Your Life with a Smartphone filled with distractions. Here’s how to focus, get stuff done and stop the noise.

It feels like it’s never going to stop right? Information overload. Who isn’t bombarded with too much stimuli from the fast paced world we live in? Stop the Noise!

A friend recently tweeted this article from AFR. The article is about an individual who “liberated” himself from the noise of his distracting smartphone. His solution was to replace his smartphone with the old school Nokia phone capable of SMS and phone calls only. Maybe some WAP too 😉

nokia-phone-old-school

Is this extreme? Yeah I think so. Are there simpler methods to quieten down your world without going as extreme? Sure there are. Many actually. Let’s take a peek at each.

Your smartphone

Your smartphone is calling you for your attention every time an email arrives across all your n email accounts. From your uncle’s cat tweets to your cousin Billie posts about the latest pizza he had for breakfast. Oh let’s not forget the calendar on your phone nagging you about that meetup you have tomorrow night. Oh the distractions. They all arrive on your smartphone in the form of a buzz, vibration or light flicker. Yes you can get your phone to blink the camera light. The switch is under Accessibility settings.

Stop the Noise

Note: the following instructions are for the iPhone only. I’m sure Android has similar.

  1. Turn on DND (Do Not Disturb) by swiping your screen up and pressing the moon icon. Your phone will stop buzzing and/or vibrating. Make sure you add your favorite contacts inside your contacts app so at least they can reach you via phone.
  2. Turn off most apps Notifications. Head into your phone’s Settings > Notifications and turn them off. Be smart. And decide which of the top 5 apps you need to bug you. Every time you install an app it gives sneaks in full Notifications. Unless you are explicit when you first run the app. Most peeps press Ok hence the Notifications burden.
  3. When focusing, place the phone face down. This will stop the stream of notifications invading your lock screen from disturbing you. If something is urgent they will call you. If the person is important (favorite) contact the call will by pass DND mode.

And that’s it! Your phone is now quieter.

Get Productive!

  1. Offload all the nonsense in your head for processing later. This way you can focus on the task at hand. Use a tool like GSDfaster app which has GTD at its core of collecting stuff into a trusted source. GTD is a method that works well for me and countless others. When our short term memory contains 7+ to-dos, a FIFO (First In First Out) algorithm kicks in. You only realize this later. When that deep uncomfortable feeling creeps in. That thing you forgot pops up and you panic in a “drop everything and do this before I forget” mode. Not an effective way to function in today’s busy society. Offload everything from your head into a trusted source. Focus and get things done faster stress free.
  2. Focus on 1 thing at a time for a set period of time. The feeling of having completed something is relieving. Remember that multitasking is a misnomer. Humans have one processor with many threads spawning processes every few seconds. Hold on, that’s like a traditional computer. Yap. The way multitasking works in humans is these chunks of stuff get processed by context switching. Unlike a machines, you have limited energy. So most folks never end up completing stuff to feel that relief of achievement. Best method I’ve found to help you focus is The Pomodoro Technique. It forces you to do 1 thing in a set period of time.
  3. Unplug & Relax your body and mind with exercise, meditation and/or sensory deprivation. This is how you unplug & recharge you batteries after a long day. It also helps you learn to focus better. My favorite form is exercise and the isolation tank for sensory deprivation. Both are easy to get into and have immediate results.

Sensory Isolation Tank Pod

Finally I’m going to leave you with an important tip. Busy is just an excuse. We are all busy. We make time for things through prioritization. Next time you want to say you are busy carefully think about it for few seconds before answering. More on this in a future post.

So there you have it, some great techniques and tools to reduce the noise, stress and get more stuff done in 2016!

~ Ernest

Floatation: Sensory Deprivation for Engineers by Scientists

I have blogged about Floatation Tanks, also known as Float Tanks, Isolation Tanks, Sensory Deprivation Tank et al before here and here. To get the detail, read those 2 posts first. Alternatively here is the skinny version. Floatation in a Floatation Tank was first invented and used by John C. Lilly (scientist) in 1954 for Sensory Deprivation experiments to “switch off” our senses. The goal was so our mind free of external stimuli could light up brighter and tap into the void… temporarily. Today, such floatation tanks are used mainly for meditation, relaxation and as alternative medicine to help Athletes (by Australian Institute of Sports) with faster recovery.

