Kam Knight returns to drill in on the biology of concentration and distraction – at a really key time when many of us find ourselves looking for actionable ways to address the uncertainty of the world. He shares why concentration is so difficult due to competing areas of the brain, why we get fixated on threats and opportunities – real or perceived – and how social media has engineered to tap right into that primal instinct. Kam provides techniques to exercise and build concentration, tools to turbo boost it, and ways to manage distractions and environments to support concentration.
“It’s really important to understand that our unconscious has evolved to prioritize certain activities over others. Inherently those things become more engaging and that’s where our focus shifts.”
– Kam Knight
Kam Knight is a coach, speaker, and author of several best-selling books in the area of mental performance such as memory, concentration, and productivity. Over the past 15 years he has dedicated his life to understanding the secrets of the mind and how to optimize its performance.
“Threats or dangers, whether perceived or real, will draw our attention. We live in a reality where threats are all around. They include physical threats, social threats and threats to our resources such as food, water, clothing and money. When any of these are at risk the mind can’t help but fixate on the issue until it’s resolved.”
– Kam Knight
Kam Knight founded MindLily.com to bring together radical, revolutionary, and cutting-edge tips and techniques to help people enhance their mental abilities and bring a flow of success in their lives.
Kam takes on the challenge of enhancing your mental and personal performance by understanding that as humans, we have all these mechanisms and processes going on inside our minds and bodies. By understanding these processes, you can make them work for you, instead of against you. Kam has spent decades learning and understanding these mechanisms and processes.
In his free time, when not writing or teaching, Kam enjoys globetrotting, having traveled to nearly 100 countries around the world. His adventures include diving with hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos, swimming with a whale shark in Honduras, biking the Death Road in Bolivia, hiking the tallest mountain range in Africa, sleeping in the world’s oldest rainforest in Malaysia, and climbing over a dozen active volcanoes.
- 4 techniques to improve concentration
- Training exercises to build the concentration muscle
- In-the-moment tools to boost concentration
- Mantras, breathing and visualization to manage distractions
- Why distraction is important and never rests
- Colors to use for concentration
Repeat 10x daily:
- I have strong power of concentration
- I easily focus on any task or activity I choose
- My mind is alert and attentive
- I pay attention, it is easy for me to pay attention. I enjoy paying attention.
- I am in control of my thoughts, decisions, and actions
- I am free from mental clutter and distractions
- I easily and naturally ignore distractions
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Kam Knight [00:00:00] Another thing is what you had mentioned that has to do with threats or dangers, whether they're perceived or real. They will also draw our attention. You know, we live in a reality where threats are all around. They include physical threats, social threats and threats to our resources such as food, water, clothing and money. And when any of these are at risk, the mind can't help but fixate on the issue until it's resolved.
Michael [00:00:38] Alright. Hey guys, what's up? Welcome to the man of mastery podcast and thank you. I really appreciate you and if you appreciate what we're doing here to find, learn and share from the best on how to show up in our lives and extend peak performance and shore up our areas of weakness, I'd ask, please jump in and rate the podcast, hopefully with five stars.
Michael [00:00:58] You can do that on iTunes and it would really help us out and spread the word through the Apple podcast search engine. Um, one of the thing before we just jump right in this week, I also want to let you know about a training course called performance kickstart that is starting kicking off April 24th. I'm looking for a handful of just top guys and guys that are willing to pioneer this one with me over seven or eight weeks.
Michael [00:01:25] We're going to do a live session weekly to learn, motivate from each other, hold each other accountable to weekly assignments and challenges. So if that sounds interesting, you got time during the sequester and you just want, uh, you know, to kind of kick it to a new level or a kickstart something you immune to do.
Michael [00:01:45] Find out more at the website. You can hit man of mastery.com/kickstart man of mastery.com/kickstart okay. And with that, this is episode 48 with, uh, author Kam Knight on the practice of concentration. And this one, you know, it's, again, it just seems like everything lately is so timely with what we all have going on.
Michael [00:02:09] And what we're thinking about concentration Kam talks about not only is in addition to why it's so important, which I think is obvious to a lot of us, but which are really gonna like is he talks about why concentration is so difficult, where we're literally competing with the primal instincts in the primal parts of our brain.
Michael [00:02:30] And in this one he even goes into what that, what that primal instinct is about. It's about biological purpose. It's about, about survival, which could either be danger or opportunity and how these are actually competing. Resources were concentration and distraction are literally happening in different parts of the brain.
Michael [00:02:52] And of course survival as mechanism takes priority. So when I say timely, it was also, you know, Kam talks about, uh, about our hard-wiring that fixates on dangers and threats until, until resolved and even talks a little bit about how social media is specifically designed and engineered to bypass our thinking mind and trigger and tune into that primal survival instinct, survival brain.
Michael [00:03:20] So all this really hits home to me right now. I think we're all, to some degree, tuned in and fixated on both social and traditional media, just looking for something actionable or really informational and meaningful about this covid pandemic. And it's just, I think it's very, very easy to get stressed, distracted, sort of paralyzed even and lose motivation down that spiral.
Michael [00:03:46] So I'm not saying, I'm not saying tune out completely, but as we listen to cams, explanation of the biology of this stuff and the tools and exercises he suggests to redirect that primal instinct, I, I'd propose this is a great time to think about limiting times on social and news media and being even more vigilant and focusing on the things we can actually control.
Michael [00:04:12] Right. Okay. So think about that as you go through this and a that said, let's hear from return guest Kam Knight on the practice of concentration.
Michael [00:04:23] All right. Kam Knight welcome back or to talk to you again, buddy. Thanks. Thanks a lot of Michael. It's got to be, I'm glad to be back. Yeah, absolutely. We, uh, it's been a few, few weeks, couple of months. I don't know. You, you stop by, you have a, a number of books all around while we talked last time about harnessing in general, harnessing the power of the brain. It's such a complex beast that can either be an asset or can really be a challenge for a lot of us.
Michael [00:04:50] So we're going to dive in a little further today. You've got an incredible book specifically on concentration. So today let's talk about concentration and, and why it's so important to us. Why maybe we start with why it's so challenging as well.
