Photo by Michael Reichenberg on Unsplash
We all have been there…
You forgot where you left your essentials and could not figure out where they went
You suddenly forgot what the next line for your conversation was
You walked into a room only to forget what brought you there
I have always been such a forgetful and absent-minded person, yet I have never really taken it seriously until recently…
The problem
For some part, I truly believe this is not a big deal to be concerned about.
All the symptoms of forgetfulness mentioned above have been minimized in many ways that I could think of.
However, they have never been completely resolved.
Until lately, I noticed that the frequency of traffic accidents that occurred to me is much higher than anyone else I know. 
It dawned on me after reading something called “Cognitive Tunnel” (coined by Charles Duhigg) that the reason behind this tendency is actually from subjective factors — my absentmindedness, rather than from objective reasons as I have always assumed.
Now, it truly becomes a serious problem.
I have to stop this before any more accidental scars appear on me.
The symptom
Cognitive tunnel happens when some kind of emergencies occur and your brain doesn’t know where the spotlight of focus is — so we choose the most obvious stimulus — not the best one.
“Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
Yeah, come to think of it, a lot of time while driving, I suddenly regained my awareness of my surrounding after a long period of wandering inside my head, to the degree that I could not remember how I got here and how far I had gone.
Since driving is such a boring task, I have never fully engaged and just let my subconscious mind take control.
Most of the time, when something all of a sudden happened, I didn’t know what the best move was for the given situation, I just braked quickly and as a result, I fell down.
I know you also have been there — wandering in your mind.
This is when your autopilot mode sneaks in.
Cognitive tunneling can manifest in a variety of ways, such as when you keep your eyes glued to your smartphone while a friend is talking or when your boss asks for your opinion but you cannot recall what is happening in the meeting.
Being forgetful also stems from being in the cognitive tunnel for the whole time.
In fact, we can not say we “forget” something while we have never actually remembered it in the first place.
We just do not pay attention to enough degree to be able to recall things later on.
The root causes
Cognitive Tunneling is, in part, an effort by our brains to conserve energy. It means we don’t have to constantly monitor our environment, and it helps us get ready for big cognitive tasks.
But if you let your brain overuse this function, you will have to pay with the high cost of your relationships, your quality of life, your job, or even your life.
Our attention span is guided by our intentions. We choose, in most situations, whether to focus the spotlight or let it be relaxed. But when we allow autopilot mode to pay attention for us, our brains dim that spotlight and allow it to swing wherever it wants.
“Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
The increasing frequency of cognitive tunneling is mainly because there is so much going on around you, so much information to handle, so much anxiety to deal with.
As a Buddhist principle, we all have “the monkey mind” — just imagining that each thought is a branch, and you, or your attention, is indeed a monkey, swinging from thought-branch to thought-branch all day long.
This is what happens once you enter cognitive tunneling, you move from one thought to another, completely neglect the present.
The proliferation of social networks also exacerbated this problem.
Every day, you spend hours surfing social networking sites, your brain constantly receives new information — most of which are trashy one, not so important to your life.
By reducing the time you spend on these sites, you’re saving your limited attention to focus on the things that truly matter.
Your mind should not be a storage place for thoughts and ideas; it should be a generator of high-quality thoughts and ideas.
The solution
The first thing you need to do is recognize the pattern, in which case you often fall into a cognitive-tunneling state.
As soon as you find yourself in a cognitive tunnel, cut off your thoughts, and regain your consciousness.
It may be hard at first, but through time, the whole catch-and-bring-back process will get easier with practice.
Our attention is fragile yet like a muscle, it can be strengthened to resist wandering.
By developing a habit of telling ourselves stories about what’s going on around us, we learn to sharpen where our attention goes. People who know how to manage their attention and who habitually build robust mental models tend to earn more money and get better grades.
“Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
So, how do we gain control of our attention and achieve focus?
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is probably one of the life-changing philosophy that profoundly changes my life.
In the past, no matter how hard I tried to achieve productivity, all efforts brought me nothing but stress, constantly breakdown, and mental fatigue.
Mindfulness is the answer I’ve been looking for all this time.
The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll
Some of the mindfulness training I have successfully applied are meditation in the form of yoga and bullet journaling.
While meditation cultivates your brain’s ability to focus on one single object- like one’s breath, journaling allows us to write things down, capture our thoughts, and externalize them.