Neural misfires: not just for seniors anymore

This is embarrassing, but since when has that stopped me?

After I got back from my workout this morning, I made the coffee and sat down to watch the Today Show (I'm sorry, CBS!) while it was brewing. I started feeling hungry, so I went into the kitchen to get myself some cereal. I poured the milk into the cereal and put it down on the counter, turning back to the cabinet to get a mug for my coffee.

Only I didn't grab a mug. I grabbed a bowl, and actually started pouring coffee into it before it hit me something was not right.

Not to scare you young ones or anything, but the older you get the more great senior moment stories you have to tell. Part of it's not paying attention to what you're doing. Another problem is having too much on your mind. If you're like me and don't sleep nearly enough, it makes everything that much worse. 

All of this makes for an excellent segue into a short book review I was working on the other day. I think I smell serendipity. Either that, or the dog just let another one.

Mistakes Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan

As has become tradition, I took myself out to Barnes & Noble to buy my own birthday present. Until a year or two ago I wouldn't have even considered getting myself a nonfiction book. I don't know if it has to do with falling headlong into my 40s or what, but my opinion of the genre has really shot up.

Hallinan's book was on a table featuring some of the new nonfiction books. For whatever reason it caught my eye. It may have been the bright orange color, or the fact it bugged me seeing the dustjacket was crooked (Little did I realize, that was intentional. Duh.). I was just drawn to it, like a teenager to the Jonas Brothers.

It passed the book blurb test, then the official reading of the first few – as well as some random - pages. At that point it was SO mine.

The book's a fast read, but that's not the same thing as being light on content. I'd classify it as not too light, not too heavy. Nothing dry or boring about this book. I found it so fascinating I quoted a lot of it to my family, so much I thought they'd grab the book from my hands and hit me over the head with it. But as it turns out, my oldest child considered reading it for her literature course – which requires she read a couple nonfiction books over the term. Too bad it was under the 300 page requirement, or I know she would have snarfed my copy.

The reasons we make mistakes, according to Hallinan's research, are various. I won't go into all of them here (read the book!), but I anticipated one I'm guilty of: multitasking. I didn't realize the word was created to be used in the context of a computer working on two applications at the same time. That makes sense, and for a computer that's not a problem. But, as it turns out, when we multitask we get the false impression we're getting twice the amount of work done, using our time more efficiently. Not so, says Hallinan. We're actually getting much less work done – and work of less quality - than if we'd separated the tasks.

Our brains aren't capable of giving full attention to multiple things at the same time; quality suffers when we try to cram too much into too short a time span. Likewise, safety becomes an issue when we take multitasking out of the work world and apply it to the streets. Any idea how much your chances of having an accident go up if you look away from the road for just a couple of seconds? You'd be surprised. Do you know how many plane crashes could have been averted had the pilot not turned his attention away from the fact he's flying? Sound improbable? Not at all.

I love books exploring the territory of how the brain works, and what truths we hold that are false – sometimes dangerously so. Hallinan's book is written for the layman, unlike a lot of other books on the subject I've tried – and failed – to read. His statistics are sometimes scary, but learning our mental limitations, and how misguided we really are, is fascinating. 

I'd definitely recommend this one to trivia buffs, as well as people like me who are interested in the inner workings of the brain but not up for all that boring, incomprehensible medical jargon.

I'm glad I picked this one up for me. I'll have to write myself a thank you card, and maybe send myself some flowers. I never fail to impress myself with my thoughtfulness.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767928059
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