Kam Knight [00:05:04] Okay, so I can talk about both, why it's important and why it's challenging, you know, um, every few years and you self-help expert or guru comes out and claims to have the secret to success, achievement and growth. Some will claim it's motivation and another will say to sort of miss. Some will say that you need to have specific habits, while others will say about you have to master your emotions.
Kam Knight [00:05:27] Now, personally, I don't think it's any of these, I truly think that concentration is the most important skill that we can develop. Because without concentration you really can't do anything else. You know, you can't read a book, listen to a conversation on understanding the lecture or stick with something long enough to see it to the end. The skill is really necessary for decision making, evaluating options, solving problems, staying on time.
Kam Knight [00:05:55] And it's also important to relationships because if we can't pay attention to people, those interactions can go only so far. Even traits that others say that are needed like motivation, assertiveness or habits they require concentration to develop. So in my mind, in my opinion, concentration is a big deal.
Kam Knight [00:06:15] It's a bigger deal than anyone can imagine. In fact, it's bigger than even that is a skill that matters more than any other skill. And it's a skill that is key to developing any other skill. And when we think about it, you know what's standing between you and your goals are the listeners and their goals or happiness is not the challenge of the outside world.
Kam Knight [00:06:37] You know, most activities in life aren't that difficult. Sitting down to read a book is not too challenging per se. And Nora is opening a business. What makes it difficult as all the things going on and turn on the our mind pulling us in a different, in a million different directions. Our emotion saying it's not going to work. Our belief saying we're not good enough and our habits pulling us in all ways.
Kam Knight [00:07:00] It's all the internal stuff they get in the way from doing what we want and what the internal stuff is getting in the whale of is our concentration to do what it is we're trying to do. So that's why I think concentration is so important. But as far as why it's so challenging, um, there's three reasons why concentration is challenging.
Kam Knight [00:07:23] First and foremost. Um, we have a lot of activity going inside of us inside of our mind and body. We have a lot of thoughts running in and out. And then we also have a lot of mental images flashing back and forth via day dreams, fantasies and all sorts of other mental movies that are playing. And more importantly, we have a lot of like emotions and sensations coursing through us all the time and all of this internal activity.
Kam Knight [00:07:50] It actually competes with the outside world for our attention. So we might be in a conversation and not be able to take in what the other person is saying because we might be thinking about um, planning for the weekend or we might be in a lecture, but our thoughts are on some movie that we watched last week, we're playing mental movies of something or we might be in another situation, but we have like, we're feeling anxiety or some other strong emotion or maybe anticipation.
Kam Knight [00:08:25] And those internal activity just kind of competes. So this is one of the challenges of concentration. Another major challenge is that the way our mind is wired, the way it's kind of built is that anytime that we receive a thought or idea, it will trigger a whole host of other thoughts or a year.
Kam Knight [00:08:45] And so we might be listening to somebody say something and the first sentence they say, my trigger a whole bunch of thoughts and ideas and that'll he opens up other thoughts and ideas. And so while we're paying attention to the first sentence, the person is saying we're missing sentence two, three, four and five.
Kam Knight [00:09:06] And because they're missing two or three, four and five, we're not really grasping the whole message. In fact, I will go as far as to say there are people listening to this podcast right now, Warren paying attention to what I'm saying right now because their mind is still on what I had said earlier. So that's a second challenge of concentration, but a more important challenges that um, concentration in a in many ways is like taming a wild animal or a wild these.
Kam Knight [00:09:37] And I like using that analogy because our unconscious comes from the wild. That evolved over hundreds of millions of years in the wild. And when you look at our conscious mind, the human mind, the thinking mind, well that part of our mind has only been around for such a much shorter period, only a few hundred thousand years.
Kam Knight [00:09:58] And so in a way, concentration is a battle. It's a battle between where you want to put attention and where your unconscious has evolved to places attention. We may want to put attention in a book, but our unconscious and they want no part of that. It wants to put it elsewhere. And it's very important to understand that.
Kam Knight [00:10:19] Um, there's a misconception that a lot of us think that our newer, more evolved parts of our brain have more controlling influence on our behavior. But the reality is it's the older, more primitive part than the million brain and never Kilian brain that has much more control and influence. And so it does mix it up quite a like a tug of war going on between our conscious and unconscious.
Michael [00:10:47] Yeah. That, that makes a ton of sense. I think maybe, um, it intuitionally or before you really think about it, you, you do think that you're sort of cerebral brain has control, but then you know, you think about when you just kind of like quote unquote lose it, you know, the physiology takes over, emotions take over and, and you kind of look back on and you go, wow, I just lost all complete, completely rational thought went out the window to that argument.
Michael [00:11:11] So that situation to that anger, you know, and that that primitive survival oriented brain takes over. So, um, okay, before we talk about maybe what all that means and what to do about it, help me out with a couple of things. So I, I get where a lot of this stuff probably does come from a survival mechanism when it comes to things like fear and how fear or maybe negative bias to the, to the brain in the way we think has kept us alive.
Michael [00:11:40] Is there, is there a survival related mechanism to why our brain loves to either focus in on something and ignore other things or drive down these, these sort of cascading thoughts and rabbit holes?
Kam Knight [00:11:53] Yeah. So as I mentioned that, you know, I do want to say that like are just riff on what you had said earlier about, uh, when we lose kind of our control of our rationality. I mean that's actually what's happening. It's like the older parts of our brain are taking over and it's easy for someone to think that they're losing control of their mind, but they're really not.
Kam Knight [00:12:16] It's just that I'm a different part of the brain has engaged and, and they're kind of take and they're kind of driving and decisions and actions. But um, it's really important to understand that um, our unconscious has evolved to prioritize certain activities over others and inherently those things become more engaging.
Kam Knight [00:12:40] And that's where our kind of focus ships and I can talk about a few of those things. Um, and I think that will answer your question. Number one is, you know, fun. Anything that's fun, enjoyable or pressure, pleasurable tends to draw our attention. I don't know if many people know this, but there's actually a purpose to pleasure and fun.
Kam Knight [00:13:01] It's to draw ourselves towards what the mind believes is good or healthy for us. For one reason or another, the mind sees that thing as a benefit or that it will have some sort of, um, some, some sort of good for us. So I'll pull us in that direction and the way we'll do that is flood our body with, you know, joy and pleasure.