Where it all began for me

My wife and I have been floating in floatation tanks since 2008. It all started back when I saw a floatation tank being used in the 1st episode of Fringe. In Fringe Dr Bishop uses his flotation tank/sensory deprivation tank (sounds more scientific) to connect Olivia and Agent Scott’s mind. That was super cool. Being a body hacker I got interested in the perceived ability and started my research into floatation tanks. I took the red pill and went down the rabbit hole. And here we are today.

Floatation Tank in Fringe - notice the Isolation Tank behind Olivia
Floatation Tank in Fringe – notice the isolation tank behind Olivia

Now, “Floating” is the term commonly used when referring to an isolation tank experience, you float. You float inside the floatation tank like a cork. The high concentrate of epsom salt creates this effect. If you have been to the Dead Sea in Jordan you will know what I mean.

Are you a Software engineer? If so, you should float!

I use the floatation tank to turn off the noise from my primary senses (visual, auditory & kinesthetic) and accelerate the transition from beta brain waves (normal state) to alpha (learning state) and ultimately theta (dream state). This is the same process as meditation, but a lot faster. Way faster. It is like forced meditation without the pains of sitting up right and trying to detune the world around you.

The goal with both meditation and floatation is to reach the theta state. This is a powerful state where you can consciously listen to your subconscious mind. Usually through a series of what appears to be auditory or visual hallucinations. Monks train years to do this through meditation while staying consciously awake. Your body does this naturally every night but you switch off, fall asleep. Recall those auditory or visual flashes you get before you off switch kicks in and you fall asleep. That’s a glimpse into theta state. In an isolation tank you are consciously awake observing your subconscious mind. Most of the time. No years of training required. For me it was 3 floatation sessions and I was hallucinating baby!

Our subconscious is a powerful supercomputer (no surprises there) which constantly gathers, calculates, builds patterns & connections faster than we can consciously observe (process). I think this is a natural safe measure so we don’t go insane. However imagine having the power to tap into this wealth of stored info. You know when you sometimes get a gut feeling? I believe that is the output from all the processing making their way to your conscious mind.  I use the floatation tank to tap into this and get my answers faster then waiting for them to bubble to the top.

The body and mind are a very busy and noisy place.

Especially if you are a software engineer you will know all about the noise and how distracting it can be to productivity. Hence why you like working nights pounding away at code, right. I know the feeling. But health wise, this is not sustainable. The answer is the floatation tank to help you calm down both mentally & physically and tap into your mind, the supercomputer.

The flotation tank immediately cuts out your auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses creating an environment similar to a womb. Allowing your mind to start exploring the inner self. Looking for answers to your questions. Tapping into the hidden recesses of the mind that are usually outside the reach of your conscious awareness.

Want answers to your software engineering challenges? don’t just sleep on it… Float!

Floating in an Isolation Tank

You may recall from my last post on how many of us get “cubed” and spiral down into learning helplessness. I needed some answers to some recent questions and thus decided to step up a notch and not only use the standard John C. Lilly isolation tank but also a Sensory Exaltation from Be and Be Well based out of Shanti & Jai’s house in Santa Cruz, California. If you went to Burning Man 2011 then you would have seen the Sensory Exaltation tank.

Floating in an Isolation Tank - The Apollo ELV Float Tank. The Best Flotation Tank I have Floated in.
Floating in an Isolation Tank – The Apollo ELV Float Tank. The Best Flotation Tank I have Floated in.

There are many scientifically proven natural ways of tapping into our brain, the super computer. Floating is the best one I have found in years of searching without going into the extreme of substance abuse. An alternative exists but you would need to spend few years with the Monks in Tibet and learn how to consciously be awake while your brain is in the Theta state. Same state that turns your conscious mind off and starts the dreaming process at night. However inside the isolation tank you are conscious when this change to Theta happens and thus get to observe interesting insights coming from your subconscious.

