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The Storytelling Animal

The Storytelling Animal
Answer
1/28/14 9:15 PM
The Storytelling Animal

What is distinctive about the way Sherlock Holmes thinks, and why should we want to emulate him?

Sherlock Holmes’s thinking is characterized, most of all, by its mindfulness. Holmes always uses his attentional capabilities to their fullest. The approach is summed up well by his early exchange with Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” when Watson is clueless about the number of steps that lead up to 221B Baker Street, even though he walks up and down them every day, multiple times. “You have not observed. And yet you have seen,” Holmes reprimands him. What Watson must learn to do instead is to both see and observe. Not only will that make him more aware of the present moment, but it will help improve his focus, his creative ability, even his emotional well being. That’s the thing about mindfulness: it is a very small change, but its repercussions are vast. We are only now learning just how greatly a mindful approach can influence our brain in a positive direction. Mindfulness breeds concentration, creativity, and happiness. And that’s just for a start.


What is one thing readers of this blog could do — today — to use the lessons of Sherlock Holmes in order to master their own minds?

If I had to sum everything up in one short phrase, it would be this: re-learn how to unitask. Take a few minutes every day to focus on one thing, and one thing only. We’ve forgotten how to be alone with our thoughts, how to concentrate intently and ignore any pulls on our attention. Just like anything, attention must be trained. The more we engage in multitasking—a misnomer, since we’re actually rapidly switching attention between tasks—the worse we become at being able to concentrate. And that comes with all sorts of negative consequences; we even become worse at the very thing we should be better at, switching between tasks. (There’s a great study on this in last year’s PNAS.) As I write in my book, the most powerful mind is the quiet mind. We need to learn to recapture that mental presence.


Nice little reminder to keep developing concentration.