Kam Knight [00:13:22] So we moved toward that thing. Another thing is what you had mentioned. It has to do with threats or dangers, whether they're perceived or real. They will also draw our attention. You know, we live in a reality where threats are all around. They include physical threats, social threats and threats to our resources such as food, water, clothing and money.
Kam Knight [00:13:43] And when any of these are at risk, the mind can't help but fixate on the issue until it's resolved. If our mind didn't evolve to fixate on threats, you know, we wouldn't have survived. And then there's also drives, you know, as humans we have many drives. We have drives for food or water security, safety, admiration, you know, even like higher level things like sex, wealth, fame, beauty and much more.
Kam Knight [00:14:10] And so any, anything that has a potential to fulfill one of these drives, we'll draw our attention. And then there's of course, habits. Habits are designed to keep us in a specific routine or pattern of behavior in their efforts. Habits will draw attention towards anything that encouraged a habitual behavior while at the same time distract or divert our attention away from anything that stands in the way of that behavior.
Michael [00:14:36] But it all sounds like a big sort of triage system that's a, that's, that's set up for survival. Um, you know, passing on our genes ultimately survival across generations. And so the survival mechanism is always going to prioritize what is a good for us, keeps us out of danger even though maybe it's in conflict with where we think we want to divert our attention at any given time.
Michael [00:15:03] And you know, when you're describing all that, it just makes me think how ridiculously engineered social media is because it just incorporates all these things and we, and we cascade down that rabbit hole of the internet or you know, swiping through Instagram. It hits on all these things that the brain wants to do.
Kam Knight [00:15:22] Exactly. It's social media and a lot of products, they're engineered to bypass our conscious thinking mind and hit our buttons at an unconscious level that we can't help but respond to. And, and they do all come down to the very basic, um, reasonable survival and all these things are described in a way help us survive or help us move through the world more easily.
Kam Knight [00:15:50] And if the unconscious believes that, you know, this will be beneficial for us, then it'll pull us toward that direction.
Michael [00:15:57] Right? Exactly. Okay. So if, if I'm not so good at concentration and I think we've sort of talked about almost the opposite of what concentration is the lack of ability to concentrate. Maybe let's talk about more what it can look like. And you know, is it binary, right? So either I'm good at it or I'm not good at it, or are there other ways to get better at it or to train concentration
Kam Knight [00:16:21] yeah. So a lot of people automatically assume that they have bad concentration or they can improve the concentration and hopefully they can understand why they might have challenges. But it doesn't mean that they lack concentration. You know, I personally believe that everybody has the ability to concentrate. In fact, we're concentrating all of the time.
Kam Knight [00:16:43] You know, all living creatures, even single celled organisms have the ability to send stimuli. So when we bury ourselves in a favorite hobby, you know, we're concentrating. When we get lost in deep thought, we're actually concentrating. When we can't stop watching cat videos on Facebook, you know, that's still concentration.
Kam Knight [00:17:03] But it goes back to not being able to concentrate on what we want. And that goes back to concentration becomes a battle between what our unconscious ones, where are our unconscious wants to put our attention and where we're trying to put our attention. And the key to concentration is really learning to shift and train ourselves to be able to place concentration where we won and also kind of go inward and change our unconscious.
Kam Knight [00:17:32] So it's more in line with our contest. So the unconscious wants to put its concentration wherever we want because at the unconscious is putting concentration in the direction that we want it to be in. Then there's no more of a battle then it just becomes natural, if that makes,
Michael [00:17:49] yeah, that makes sense. So we're, we're always concentrating. It's just a matter of where to, uh, where to focus it, where to, where to direct it. So I guess one of the things I really liked about your book when I picked it up concentration is it really, it starts to break this stuff down into different sections that are very clear about how to either deal with specific types of situations or to start to exercise our ability to direct concentration where we want to and for how long we want it.
Kam Knight [00:18:17] Yeah, let's talk about that. Okay, great. So I can give a few, um, exercise techniques. So to improve concentration there's really like four ways. One is through concentration training where we do exercises to stretch our ability to concentrate for longer and longer periods. And then there's in the moment tools and the moment tool is kind of give you the boost and concentration, um, and the moment you needed most.
Kam Knight [00:18:44] And the reason I offer those tools is because exercise is take a little bit of time and effort to develop. And so it will take a little bit of time and effort to see noticeable results. But then the moment towards we'll give you those boosts that you need it, you know, in those moments where you're not able to focus. But I don't want people to rely on they know more mentors cause they don't really improve concentration they can kind of just give you a momentary reprise and they don't really work for the long haul.
Kam Knight [00:19:12] And then there's also managing distractions and then also environment. Those are the four things. So we'll try to hit up on all four. But first and foremost is exercise. And when it comes to exercise, I think one of the best exercises people can do, and I think we talked about this and the in our last show is self-talk and self talk.
Kam Knight [00:19:35] For those who don't know is just repeating statements of of changes or you want to have or have happened in your life. For example, you know, if I had poor memory and I wanted to improve my memory, I would repeat statements like I had a strong memory. I can remember anything I choose and repeating such statements.
Kam Knight [00:19:56] On the surface it doesn't seem like it will do all that much. Or I'll have all that benefit, but it's really huge because our thoughts have a really big influence on our, on our lives. And the more that we repeat a certain statement, the more those statements kind of seep into our unconscious and rewire ourselves to act that out.
Kam Knight [00:20:17] So in a way, um, it goes back to what I was saying, you want to align your unconscious with your unconscious, with your conscious. If you're unconscious is saying, I can't concentrate, I have bad ability to concentrate, then that's what we're going to be acting out. And even though we consciously try to focus, it's our unconscious that's gonna win over and distract us.
Kam Knight [00:20:39] But if our unconscious has the beliefs and identity that it has ability to concentrate, then it'll work with us to focus in on concentration. And so what I would recommend people to do is take a set of statements that revolve around the concentration that they want and repeat them daily.
Kam Knight [00:20:59] And I think I had, um, given you those statements, but I can repeat them now really quick.
