How Alexander Graham Bell conquered his attention deficit disorder

Why do teams win more games at home?

Did you know that in basketball, the teams win 63% of the time during games played in their home court? In cricket, teams playing in their home country win 55% of the time. Baseball has similar figures too.

In football, teams score 37% more goals when playing at home. And in fact, weaker teams have won the entire world cup because it was hosted in their home country! The home field advantage is real. But why?

Because familiar surroundings elevate your game! We have a limited capacity to pay attention. And so, in familiar surroundings, your brain can focus better. Distractions are fewer. Knowing the surroundings, you can predict the situations better too. You can predict how the pitch will behave, and how the wind affects gameplay. And your brain is much faster at processing the game.

It’s not merely attention that is improved in familiar surroundings however.

Familiarity and memory

In 1975, D.R. Godden and his colleagues from the University of Sterling conducted an experiment. Deep sea divers were divided into two groups. Each group was presented with 36 random words that they had to memorize. But half the group were shown the words on land. The other half were shown the words 15 feet underwater!

Both the groups were then asked to recall the random memorized words on land as well as underwater. The folks who had memorized the words on land had a higher recall ratio on land than underwater. And the folks who had memorized the words underwater had a higher recall ration underwater than on land!

The doorway effect is real. People forget things as soon as they cross over to another room. Have you ever noticed that by the time you reach and open the fridge door, you’ve forgotten what you wanted to get from it? Or that you pick up the phone to do a particular task but by the time you unlock it, you’re completely immersed on a social media app and forget all about your task?

Time has less impact on attention and memory than does context. Context and surroundings dictate how our brain functions. 

The concept of cognitive fluency

  • Our attention span is better in familiar situations. 
  • And so is our memory. 
  • Our overall cognitive process itself improves. 

And that’s because of this phenomenon called “cognitive fluency.”

Any situation that requires brain processing and weighing of information to make decisions is affected by cognitive fluency. And as you might have guessed, cognitive fluency has two parts. 

  1. Perceptual fluency has to do with processing stimuli. 
  2. And retrieval fluency has to deal with retrieving things from our memory. 

When both work faster, we perform much better at tasks. We are more creative. More productive. More accurate. We become superheroes. 

You can improve your cognitive fluency with meditation and therapy. Or with drugs. But also with an easier idea: work in familiar surroundings.

Alexander Graham Bell hacks his productivity and performance

Alexander Graham Bell – the famous inventor who holds the patents to the first telephone – was famous for having attention deficit disorder before the term was even invented. He was scatterbrained. Jumped from idea to idea. And had difficulty seeing things through. Until he hacked his working style.

Bell assigned dedicated rooms for each task. He could work on his correspondence only in his study. He could work on his engineering project only in the lab. To work on genetics, he would go to his house boat. To do abstract thinking, he would go to a small hut in his son-in-law’s backyard. Each type of work had its own independent location. And that’s how he became prolific and focused to get things done.

Because the familiar surroundings of each place immediately immersed his mood in the task to be done. Familiar surroundings improved his cognitive fluency: his attention as well as his memory. Familiar surroundings created a safe space for that particular task. And that’s what enabled Bell to innovate so prolifically and change the fields of telecommunications, metallurgy, aeronautics, and hydro vehicles.

Action Summary:

  • Familiarity helps your brain move more fluently. You can improve your creativity and productivity by working in familiar environments.
  • Create a different setting for each different task you have. Work in a different room if possible, or sit on a different chair and listen to a different kind of music for each unique work task.