The 2 x Tanks at Be and Be Well

This is what you can expect from Be and Be Well down in Santa Cruz, California.

Sensory Deprivation Tank

The key to your mind. This tank is more advanced than the ones I have mentioned in my previous posts. Pictured below, the light inside can be switched on and off by pressing the black button next to it. So no need to freak out in pure darkness when the lid is closed. It also has great heating to keep a constant skin temperature as you float. You never get cold and is big enough so you do not feel claustrophobic.

Sensory Deprivation Tank @ BeAndBeWell
Sensory Deprivation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

Sensory Exaltation Tank

This is a dry tank. A pod with a sac filled with foam for comfort. You put on audio speakers to hear binaural beats and glasses with synchronized strobe lights over the eyes. This is often refered to as Photic Driving. Designer brain waves. This technique was invented in 1930s. It basically changes your brain waves to follow and pulse at the same frequency as the light strobes creating different conciousness states. Different strobes & beats affect your brain differently hence the designer brain waves analogy.

FYI, The design on the Be and Be Well Exaltation Tank (pictured below) is of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Vitruvian Man”.

Sensory Exaltation Tank @ BeAndBeWell
Sensory Exaltation Tank @ BeAndBeWell

In conclusion

  • Float tanks rock! Note to newbies; you need about 3 sessions to really get into it and learn to let go faster.
  • Forget sitting meditation. Flotation therapy is the easiest way to get a brain and body massage. Don’t forget the heath benefits from the Epsom Salt used inside the tank to make you float.
  • If you code then you must try this!

The benefits

  • Relaxation (mental & physical) from the daily stresses of running your own business or writing ton of code,
  • Learning a new skill – play audio while you float to accelerate the learning process,
  • Get answers to questions faster – you’ve heard of sleep on it right and that it works. Well this is better because your conscious and you get more answers.
  • Better understand yourself – some call it enlightenment,
  • Faster healing – used by athletes in recovery and
  • At Stanford scientifically proved by studying monks concluding that “Essentially when you spend a lot of time meditating, the brain shows a pattern of feeling safe in the world and more comfortable in approaching people and situations, and less vigilant and afraid, which is more associated with the right hemisphere,” she said.

I floated last weekend and I got what I wanted from that session. The answers to questions that were lurking inside me. The answers now sync with the gut feeling I was getting and I feel mentally at peace.

Float like I did

Get in touch with Be and Be Well down in Santa Cruz, California.

Road from Mountain View to Be and Be Well.
Road from Mountain View to Be and Be Well.

Have you floated before? Share you experiences before in the comments below.

Also don’t forget to check out my previous posts on Isolation tanks:

~ Ernest

Floatation (isolation) Tank – fringe science?

This is my personal favorite – Floatation Tank. I have been floating from early 2008 and enjoy every session. 1 hour of floating is about the average you need to get the same as 6 hours of sleep. This 1 hour passes quickly, time doesn’t exist in the tank, and when you finish your session you will feel as though you just had a brain & body massage. The feeling is amazing and lasts for most of the day.

What is an Floatation (isolation) Tank?

A floatation tank (also known as isolation tank or sensory deprivation tank) is an enclosed chamber filled with approximately ten inches of warm saturated solution of Epsom Salt. A solution so dense that even the thinnest person floats supine with the entire body at or near the surface of the water like a cork.

Isolation Tank "Classic" model with Ernest Semerda
Isolation Tank "Classic" model with Ernest Semerda

The buoyancy counteracts the effects of gravity, giving the floater a sensation of weightlessness. The chamber is pitch-black and silent. In the absence of sensory input to the logical side of the brain, the left side of the brain synchronises with the creative side (right side) and creates a free state, at peace. In this state, the brain releases vast amounts of endorphins. Most floaters report enhanced mental powers. Virtually everyone finds the experience immensely pleasant.

While the state of relaxation may be deep and profound, the individual’s brain stays dreamily alert. To get technical, the brain gradually shifts from its usual “alpha” state to generate theta waves, the state-of-mind that Buddhist monks try to reach through hours of meditation and years of training. You can achieve this in a matter of minutes just by floating! Best of all, the effects of floatation are cumulative – the more regularly you float, the better it gets.

