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Scientists Reveal the Number of Times You're Actually Conscious Each Minute

Modern society

Modern life insists that we perform all sorts of hyper-focused tasks that overburdens our distractible brains.

Consider driving and drinking coffee while you're on the phone. It means that you're continually switching attention that could cause an accident.


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Scientists Reveal the Number of Times You're Actually Conscious Each Minute

Scientists Reveal the Number of Times You're Actually Conscious Each Minute


Key Ideas

Our attention systems

According to scientists at Princeton University, the brain oscillates in and out of focus four times every second.

That means the brain stops focusing on the task at hand about 240 times a minute.

Rhythms of attention

The brain is distractible. We focus in bursts with periods of distractibility in between those bursts, where the brain seems to look at the rest of the environment outside to see if there's something important going on elsewhere.

This rhythm affects our behavior all the time.

Understanding rhythms of attention

At any given moment, our brain focuses on a single point of interest. Like a filmstrip, the brain takes pictures of these moments, then assembles them into a cohesive story.

About four times every second, the brain stops taking snapshots of individual points of focus and collects background information about the environment, like sound, people, temperature, and so on. It then uses all the information to put together a narrative of the complete experience.

Modern society

Modern life insists that we perform all sorts of hyper-focused tasks that overburdens our distractible brains.

Consider driving and drinking coffee while you're on the phone. It means that you're continually switching attention that could cause an accident.

Taking advantage

Every four times a second, our brains are open to stimuli outside our initial focus.

If there's something very bright or blinking at that time, you will shift your attention. Advertisers take advantage of this. For example, when you're on the internet and ads are popping up.


One of the reasons why Stoicism is enjoying a revival today is that it gives concrete answers to moral questions.
Aristotle gave us an alternative conception of happiness

It cannot be acquired by pleasurable experiences but only by identifying and realizing our own potential, moral and creative, in our specific environments, with our particular family, friends and colleagues, and helping others to do so. 

Think like Sherlock Holmes

“What Sherlock Holmes offers isn’t just a way of solving a crime. It is an entire way of thinking."

"Holmes provides... an education in improving our faculty of mindful thought...

As children, we are remarkably aware to the world around us. This attention wanes over time as we allow more pressing responsibilities to attend to and demands on our minds to address. And as the demands on our attention increase so, too, does our actual attention decrease.

 As it does so, we become less and less able to know or notice our own thought habits and more and more allow our minds to dictate our judgments and decisions, instead of the other way around.

Pitfalls of the Untrained Brain

Daniel Kahneman believes there are two systems for organizing and filtering knowledge: 

  • System one is real-time. This system makes judgments and decisions before our mental apparatus can consciously catch up. 
  • System two, on the other hand, is a slow process of thinking based on critical examination of evidence. Konnikova refers to these as System Watson and System Holmes.

To move from a System Watson- to a System Holmes-governed thinking takes mindfulness plus motivation.

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Our culture of work

Our culture claims that work is unavoidable and natural. The idea that the world can be freed from work, wholly or in part, has been suppressed for as long as capitalism has existed.

Exploring the abolition of work
  • In 1885, socialist William Morris proposed that in the factories of the future, employees should work only four hours a day.
  • In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would lead to an age of leisure where people might work 15 hours a week.
  • Since the early 2010s, these ideas have been developed further, creating a growing critique of work as an ideology, and exploring alternatives to work.
  • Post-work offers enormous promises: In a life of much less work, life would be calmer, more equal, more communal, more pleasurable, more thoughtful, more politically engaged, more fulfilled.
Work ideology

The work ideology is not natural nor very old.

  • Before the modern era, all cultures thought of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Once the modern work ethic was established, working patterns started to shift. Between 1800 and 1900, the average working week shrank from 80 hours to 60 hours, and in the 1970s to roughly 40 hours.
  • In 1979, Bernard Lefkowitz related in his book that people who had given up their jobs reported feelings of "wholeness." During the same period, because wages were high enough, it became possible for most people to work less.
  • During the 80s, work ideology was reimposed by aggressively pro-business governments who were motivated by a desire for social control.
  • By the early 21st century, the work culture seems inescapable.

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    You don't have to do something too intense, just get moving to energize your brain and body.

    A regular 20 - 45-minute high-intensity exercise will trigger positive endorphins, spark your meta...


    Start your day by thinking who you want to be and what impact you want to have on the world.

    To help you reach that state of motivation, read or listen to something inspiring.


    Meditation is a way to focus your attention to your internal dialogue and moving it into the direction you desire.