Michael [00:21:05] Yeah, you sure did. I think we posted them with the show notes for the last episode. So we might even be able to do that again here, but want to just give us, give us an example of a couple because they really like the synergy between uh, self-talk and repetition. Reinforcing concentration.
Kam Knight [00:21:21] Yeah. So I'll give a few examples of statements that people can repeat, but they've, they, they're free to change it, to fit their own needs and to fit it in a way that resonates with them. So a couple of statements include, I have strong power of concentration. I easily focus on any task or activity I choose.
Kam Knight [00:21:41] My mind is alert and attentive. I pay attention. It is easy for me to pay attention. I enjoy paying attention. I'm in control of my thoughts, decisions, and actions. I'm free from mental clutter and distractions. I easily and naturally ignore the distractions. So people just take a few moments each day to repeat these statements, you know, 10 times each statement, maybe in the morning or in the evening.
Kam Knight [00:22:09] Over time, they'll find that the concentration starts to improve naturally. And one thing I really like about this exercise Michael is that it, it's also a form of concentration training because to repeat these statements, it's not always easy. You know, as you start repeating a set of statements, remind mind will start to wander or it'll get lost in other thoughts or you may not want to do that exercise.
Kam Knight [00:22:34] So self talk is an exercise and staying with exercise and if we can stretch our ability to stay with exercise here, then we can use that ability in other areas of our life.
Michael [00:22:47] Yeah, that makes sense. So is one thing you mentioned in there with exercise and I think of any form of exercise as building strength, building, uh, tolerance, you know, distance, speed, more weights, things like that. Physical exercise. So this concentration exercise can help us get better.
Michael [00:23:07] Is, is better, uh, concentration all about concentrating longer or is there also a quality aspect?
Kam Knight [00:23:15] Concentration there's both and they're kind of dependent on each other. So we want to be able to focus our attention for longer and longer periods because a longer than we can go the deeper the quality of our concentration because you can't really like put your attention on something for a few minutes and be able to go into the depth of it as you'd like.
Kam Knight [00:23:41] It's kinda like when you're running a race you want to do a bit of right and then when you do run the race, your muscles are warmed up to really go full speed. And the same with concentration. When we, I'm only focusing on a few minutes at a time or only have the ability to stretch our concentration for a few minutes, then we really can go into the depth that we like.
Kam Knight [00:24:06] But if we can extend our ability to pay attention for longer period, then in the beginning our debt might not be so, or the quality might not be so high. But as we, you know, each minute that goes by the quality or get better,
Michael [00:24:23] so in, in exercises to improve concentration in that sense, one of the other things you talk about in the book is attention to detail. What would be an example of an exercise to improve on that?
Kam Knight [00:24:36] Yeah, yeah. So when it comes to concentration, you know, there's really two main challenges people have. Some people like myself are trapped inside our heads, you know, because we're inside our head, we have a hard time focusing on what's going on around us. Now other people have a good friend issue.
Kam Knight [00:24:56] They're so distracted by the world around them. They can't hold on to their own thoughts for long periods of time. And so, um, I created two exercises to help with both of these problems. And attention to detail is a really great way to help you get out of your head. And that's really pretty much all you're doing is I'm paying attention, like opening your awareness to your surrounding and paying attention to the finer and finer features and details of the things that you see in and around your environment.
Kam Knight [00:25:33] And that can, you know, really the anything. So I can walk your audience through an example. Yeah, please. Let's do, yeah. Okay. So let's say that you are outside. You know, a great way to do that would be to open your awareness, to pay attention to the class places that you walk past.
Kam Knight [00:25:54] If you are walking in a residential neighborhood, notice the homes that you walk past. Are they one story or two? Notice all the other features as well, like the lawn, the fence, the porch or anything else. And also notice if there's anything unique about the houses that you haven't noticed before. Or if there are features about the homes that you have seen in other homes.
Kam Knight [00:26:17] And do the same with other buildings that you walk past, whether it's an apartment and office or warehouse. Look at their colors, how tall they are, whether they're made a break, concrete or steel. And open your awareness, not just to your eyes, but to your other senses. Notice the sounds in the neurons, your environment.
Kam Knight [00:26:38] You might notice the birds chirping in the trees for the branches swaying in the wind or as you're walking, you might step on, um, you know, dried leads and notice the crackles on of that. Um, and that you can also notice that with people walking by, notice what they're wearing from their shirt and jacket to their pants, belt and shoes, but not only known as people, but if you're in conversation, um, pay attention to not only what they're saying but how they're saying it.
Kam Knight [00:27:08] Is there some sort of emotion behind their voice? Are they talking like with some anger, some animosity, or is there some sort of joy there? And by paying attention to details like this, guess what you're doing, you're learning to pay attention. You're getting out of your head and noticing things in your, in and around your environment that you haven't noticed before.
Kam Knight [00:27:34] And this is a very simple exercise every can all do just about any time and anywhere. But it's a great way to take downtime that we're not using to do anything else to develop our concentration because like I started by paying attention to details. And the longer we do, we stretch that ability to focus on things, especially, um, things that are outside of our head.
Kam Knight [00:27:58] And so we're not constantly have lost in our thoughts.
Michael [00:28:04] Um, I liked that a lot and especially the point about taking it to other senses. Some of us are really visual, some are really auditory. So diversifying or, or developing those other senses is awesome. Is there a, I know one of the things you mentioned in the book is, is retrieval as well. So does that go hand in hand? So developing how we, how and where we put our attention, but then do you also use the exercise of trying to retrieve that later and strengthen, um, recollection of those details?
Michael [00:28:35] Yeah, so retrieval is a
Kam Knight [00:28:37] great, um, technique for not just concentration but a memory as well. It actually started off as a memory technique, but it works really well for concentration. Then it works really well for people who have a hard time following their train of thought or kind of get distracted by the outside world because, um, I'll just describe what retrieval is first, which you pose pretty much calling to mind material that you have read, heard or watched instead of rereading, rehearing or rewatching the material again.
Kam Knight [00:29:10] For example, after reading a chapter in a book, you would close that book and try to recall as much as what you read from memory instead of going back to the book or looking at your notes or after listening to a podcast like this, you think about everything you learned without going back to relisten to it or looking at your notes.
