Have you noticed your ability to concentrate is dimishing lately?
I'm an inveterate book reader. Or at least, I thought so.
One day, I started to notice all the books I bought were piling up in stacks - the bedside table. The coffee table. Beside the coffee table. But I wasn't really reading them.
I'd start and a few pages in, pick up my phone to look something up. Or, I'd get a text and then realize I'd stopped reading half an hour ago, and was down a rabbit hole of links.
What does this have to do with studying wine...
If you're in WSET Level 3 or the WSET Diploma, then you've probably got a copy of the Oxford Companion to Wine. A key resource for us wine students, but not exactly a thrilling read.
If I could barely make it through a long form article, what hope was there for memorizing the information needed to study for tough wine exams? Or to be able to focus in an exam?
Our ability to concentrate & notifications
I've been driving back and forth between Vancouver and our vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, four hours each way, regularly for the last two years. Recently, I've become a huge fan of audiobooks. I'd download a couple to listen to during the drive. One that captured my attention is Bored and Brilliant - How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, the story of how a podcast became a movement for thousands of people to examine their relationship with technology, and regain productivity and creativity.
I recommend this to students of wine who have a few hours to spare. The audiobook medium is helpful, especially if fitting in more reading has become a challenge.
Here are the top lessons from the book, and how I incorporated them into my life:
#1 Turn off all non-essential notifications
This includes: text messages, WhatsApp messages, Instagram notifications, email notifications etc. If there's an emergency, family can still reach me by calling.
The book explains how these notifications were developed by experts in human psychology to create a dopamine response. Effectively, they are engineered to capture our attention and reward us for noticing them.
Within a week of turning them off, I had a much greater ability to focus on the present. Time spent on tasks became more absorbing. I think these notifications were the major contributor to a dampened ability to focus.
#2 Limit time on social media (sorry, Mark Z)
I'm not a prolific social media user, but definitely like to check in on IG, FB, and Twitter. However, the book delved into the negative effect these platforms can have on us with too much time invested. I now limit myself to 15 minutes a day on these platforms.
Effect: less time scrolling, more time reading, creating, and enjoying real life.
#3 Have a phone free space
In the book, the author describes a woman who takes daily walks without her phone, and the feelings of boredom she encounters. Then the boredom starts to transform into curiosity, observations, and ruminating about challenges and solutions in her head.
The advice I took is having technology free spaces. The dining table is a phone/laptop free zone. Restaurants too. Sometimes, it's fun to go out and leave the phone at home. One last rule for myself: no using the phone while walking.
I'm making headway on the piles of books, and can focus more effectively for much longer. Keeping phone free spaces means less distractions and more quality time. This is not a skill, but a practice that resulted in enjoying life more, and yielded concrete results in wine studies and while blind tasting.
So, with these regained skills, I'm off to savour a glass of wine with a pleasant meal, and later on, read the OCW entry on Prädikatswein.
Cheers & Cin Cin,