)

    _14k4 - (
Re: Maintaining one's focus while working (alpha/beta/delta brain waves)
by fmogavero (Monk) on Apr 17, 2001 at 21:17 UTC
    Try reading Zen and The Art of Archery.

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