Banking on Neurofeedback: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Pay AttentionAlex Theoret
“Pay attention”. It’s one of those Anglo-isms I find intriguing. Intuitively, you’d think it would be “give” attention or “have” attention, right? But upon closer examination, the very idea of “paying attention” reveals something deeper about the complex inner workings of our brains. Seems to me that, when it comes to neural focus, the bottom line is literally the bottom line: you have to “pay out” neural resources to retain important information.
My own personal experience supports the idea of focus and attention as a kind of “economic” activity. As a kid, I definitely had learning differences. My mother didn’t call it that, of course. She’d just say I had “beans in my ears”, since it seemed as if I ignored everything she said. “Don’t jump in the canal; you can’t swim”, is probably what she said right before I jumped into the canal. (I wouldn’t know because I didn’t hear her.) They had a diagnosis for this personality type when I was growing up: precocious with a heavy dose of willful. Today we call it: auditory processing disorder. To this day, I can recall almost everything I read point for point, but almost nothing that is said to me. And now it is my wife who claims I have “beans in my ears”.
In school I was easily distracted and had difficultly with multi-step problems. Forms confused me. I was constantly filling in my birthdate under the heading that requested “today’s date”. Up until roughly my junior year in college, I underperformed academically relative to my raw intelligence scores. My father was forced to return the Harvard sweatshirt he proudly purchased from the Co-Op after the admissions committee quickly rejected my application.
I started using the NeurOptimal® neurofeedback system (the Personal Trainer) about nine months ago with the hope of addressing specific emotional issues, but I’ve noticed significant improvements in cognitive performance and neural plasticity. Which brings me back to the idea of “paying attention”. My personal theory (not NeurOptimal®‘s) is that your brain is kind of like a bank. When your brain is not performing optimally, it is essentially “strapped for cash” and unable to loan out money (read: neural resources) to “pay” attention. Attention isn’t free, after all. It requires dipping into the brain’s reserves temporarily to earn “interest”, (i.e., learn), and generate further resources for neural cognition and performance.
I am well past school age, so the testing ground for focus and attention comes with work and my ability to focus on my clients. So if I expect to succeed, I better be listening!
Engaging with people on this level has never come naturally to me. Usually, when someone was talking to me, my mind would be racing with potential responses or distractions from other projects that were approaching their deadlines, etc.. With all that clutter, is it any surprise that I might miss a few key words, phrases or sentences here or there? To complicate matters further, I’m naturally introverted (INTP on the Briggs-Meyers scale of things). Personal interactions are intellectually and physically taxing for me.
But these days, I don’t feel that same level of conscious effort draining my professional or personal interactions. I don’t struggle to hold eye contact or fidget with my hands. Understand: these are bad habits I’ve had my whole life. Is it a coincidence these negative idiosyncrasies magically disappeared a few months into a regular regimen of neurofeedback brain training? I think not.
My advice: if you need to pay attention, make sure you have some neural “funds” in reserve. Neurofeedback just makes this easier and less “expensive”. At least for me and those “beans in my ears”.