Kam Knight [00:29:31] And um, you know, the challenge with retrieval is that it can be difficult and sometimes painful to do their activity requires a great deal of inward focus. And in order to go back to a specific event, to a specific event and try to review an extract everything at the minor Kam. And more often than not, a mine would rather just get lost in it's habituated pattern of thinking.
Kam Knight [00:29:57] Then want to do this exercise. And so at times it can be kind of downright irritating to wrestle with your mental habits to, you know, search your memory bank. But the more benefit of retrieval for concentration is that it actually encourages the mind to pay more attention to things on a day to day basis because of the mind knowledge.
Kam Knight [00:30:17] They will be called on to retrieve the events and experiences and things that we have done or read later in the day or after we've done it then then it will put more effort into paying attention to, to take that information in. And remember though that information. So just by practicing retrieval on a regular basis, we naturally become much more attentive.
Kam Knight [00:30:41] But with retrieval requires practicing retrieval on a regular basis for us to be able to improve our concentration.
Michael [00:30:49] Yeah. And same with attention to detail it seems, unless one is, is naturally good at that. Like my wife is incredible with attention to detail. She developed it early or she got it naturally. But all these, all these tools really seem to build on each other. Synergize and B be related. So these are, these are great as some examples of some proactive exercises amongst others that you talk about in your book.
Michael [00:31:14] What about in the moment you mentioned that as well. What does that mean? How does that,
Kam Knight [00:31:20] yeah, so as I was saying earlier, you know with concentration you can improve it several different ways. The best way is really with the exercises, the sample exercises I've given self-talk, retrieval and paying attention to detail because that will actually stretch your ability to focus for longer, longer periods and will happen is you'll just naturally start to have better comp concentration over time.
Kam Knight [00:31:46] They'll get into a situation in like in class or listening to something and you'll just be much more attentive because you have stretched and developed that muscle to do so in the moment tools, they don't necessarily structure your ability to concentrate, but they just kind of give you, um, a boost in concentration at times where you just seem to be distracted and kind of losing focus.
Kam Knight [00:32:11] And
Michael [00:32:12] I, sorry to interrupt. I was just going to say Kam I, I, well, two things. So you mentioned a couple of exercise tools and I know you have others as well, like pushing limits are starting to develop those more impulse control things around the body and things like that. Uh, the way that as I read the book, I thought about the in the moment tools was these are, um, definitely a lot more tactical, maybe almost hacks for particular scenarios you might find in so
Kam Knight [00:32:40] sound right. Oh, exactly. That's more or less than if you're kind of, I've got a big report to finish or you're trying to finish a book and you just can't seem to get the focus you need to be able to get through it. These things will give you like a hack. These are like mine hacks that I'll give you a quote surgeon.
Kam Knight [00:33:00] Concentration but the thing about in the moment tools is that, um, they, they work, they will work for short period and unless you do the exercise is to actually develop your concentration, then you know, you'll only have tools that work for short periods of time, but then you'll go back once the once, um, um, the, the surge has gone from the tool.
Kam Knight [00:33:24] That makes sense. Yeah,
Michael [00:33:26] that makes sense. Um, if I just pick one or one or two, um, let's talk about time box if a, if you don't mind. I mean, that's one that I, I feel like is, is like this law of physics, you know, time will, will expand and we can consume as much of it on any given task if we allow ourselves to versus putting some boundaries to it.
Kam Knight [00:33:46] Yeah. So time boxing is a method that it's a traditional method that's kind of been taught quite a bit. Um, and I learned it when I was much younger. It's actually creating a box of time for you to finish a task or free to do a task. Because if we, you know, it goes back to kind of the phrase, we will as humans take up whatever time that is, a lot of to give a specific task.
Kam Knight [00:34:15] If we are given an hour to do something that can take 30 minutes, we will take that full hour. We will, you know, be much more slower about it, much more relaxed getting into our chair, opening the files we need and hurrying. But if we're giving even longer time, we'll take that time as well.
Kam Knight [00:34:36] But if we're kind of given a very short time like, Hey, in 20 minutes we need to get this done, then all of a sudden something in our unconscious, you know, um, a switch gets flipped on where it's like, okay, now we need to get focused and all of our attention and focus starts to narrow in on that task. It stops getting distracted.
Kam Knight [00:34:57] So this is a really good technique to help our unconscious, to kind of get us into gear and by creating, um, um, a restrictive time to do a certain task. So it pretty much goes on. You send yourself a very reasonable, but an ambition is time to do a test.
Kam Knight [00:35:18] So if, um, I don't know if it takes for me, for example, like I do a lot of writing and if I give myself too much time to write, I will take that much time to write a 500 word article. But if I tell myself I need, I wonder if I'm giving myself only 30 to write a 500 minute article, then I will end up, you know, my unconscious won't engage and get all serious and I will do everything I can to make sure that I can write that article on 30 minutes.
Kam Knight [00:35:50] And I guess more or less, it's just like setting a time for you to do that task and not more than that time. And if you get over that time, I mean, that's it. You're done. You're not allowed to take more than that time, if that makes sense.
Michael [00:36:03] Yeah, completely. I mean that's a really, uh, I wanted to hit that one because I feel like it's a really simple one that we probably all learn early on and then we forget about it because our days become some sort of fluid, particularly if you're in maybe, uh, a cultural environment work-wise where there are a lot of meetings, don't always have a great sense of focus and objective or maybe in your case if you're on your own and you have no other structure, you're only accountable to yourself.
Michael [00:36:33] So I think I'll, I'll, a lot of people, maybe a lot of people I know or work with would say that they are high achievers, they're goal oriented, maybe they work well under pressure or deadlines. And that to me is exactly what this is. So some people talk about it, I think they call it the Pomodoro method. I literally went out and got, you know, the old egg timer that sits on my desk and, and I do two things with it.
Michael [00:36:56] So one that that helps me create my time box, you know, set it for 25 minutes or whatever it is. Uh, the other thing that I use it for is when the timer goes off, I've got gotta I've got to walk away from that task, but that's also my trigger to just get up and walk around for five minutes and move my body. Which, you know,
Kam Knight [00:37:15] we're not
Michael [00:37:16] talking about the physical stuff today, more of the mental, but, uh, sitting at our desks for too long. This is a bad thing physically too. So for me it does both. It's productivity focused, but then it's also my reminder to go, you know, take some steps or move around.
