I figured this out while doing my twice-daily Achilles tendon and elbow PT exercises. Unable to give my mind completely over to counting 270 assorted reps, twice a day, for 12 weeks, I started experimenting. This is what I came up with.
So here’s the trick: Use different parts of your brain for different tasks. Rather than counting in the usual way, I activated my visual cortex and envisioned a ghostly digital counter superimposed over my field of view. I found that, with only a few minutes of practice, I could “watch” the counter click up while reciting Bayard Taylor’s famous poem Daughter of Egypt.
After just one week, now I find that I can carry on a conversation with my wife and not lose track of the count. Yesterday however, I did in fact fail to keep the count while my friend Charles was delivering vicious kicks to the thai pads I was holding. No doubt this is because I was watching the kicks — that is, trying to do double duty with my visual cortex.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the very definition of genius was being able to pursue two trains of thought at the same time. Is this how how it’s done? I feel as though I’ve arrived at Grand Central. Haven’t caught the train yet, but I’m looking at the schedule.
On a somewhat related subject, here is a Ted Talk I discovered the other day in which Apollo Robbins illustrates the epic frailty of human attention. I got two out of three of his initial questions correct. See how many you can get right.