The Student
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Lifestyle
Mind gardening: the solution to our shortened attention spans?
by Hannah Udall, 6/04/21

How often do you analyse your mind? Your chattering internal monologue is free to roam as it pleases through news stories, clothing catalogues, countless little worries….The freedom this voice inside your head is granted is obtuse and unhealthy, and meditation apps such as Headspace encourage us to slow down this manic alter-person and analyse its twittering.

This is relatively easy to do, being so obviously vocal. However your brain is large and fathomless, and perhaps your mental wellbeing is assaulted by something much more undetectable; the endless consumption of media which is absorbed by your ever searching eyes.

An Ofcom News consumption study from 2019 found that half of UK adults get their news from social media. This is a shockingly high proportion of adults when comparing it to the 78 per cent of adults who have social media. You may be thinking what is the problem?

It is good that people are connecting with the news at all, especially when it is so horrific most of the time. Think about how the news is portrayed by social media- a whole story summed up by a snappy headline and evocative image. How can this hope to capture the full complexity of a story? It cannot, giving rise to ambiguity, biases and fake news.

Working from home augments the opportunity to passively consume information through social media. Without fellow students and colleagues to keep you in check, it is tempting to look for distractions. With the majority of work being online, the pathway to a social media wormhole is
footsteps away. Bleak solitary work days, leave no opportunity to discuss what you have just (passively) absorbed, and the information is given a free ride through your mind.

Much of what the internet throws at you is not analysed or questioned, leading to people being misinformed. Adverts and artificially portrayed images can leave people feeling dissatisfied with their life. The information obtained through social media is short and snappy, and consequently limited. This has led scientists such as Anne-Laure Le Cunff to promote mind-gardening, “a proactive way of cultivating knowledge, ideas and thinking in general” to undo the damage of passive media consumption.

The synapses in your brain make 10,000 connections every 15 minutes, irrespective of whether you want them to be made or not. Our brain encapsulates a huge part of what it means to be ‘us.’ Leaving the fusing of these connections to chance is terrifying.

Mind-gardening allows you to gain back your agency in who you want to be. When you begin to actively make your own connections, your mental landscape becomes healthier and you can begin to nurture your creativity! By proactively consuming media, you have the agency to connect concepts
together in wild, fresh and fantastic ways, into ideas with a life of their own.

Mind gardening has been shown to improve your attention span and memory. Anne-Laure Le Cunff says anyone can start, simply by taking notes of information we find interesting. Thinking about the media you consume, allows you to mould your mind and discover your thoughts as something inherent to your unique individuality.

To help you get started Le Cunff recommends the online note taking software ‘Roam Research’ and ‘Tiddlywiki, the interface allowing you to note down ideas and connect ideas.

Don’t be discouraged if mind-gardening seems daunting; whilst at first it might seem time-consuming, as long as you approach it in a fun and playful manner, mind-gardening will soon become effortless and a part of your routine. Give it a go and reap the benefits of improved life satisfaction and mental wellbeing.

Image: Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau via unsplash