Kam Knight [00:37:29] Yeah. Yeah. Um, you mentioned a couple of keywords, a Pomodoro method. That's essentially what, um, th the Pomodoro method was essentially built, so you only worked for on small stretches so you can get up and stretch and let your mind kind of diffused.
Kam Knight [00:37:51] So Barbara Oakley talks about this. She talks about, uh, focus, uh, focus and diffuse modes of our brains. When we get focused, you know, we can focus for an extended period of time, but it's really important to diffuse and take a break at least for five to 10 minutes. Because then that allows us to focus for another stretch.
Kam Knight [00:38:13] So both time box in the promote Pomodoro method are great because they not only help you, especially for people who work under pressure to get focused for a specific amount of time, but they allow for that break that you need in the mind that the break the mine also need so that he can get again for
Michael [00:38:36] another stretch. Okay. I didn't realize the science behind that and that the, the break came into it as well. But yeah, that makes intuitive sense to me. What about, and maybe this goes right along with it, but I think you also talk about relaxation exercise as an in the moment tool.
Kam Knight [00:38:52] Yeah. Yeah. I think relaxation is one of the best ways to poke up our concentration. So as I mentioned a few times, you know, and there's a lot of activity in our heads. We have thoughts, images and feelings running, coursing and flashing. All I'd be rich way. And in addition to those thoughts, images and feelings. Um, you kinda touched on this, which is in my book, you know, we have all sorts of impulses.
Kam Knight [00:39:16] We have drives and we have also bought a movement, all of which interfere with concentration. And what's interesting is that some days intensity of this activity tends to be higher. And so this is the sensitivity. And so as a sensitivity of activities, and when I say intensity, I mean that we have more thoughts running through our heads.
Kam Knight [00:39:37] They're running faster, our images are more distracted and our emotions are stronger. And when I say sensitive, I mean that they are more easily triggered. You know, we might hear something that normally you won't bother us, but this time around we're in rates or if we make a mistake, um, normally it wouldn't get us all worked up.
Kam Knight [00:39:58] But on, on a day we were much more sensitive. Our mind will start playing scenarios of doom and gloom. So, and, and as I mentioned, it's all this activity that makes concentration challenging. And because if we didn't have all of this sitting down to read a book would be easy. You know, listening to a lecture would be a breeze.
Kam Knight [00:40:18] When, um, when they see activity gets heightened, it becomes really challenging. And the, the thing is these things aren't really easy to quiet. You know, you can't just tell the mind to stop racing when you can't always ignore all the emotions that are coming up, especially the overpowering one. You know, it takes a lot of time, effort and training just hear these things and this is what all the, the, the concentration exercises I offer or do.
Kam Knight [00:40:48] But sometimes you need something that will work quicker. And fortunately that thing that works quicker is a relaxation exercise. You know, to calm the mind. It helps to calm yourself. And the easiest way to do that, like I said, is with relaxation because when you doing a relaxation exercise, it actually influences your entire state.
Kam Knight [00:41:09] It puts a break on the mind, slowing your thoughts from racing and jumping or filling up like a balloon. It also so dates a body and impulses from moving and springy in every which way. But more importantly, relaxation actually softens our emotions so they don't create such intense fear, anxiety and worry. And when all of the, when the volume of all of these things are turned down, it becomes a much more natural to focus and concentrate.
Kam Knight [00:41:37] Yeah.
Michael [00:41:37] So what, what's a, what's a good example of a relaxation exercise or something that people can take away that's, that's actionable in that?
Kam Knight [00:41:45] Yeah, so there's a lot of relaxation scripts out on the internet. So I really recommend if someone's serious to, to try out a diff, a few different ones that, you know, really resonated with them and that really get them in their relaxation state. But a few principles to relaxation is your breath.
Kam Knight [00:42:05] So we want to be able to, to just start by taking some deep breaths. And one would be to, you know, inhale for five seconds. Okay. And then hold it for five seconds and then exhale for five seconds as we say the word relax. And we do this about, you know, a fact too, five to 10 times, and this was slows down.
Kam Knight [00:42:30] Another principle is our mind is very receptive to images. So we can, as we're doing the breathing and saying the word relax, we're closing our eyes and imagine, uh, scenery that's peaceful to us. For some people it might be a white Sandy beach. For another person it might be another calm, quiet part of nature.
Kam Knight [00:42:55] And the images will help us slow down as well. And then the mantra of just relax and I'm relaxed. Doing that a few times will put us in a more easy and calm state.
Michael [00:43:09] Cool. Yeah, I'm big on breathing exercises and I really liked the concentration visualization and the mantra elements of that to, to really try to keep it concentrated and keep it serene, uh, in, in describing ironically, uh, concentration and relaxation. I think I heard your cell phone buzzer go off.
Michael [00:43:31] So let's talk about distractions and how life happens and how to deal with those things.
Kam Knight [00:43:36] Yeah. I think that was, um, premeditated and planned that well done. Yeah, I apologize for that. So, yeah, so distractions is actually an extremely important concept and I don't, I don't think a lot of people really understand why distraction and Missouri and the effects distraction has on us.
Kam Knight [00:43:57] But it's really important to understand that the part of the mine responsible for concentration, it actually resides in a different region of the brain than the part responsible for distraction. So in a 2007 study, Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, MIT recorded that concentration and distraction occur independently of one another and in two separate areas of the brain.
Kam Knight [00:44:23] What that means is that you have two mechanisms competing with each other. So the concentration mechanism wants you to focus while the distraction market mechanism wants to distract you. In fact, a distraction mechanism is always on hardwired into the brain as a process that never sleeps. And when I tell people that a lot of times they asked me, well, why do we have a mechanism that distracts us?
Kam Knight [00:44:48] Or what could be the purpose in that? Well, the distraction mechanism is really important to our survival because it does one of two things. It's alerts us of danger and it at the same time it alerts of potential opportunity. So we might be working intensively on a project, um, to be distracted by something burning in the kitchen.
