Key Areas of Mental Skills
We are all born with a set of very useful mental abilities.
- Our ability to focus our attention allows us to allocate detection and processing powers to what is most relevant in a given situation. As humans we have the ability to focus our attention on targets in our surroundings, in our bodies and in our minds. Not all organisms on our planet have the same abilities.
- With our sensory abilities, we detect what is happening in our bodies and our surroundings. Visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, vestibular and other sensory input provide vital neurological signals about what is happening and how we are doing.
- Our creative abilities make us spontaneously create new associations. We are all creative every second. We constantly structure sensory input and mental representations of the world in multiple ways and detect patterns among them. We create lots of new information in formation in our minds every day.
- Our ability to remember is built on associations. Our associative memory mechanisms allow us to store sensory impressions, emotional responses, knowledge and skills for decades in our brains. (Each one of these four kinds of memories will be discussed in depth in their own blog postings.) We create an increasingly accurate world view that helps us predict what may happen in a given situation.
- Our ability to make decisions makes us constantly choose what we want to get closer to or get more of as opposed to what we want to avoid or get less of. We do our best to avoid pain and suffering and maximize pleasure and reward. This is our original intelligence. It is literally the ’hard core area’ of brain training: Extremely tough and extremely important.
- Our ability to motivate ourselves gives stamina to our determination: We are able to repeat a decision that we once made several times – repeatedly in completely new situations. Fatigue or hunger doesn’t change the decision to avoid sweets in a determined mind with a clear enough awareness of an important goal.
- Our ability to interact with others means that we can affect them and be affected by them. The Finnish word ”vuorovaikutus” and the Swedish expression ”växelverkan” reveal how all communication at its core is about influence and power. This will be discussed in great detail in future postings.
- Last, but not least, we have the ability to relax. The ability to let go – particularly to avoid unnecessarily dwelling in the past and to avoid worrying about the future goes hand in hand with our ability to focus our attetion on what is relevant in the here and now. Key aspects of these abilities are included in the popular concept of Mindfulness.
A wide range of skills can be developed within each one of these eight sectors. In the coming weeks, they will be discussed thoroughly and concrete training advice will be offered.
Fortunately for us, Homo Sapiens is a species in which new skills based on these abilities can develop significantly during the lifetime of an individual. Any kind of ”brain training” that is supposed to be effective and useful needs to help you build improved skills upon these innate abilities. For example, you can learn new focusing or memory techniques and develop your mastery of those methods. It means that you can learn to be more focused in a noisy environment or to remember people’s names better.
As we develop a lot in our youth, we rapidly become increasingly skillful in all these areas. Development occurs to some extent throughout our lives, but unless we really train ourselves, development will gradually stagnate. This is a familiar phenomenon in our physical development, as well.
It’s easy to detect whether brain training has been effective: The key question is whether you have become more skillful. Are you performing better in ordinary everyday situations? Discussions about what may or may not happen anatomically in various parts of the brain are sometimes academically interesting, but are relevant to very few people.
In my next blog posting, we will dive more deeply into the orange sector: I will discuss how scaringly many are losing large portions of their ability to be focused on everyday tasks. Absent-mindedness is gaining epidemic international proportions as people in many countries constantly keep looking at and clicking on cool digital gadgets all day long. We also have more to think and worry about than ever before. This is the area of brain training where I am doing most of my work.
Naturally, we will also discuss some concrete methods that you can use to start focusing your attention more skillfully – despite external disturbances or distracting thoughts in your head.
17.8.2014 at Hotel Mäntyniemi/Talludden, Pyhtää/Pyttis, Finland