    The more you are able to focus your attention where you choose to, the stronger your mental muscle will become.

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    The reward system

    The reward system in our brain exists to ensure we seek out what we need. If eating nutritious food or being smiled at pleases us, we try to secure more of these stimuli. However, seeking pleasure ...

    Desire and pleasure

    In 1986, a discovery was made that dopamine did not produce pleasure, but in fact, desire. While dopamine makes us want, pleasure comes from opioids and endocannabinoids ( a kind of marijuana produced in the brain), which paints pleasure on good experiences.

    Potential clinical application

    We cannot explain away our minds by brain mechanisms. Brain mechanisms are part of our minds.

    Understanding that desire and dread, for instance, share the same brain operations, could help ease schizophrenia symptoms by restricting a particular dopamine neuron that produces fear.

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    Goal setting
    Goal setting

    Is the act of selecting a target or objective you wish to achieve.

    Goal setting is not only about choosing the rewards you want to enjoy, but also the costs you are willing to pay t...

    The Rudders and Oars Metaphor
    It helps clarify the difference between SYSTEMS and GOALS:
    • Your goals are like the rudder on a small rowboat. They set the direction and determine where you go. 
    • If you commit to one goal, then the rudder stays put and you continue moving forward. 
    • If you flip-flop between goals, then the rudder moves all around and it is easy to find yourself rowing in circles.
    • If the rudder is your goal, then the oars are your process for achieving it. While the rudder determines your direction, it is the oars that determine your progress.

    Example: If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.

    How to Set Goals You'll Actually Follow
    1. Ruthlessly Eliminate Your Goals. Consistently prune and trim down your goals. If you can muster the courage to prune away a few of your goals, then you create the space you need for the remaining goals to fully blossom.
    2. Stack Your Goals. Make a specific plan for when, where and how you will perform this."Networking: After I return from my lunch break, I will send one email to someone I want to meet."
    3. Set an Upper Bound. Don't focus on the minimum threshold. Instead of saying,  “I want to make at least 10 sales calls today.” rather say, “I want to make at least 10 sales calls today, but not more than 20.”

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    Limited Attention Spans

    We underestimate the value of our attention.

    As technology makes us distracted, unable to concentrate or focus, we need to cultivate our attention spans and improve our clarity of thought.

    Junk Food For The Mind

    As we get aware of how to improve our critical thinking skills and build our attention muscle, we need to stop consuming junk information that can harm our minds similar to how junk food is harming our bodies.


    A good way to practice focusing your attention is to memorize a situation and think about it intentionally.

    Memorizing forces our brain to function and remember the information, actively removing distractions.

    Dopamine Functions

    Dopamine is an important chemical messenger that plays several important roles in the brain and body:

    • It influences moods and feelings of reward and motivation: When&nbs...
    Increase dopamine levels naturally

    They are generally well regulated by the body, but there are a few diet and lifestyle changes you can make to boost your levels naturally:

    • Eat lots of protein
    • Eat less saturated fat
    • Consume probiotics
    • Exercise often
    • Get enough sleep
    • Listen to music
    • Meditate
    • Get enough sunlight
    Shelter and refuge
    Shelter and refuge

    Our homes are now being used not only as shelter and refuge, but also as workplace and school and gym and theater and restaurant and bar and laundry and town square.
    But whether a house o...

    Rethinking utility

    A home of any kind is a blessing. But quarantine also means that small elements of home design can have significant consequences.

    How much space you have, the number of rooms, whether you have internet, a dishwasher and washing machine, whether you have an area in which to exercise or be alone or be together or cook or get fresh air—those factors will now take on even more weight.

    Home as the only place
    Confinement can heighten existing tensions and threats. It can also create new ones.
    • Even people who are usually good at handling stress can find their mental health affected by periods of continuous closeness. 
    • Constant togetherness can be a great thing, right up until it isn’t. So if you live with others and find yourself needing space of your own, tell them that.
    • Use creative hacks: for example, if a bedroom is doubling as an office, create the ritual, at the start of the workday, of shutting the door (a sign that the bedroom is now a workspace).
    The Half-Life of Facts
    The Half-Life of Facts

    Facts decay over time. And the time it takes to disprove or replace half of it can be predicted.

    Data in medicine become half as relevant in 2-3 years. For exact sciences, 2-4 years.

    Half life of facts and compound knowledge

    If we want our knowledge to compound, we’ll need to focus on the invariant general principles.

    Half-lives show us that if we spend time learning something that changes quickly, we might be wasting our time.