Kam Knight [00:45:12] So it's really important that we got distracted by what's burning in the kitchen. Otherwise the kitchen burned down or worse, the whole house, or I might be walking down the street, you know, intensely thinking about a problem to be distracted by $100 bill on the ground. It's important that I got distracted because now I have extra spending money in my pocket.
Kam Knight [00:45:33] So distractions are useful. It, like I said, it alerts us of dangerous and at the same time, um, I'll um, brings our attention to opportunities. And so there's a lot of talk about, you know, distraction is something that we need to get rid of. We need to overcome it. Well, as, uh, Miller study suggests it's not something that we can get rid of or overcome, um, because it's a hardwired into the brain as a process that doesn't sleep even when we're asleep.
Kam Knight [00:46:06] So it's foreign to really understand that and when we're, so when it comes up distractions, we want to be able to either remove it or learn to kind of develop strong enough resilience so it doesn't affect us. But before going into that, it's really also important to understand that, you know, distractions come in two forms.
Kam Knight [00:46:28] You have external and internal distractions. So external distractions are those occurring outside of you. They happen anywhere and everywhere and almost everyone is prone to them. You know, they include everything from noises, smells, um, bright light to even the temperature being uncomfortable. So anything in our surrounding that makes it difficult for us to focus would be considered an external distraction.
Kam Knight [00:46:53] And unpleasant setting can also be a distraction. Now, internal distractions or the opposite, although they can be just as piercing, irritating and uncomfortable as excellent with distractions, they occur from inside from us, as I mentioned. You know, as humans we have a lot of stuff going on.
Kam Knight [00:47:14] We are a complex set of systems processing mechanisms. And when one of these systems and processes aren't working properly, properly, like the check engine in a light, it will go off and distract us. And the of internal distractions we have is just unbelievable. You know, they come from feeling hungry. There's the vitamin deficiency, stress, anxiety, boredom habits, physical pain, addictions, allergies.
Kam Knight [00:47:42] So there's a lot that affects our system. So there's a lot of, uh, internal distractions that we have. And again, it makes sense why we have internal distractions because if we're running on low on fuel, then it's important that the body distractors so we can go out and, you know, eat somethings to get, give the body more energy.
Michael [00:48:03] So I like how you break that into internal and external and, and totally makes sense as a, as a survival mechanism. I think as I was listening to that, I kind of think of it in terms of the part of the brain that, um, subconsciously or unconsciously does things like breathe and pumper heart run our nervous system, you know, the, those things are just on autopilot.
Michael [00:48:26] And I get where this distraction mechanism is. Um, I don't know, maybe it's listening for the sound of the, you know, the lion creeping up to attack me while I sleep. And in today's world is just, you know, me being annoyed that I'm, you know, I'm waking up because my dog is scratching itself. Right. Um, so knowing that this part of the brain is there, it's there for good reason and it's kept us alive and evolving.
Michael [00:48:53] Um, w what do we do about it? It's on autopilot. You can't turn it off. It competes for attention. Is it just awareness that exists and working around it, accepting it or, or what do we do with, with that element of distraction?
Kam Knight [00:49:07] Yeah, so, you know, given the fact that a distraction mechanism can't necessarily be shut off. Okay. Um, it's really important too. Try to limit our things that will distract us. So when it comes to, so I'll focus on the external first. Um, the best thing, the best way to handle external distraction is to remove as much from our environment.
Kam Knight [00:49:32] Um, and the way to do that is to think about them in terms of how they affect us. Actually on distractions affect us through our five senses, sight, touch, sound, smell and taste. So a door slamming, we'll stir the sense of ours of sound, a blinking light, you know, activates our sense of sight and a very pungent order, well irritate our sense of smell.
Kam Knight [00:49:59] Now, if you think about it, if we didn't have the ability to hear the loudest bang, we're not having any effect on us. You know, if we couldn't see then no matter what kind of light was in front of us, whether it was a TV program, it wouldn't bother us. So it's really our census that um, that um, are there.
Kam Knight [00:50:21] It's really important to pay attention to our centers because that's how we're affected by our external distractions. And you know, when it comes to external distractions, it's a lot of comments and stuff. You know, you just want to remove everything from your line of sight that can be distracting to the census. The same thing with sounds sounds are a little bit more difficult so it helps to use noise canceling headphones or earplugs and you know, smells aren't usually an issue on a nice, you are bringing food back to you, back to your desk from work and then those smells can be irritating.
Kam Knight [00:51:00] And the same thing with taste. We can have after tastes of food lingering that if it's really good food and all we can think about is having that food again. And so we're kind of, you know, we're like playing mental movies of going out and grabbing another hamburger. So it's important to kind of wash away any lingering taste. And then touch is a little bit more involved because it deals with the temperature, the comfortableness of the chairs, the dryness of a room and things of that nature.
Kam Knight [00:51:31] So if we can change things in our environment that are more pleasing to our bodies, that will keep us from being distracted by, um, uh, touch elements. So this is more of like, uh, external part of the docs are another extractions. Now you want to kind of remove, remove as much as you can.
Kam Knight [00:51:52] Or the other option is to train yourself to not be bothered by the external distractions. And there was this one famous writer who said that, you know, she can write in any environment, you know, in a cab and not allowed, um, party or anything like that. In fact, I've actually taken what she did and applied it to myself and I now I can write in that environment because I actually chained myself to be able to focus without, with all the distractions around me.
Kam Knight [00:52:26] And a great way to do that is for people to kind of find uh, environment, whether it's like a loud coffee shop or even a public area and maybe a train station and try to focus more on what I'm, their work for a longer, longer periods. And in the beginning it's going to be like really, really, really annoying and difficult and you know, all, all sorts of um, annoying annoyance.
Kam Knight [00:52:55] It's going to come up and get us really worked up. But if we, you know, do it consistently over time you'll find that you'll get to a point where you can almost work many environment despite the external distractions around.
Michael [00:53:12] Yeah. I just realized as you were saying that I think I've been training that for years on, on airplanes with the guy in front of me leaning in his seat and to my knees. So the lady with the drink cart and the guy on the squeezed into the middle seat, you know, just to take a like a, a quick right turn on some of that. Um, that I've, I've been reading about and find really interesting on eliminating physical distractions.
