This article on focusing the distracted mind popped up on my LinkedIn feed and it caught my interest. According to their research, Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen say, the ability to focus consists of two distinct processes: enhancement and suppression. Enhancement means focusing on the things that matter, and suppression is blocking out the things that don't. As we age (and this begins at about age 20), our ability to focus starts to weaken, specifically because of a deficit in the suppression function.
The attentional decline we experience as we age has more to do with our inability to filter out distractions, not our lack of concentration. If you think it’s hard to pay attention now, just wait until you age a few more years.
As it happened, the latest issue of the Lubavitch International monthly arrived the other day, and in it I discovered Shmuel Loebenstein's article on itkafya. Itkafya is a Talmudic word without a counterpart in Biblical Hebrew; it's related to a number of words meaning "to seize, overpower" (Jastrow, p. 1693) and the word itself means "suppression" or self-control. Loebenstein cites a study that showed multiple benefits when children were asked to delay gratification (eating a marshmallow) by exercising self-control.
... what better Aramaic word is there than iskafya (“itkafya” in Sephardic pronunciation), a word beloved of the kabbalistic ancients and equally embraced by Chasidic moderns. ...
When Chasidic philosophy lauds iskafya, the suppression of the animalistic instinct in ourselves, it is not talking about afflicting ourselves. It is about self-restraint, the battle between the ego and the id, the mastery of our character over our urges and instincts. You want to practice iskafya? Try not talking gossip for a day. Try befriending a person whom you dislike.
I've been struggling with mood issues lately, so this information is a good reminder of both the challenge and the potential in choosing what kinds of thoughts I dwell on, and which ones to let go.