Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Safe Cognition" - Be Careful What You Let into Your Brain

Cognition. A fancy word for thought.

Metacognition. Another fancy word, meaning thinking about the way you think. Just for fun, let's do a little metacognition.

Memory happens in the brain, but not in just one place. It happens all over the brain. For example, visual memory happens in the visual cortex, where input from the optic nerve is translated into visual perception - what you "see." You see something, and if you react to it and think about it, you remember what you see.

The same thing happens for body sensations, sounds, conceptual thoughts, emotions and other types of thought. Memories from different parts of the brain are linked so you can recall multi-modal experiences.

Another way to think about memory is to appreciate that short-term memory and long-term memory are two different things. Short-term memory lasts only six to ten seconds. This gives the rest of the brain time to relate and integrate the information. If this happens, then the short-term memory becomes a long-term memory. The more the information is related and integrated, the easier it will be to "access," or recall.

If no integration happens within these few seconds, then the sensations held in short-term memory will be replaced by more recent sensations. And the old sensations will be washed away forever.

Pretty efficient, huh? If something has no relevance, the brain gets rid of it!

An important thought about the way we think...

Be careful what you pay attention to. The brain doesn't have a "Delete" key! If you integrate a perception or thought into long-term memory, it may remain there for the rest of your life. Like a song that drives you crazy playing itself over and over in your brain. Or a stupid TV commercial that you thought was cool. Or the sights and sounds around you during a very intense or emotional moment.

You've heard of the garbage-in/garbage-out principle? This is the garbage-in/garbage-stays-in principle.

So if something is important to you and you really want to remember it, pay attention to it for more than ten seconds and think about what it means to you.

If you experience something you don't want to remember, quickly shift your focus to something else. And be careful not to think about it.

Remember, if you let something into your brain, it will stay there for the long haul. Since I learned this years ago, I've been practicing "safe cognition." To control what goes into my long-term memory, I'm careful what I pay attention to. I "just say no" to many types of nonsense, hogwash, balderdash, horse-hockey, BS and other garden-variety stupidity. For example, I refuse to read certain books or view certain movies. And I'm pleased to say that there are no Britney Spears pop tunes in my head. I'm clean, and I plan to keep it that way.

The more you understand how you think, the more you can control how your brain does its job.

Metacognition is pretty powerful stuff.


@TOPPA_88 said...


Brian Frank said...

Use the law of dual thought. You cannot think of a positive and a negative thought at the same time.