Why float – the benefits

  • Meditation
  • Reduces stress & anxiety
  • Reduces heart rate & blood pressure
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Stimulates endorphin production (providing relief from chronic pain)
  • Stimulates Alpha & Theta brain waves (associated with creative insights and meditative states).
  • Relaxation
  • Rest and Recovery – one hour of floating is equivalent to 6 hours sleep. Great for Jet Lag recovery!
  • and in alternative medicine.

In more detail…

Promotes total calm & peaceful relaxation; eliminates fatigue and jet lagimproves sleep; alleviates stress (mental and physical); energises, rejuvenates andrevitalises.

Stimulates left/right brain synchronisation; shifts brain waves from Beta to lower frequency Alpha, Theta and even Delta; creates mental clarity, alertness;increases creativity, problem solving; heightens visualization; deepens meditation; expands awareness, intensifies acuteness of all the senses, accelerates learning.

Enhances hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis; increasesmotivation, diminishes depression, anxiety and fear; facilitates freedom from habits, phobias and addictions.

Improves athletic performance and helps prevent sports injuries, speeds healing process.

Decreases the production of Cortisol, ACTH, Lactic Acid and Adrenaline; increases production of endorphins; quickens rehabilitation and recovery; relieves pain – arthritis, migraines, injuries etc.; boosts immune function. 
Improves circulation and distribution of oxygen and nutrients; reduces blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and oxygen consumption.

The safe sensory isolated environment is naturally conducive to relaxation and peace of mind. Released to float in suspension without the body experiencing the effects of gravity and outside distractions, your entire being achieves levels of rest and higher state much deeper than you have ever previously experienced.


The man behind the magic – Dr John C. Lilly

The first floatation tank was developed in 1950 by the American neurophysiologist Professor Dr John C. Lilly while working at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Together with his associate Dr. Jay Shirley, Dr. Lilly became intrigued by the question of the origins of conscious activity within the brain. The question was whether the brain needed external stimuli to keep its conscious states active. Lilly and his associate set to work trying to devise a system that would restrict environmental stimulation as much as was practical and feasible. Lilly’s first tank was one in which the floater was suspended upright, entirely underwater, head completely covered by an underwater breathing apparatus and mask (now you know where the producers of “Altered States” got their ideas!). Over the years Lilly continued his experiments with floatation, simplifying and improving the general design of the tank. Dr. Lilly found that he could float in a more relaxing supine position, rather than suspended feet downward in fresh water, if more buoyant salt water was used. Other refinements, such as water heaters with thermostats sensitive enough to keep the water at perfect temperature, an air pump to keep the air in the tank fresh, and a water filter for the re-use of the Epsom salts, were added over the years. By the early 1970’s, Lilly had perfected the floatation tank in much the design used today.

Dr Lilly is also famous for the historical work with Dolphins which has allowed Dolphins to be treated as intelligent & protected creatures.

If you want to read more about Dr Lilly, his amazing journeys into the subconscious & work with Dolphins, check out his books:

  1. The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography
  2. Center of the Cyclone: Looking into Inner Space

Places to float / experience the magic

Here are my 2 favorite floatation centres.

Sydney, NSW, Australia: Bondi Junction Massage and Float Centre – Flotation
Level 1 Royal Arcade, 175-181 Oxford Street
Bondi Junction, NSW, Australia, 1355
Email: info@massagefloat.com.au
Website: http://massagefloat.com.au/
Phone: 93877355

Isolation Tank Sydney
Isolation Tank Sydney

San Francisco, California, USA: Atha Floatation
San Francisco, Sunset District,
California, USA
Website: http://www.athafloatation.com/

Isolation Tank "Classic" model
Isolation Tank "Classic" model San Francisco

Where else will you find flotation tanks

In the Community: The Australian Institute of Sport, Hayman Island resort, Victoria University of Technology and many more.

In the Movies: Altered States, Fringe: The Complete First Season

Hungry for more? keep reading Part 2 – Floatation (isolation) Tank – indepth and upclose.