Addicted to plasticity

After trying background sound to improve my concentration at a time when events around me militate against it, I've added brain plasticity to the mix. I don't mean the brain-training stuff beloved of the Daily Mail – I'm giving Lumosity a trial run. In brief, it's a collection of quick games for phone, tablet, or desktop tailored to the aspect of your cognitive ability that you want to improve. You're supposed to do a few minutes a day, and the theory is that you gradually rewire your brain.

I like that because it's proven science. And as it doesn't involve scalpels, electrodes, or expensive mind-bending substances, I'm in.

It all started well, and I was directed towards the appropriate exercises for improving the ability to ignore interruptions. Then, unfortunately, my obsessive game-playing side kicked in almost immediately. Few minutes a day, my arse.

The programme gives you your scores so you can see how you're doing, and after three games it tells you that you're done for the day and it'll see you tomorrow. But it also allows you to carry on if you want to, and, naturally, I want to. Oh boy do I want to. It's a real struggle to put it down. I remember having to avoid the Eyezmaze games (Grow Island etc) because I couldn't leave them alone. What I really need is to channel that completely-blinkered-must-keep-doing-this mode from doing the training games into doing the work I need help to focus on.

Now you understand why I'm not a gamer per se. If I dropped my guard, I'd end up doing nothing else. I don't quite get it because I'm definitely a novelty junkie – complete task, move on, find something new – but there's a bit of my brain that leads me to happily play a game until I drop, even if it's repetitive, and also eat the same thing every day.

Speaking of which, it's salmon and Puy lentil time.

Background noise

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I last blogged. Sorry. Basically, real life gets in the way sometimes, and while I used to be able to sideline it and get on with the job, there comes a point where it isn't feasible and you have to tackle problems because there's nobody else to do it.

As a consequence I'm way behind on Black Run, and not so much because of the hours required to deal with the domestic issues but because of the way they rob me of concentration. When I write, I immerse, or else I can't get into characters' heads. You know all about that if you're a regular reader. An interruption – be it external, like a phone call, or an internal interruption like a nagging worry – throws me off for hours, and it's increasingly hard to get back into the zone every time. Writing a book is a very unnatural thing to do, so when my monkey-brain gets into the habit of waiting for the next real crisis to sort out, it's going to do the sensible thing and prioritise anything that might be Real Shit above Make-Believe every time, and the distractions it takes to make it do that can be incredibly trivial in the scheme of things.

So I've tried to reset my unjustifiably distractible primitive brain with various techniques. In the past, I'd filter out street noise by having the 24-hour news channels on. It was my newsroom atmos track, more like the kind of background chatter I was used to in an open-plan office, and there was a time when it enabled me to zone out better than silence. Now it doesn't. I might not be listening consciously, but my brain is probably still processing the content, and it seems to aggravate rather than neutralise. I can't tell if that's because my brain is already looking for trouble and can't ignore it, or if it's because the news has become such a vile blend of vacuous pundits and corrupt, lying scum recently that I'm drinking in the toxic content subconsciously and getting ready to erupt.

Anyway, today the TV backdrop was turned off for the first time in years. I've plugged myself into a specially designed soundtrack of orchestral music (lyrics are a no-no) that might as well be atmos. (One of the tracks you can choose is, in fact, the ambient noise from a cafe.) So far, it hasn't transformed me back to my old self, when I managed to write with workmen sawing and hammering in the same room, but I can sustain concentration a little longer than before. I have no recollection of the music itself and I don't pause to listen to certain parts of it. That might sound like a terrible and dismissive thing to a musician, but I'm coming to understand that music you don't notice is as valuable as pieces that stop you in your tracks and move you to tears.

We shall see. I'll give it a month and see if things improve.