Michael [00:53:35] So for example, on quality of sleep. So if I relate it to, we talked a little bit here about the brain, but there are scientists expanding the thought that the mind is more than just the brain. They're finding neurons in the heart and then the in the gut.
Michael [00:53:55] And we talk about gut health and things like that. So to relate that to an environmental, potentially it's sleep distraction like light. It's, um, so I was reading an article, it's, it's, we have light sensors or light sensitivity in more than just our eyes. You know, we have this visual organ, but a light, let's say that you had your eyes covered trying to sleep and maybe your entire body was covered except, uh, I dunno, you got a little hot and, and kind of stuck your leg out from under the covers light shining on just a portion of your skin excites a reaction in the body as well and can disturb sleep.
Michael [00:54:36] So it's amazing how, how sensitive we are in so many different ways that that maybe cerebrally we don't, we don't, um, recognize and maybe science is really just starting to understand more of, but there are so many, so many distractions out there. So I really like your point about we can eliminate what we might be able to control, but there are so many things we can't control that we just have to train for it.
Kam Knight [00:55:02] Yeah, exactly. And you said a couple of things that I would like to add more to. Yes. You know, the, our mental processing is not just in the brain in our head, but really there's like a whole set of neurons in our stomach, in our belly. And, um, we're picking up data from really all over our body.
Kam Knight [00:55:24] And what's really fascinating is that it is sad that our, our unconscious processes 11 million bits of information, while our conscious is only aware of like 20 to 30 at any given moment. And so yeah, it goes back to that point that we're just taking in so much information unconsciously and that unconscious is acting and reacting to that information.
Kam Knight [00:55:50] And the more that we can present our environment or train ourselves to present our environments or doesn't, um, set up those reactions or train ourselves so it doesn't set up those reactions, then we can become much more focused on the things that we want and not get distracted by them.
Michael [00:56:12] Yeah, absolutely. The cool thing about, about this book, and uh, in full disclosure, I have not yet finished it. I think I got distracted. Maybe buy it, buy another book. Uh, but there, there's so much depth to it here. So we've really only scratched the surface on this conversation. So I really appreciate you sharing some of these ideas and some of the exercises on, on lifestyle.
Michael [00:56:35] Maybe just as we're closing out around environment and one of the things you mentioned is, uh, his lifestyle. So maybe that's a pretty broad topic, but if we had to pick, I don't know, maybe one more thing around environment and help helping ourselves to concentrate and minimize distractions. W what would you leave us with?
Kam Knight [00:56:54] Um, I would say color has a really big influence on us. And I'll give a few examples. Um, have you, if you, if I were to say the word Coca-Cola, what color comes to your mind? Yeah. Yeah. And if I said McDonald's, what color comes to your mind?
Michael [00:57:16] Yeah, that's a red and yellow.
Kam Knight [00:57:18] Okay. And then if I said burger King or Dunkin donuts, uh, what is that? Orange? Yeah. Okay. So this isn't by accident that you know, some of the biggest restaurant chains and top trends have these colors because color has a huge influence on us.
Kam Knight [00:57:38] You know, red, orange and yellow are colors of hunger and they actually stimulate our appetite. And so if you think about every single restaurant chain in America, you'll find that they use either red, orange, or yellow in their local or in the decoration or, or in there, or the decoration of, um, you know, what's inside.
Kam Knight [00:58:07] So Wendy's, Hardee's in and out, burger, Domino's, Applebee's, Denny's. I have Ruby Tuesday's, dairy queen, all employed those three colors because they stimulate your appetite. And it's not just those colors that will, um, you know, have a fucked on us, but other colors also have a fucked on us.
Kam Knight [00:58:29] And if colors can have such a big influence in music and have a huge influence on our concentration. And so if we want to set up like an environment or like a lifestyle, I will encourage people to, um, use more greens and blues in their environment. Because one green is a color of nature.
Kam Knight [00:58:50] Wherever there's green, the unconscious, you know, sees that there's, there's wildlife as well as water. And so it kind of relaxes the mind. And also blues because blue is a color of the sky and you know, and when the, when the blue sky is out it at 10, it's uh, there's a calmness there.
Kam Knight [00:59:11] It's not rainy or some other drastic weather that we have to kind of worry about. And so if we can kind of employ more of that in our environment, then
Michael [00:59:22] it will naturally boosts our ability to focus and concentrate on things. Oh, that's super cool. I never, never thought about it that way. Now I'm sitting here looking at the walls of my office wondering what color I should. I should repaint it. But I, I totally get your point about food. I know, same thing if you walk down like the kids, the cereal aisle, you know, all this stuff that's marketed to children to jump off the shelves.
Michael [00:59:45] It's definitely all red. Um, red, yellow, orange for sure. Awesome. Well Kam I really appreciate it. I know we're coming up on the top of the hour here, so I want to be respectful of your time. Uh, but this, this is great stuff. I'm really looking forward to getting through the rest of the book. Um, my challenges, you've been so prolific and I think you've got about nine books out there.
Michael [01:00:07] So looking forward to getting through this one. And, uh, most importantly, not just kinda sitting in the academia of it, but putting it into practice. And thanks for sharing some additional insight and some additional exercises and tools we can all take away from this conversation.
Michael [01:00:22] Yeah, thank you very much Michael, for having me back. If it's great and hopefully your audience found the information useful. Yeah, you bet. My pleasure as always. And thank you again. Kam all right, thanks again to return guest Kam Knight for that one. And again, I think just really timely, uh, some of us really have some time on our hands right now plus this, uh, these threats, whether real or perceived really have us a at risk for distraction.
Michael [01:00:51] So this is a great time to recommit to, to a practice, to tools, to exercise in the concentration muscles, and just also having that recognition realization of what's going on that, uh, that fights our conscious mind, uh, with that survival instinct in the, in the unconscious mind. All right, that's it for this week guys.
Michael [01:01:11] The show notes for this one [email protected] slash zero 48 and despite what they say about plans, if all goes as expected, I've got some pretty fun stuff coming up in the next couple episodes that I'm really excited to bring in to share with you. So tune back in here next Thursday for more and until then, get out there and get after it.
Michael [01:01:32] Guys.
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