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Book review: HVCC professor Cardillo sheds light on understanding, strengthening attention

Book review: HVCC professor Cardillo sheds light on understanding, strengthening attention

“Can I Have Your Attention?” is an informative book about the chemistry and psychology that shapes h

‘Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Concentration’

AUTHOR: Joseph Cardillo

PUBLISHED BY: Career Press, 220 pages

HOW MUCH: $14.99

MORE INFO:The author will appear at Woodland Hill Montessori School, 100 Montessori Place, North Greenbush, for a book signing and discussion of attention training on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. He will also appear for a book signing at Borders, at Crossgates on Friday at 7 p.m.

“Can I Have Your Attention?” is an informative book about the chemistry and psychology that shapes human attention.

Author Joseph Cardillo is a Capital Region resident and professor of English and creative writing at Hudson Valley Community College. He has written two books about health, mind-body spirit and the martial arts and a young adult novel.

Attention, Cardillo writes, determines “what you think, what emotions you feel and what behaviors you engage in.”

“The way you attend things,” he continues, “will either help you or hurt you with day-to-day goals” at work, at home, in marriage, with friends, as a parent or in school.

Cardillo offers an intriguing concept. For centuries, Asian spiritual movements have offered techniques, such as meditation, to cope with life.

Scientific advancement

In the last century, science has offered miracles as amazing as those offered in religion. However, it has not been until recently that science has possessed the tools and intellectual basis to explain how and why something like meditation works — and can strengthen your attention.

Brain waves generated during meditation, which are only now measurable with new technology, slow down high-speed perception and move the mind to a relaxed, alert level. In this state, it is possible to attend to perceptions and procedures that would otherwise remain unconscious. Meditation allows a person to regulate attention.

Cardillo shows how martial arts can help a person strengthen their focus. He credits martial arts with teaching him that “true speed comes from the way you mentally process information and from correct decision-making, not just the urge to do things fast.”

The book reveals the complexity and efficiency of brain chemistry and psychology. When I was taking high school biology, information on the brain was limited and it was portrayed as an opaque monolith that contained the mind.

Cardillo summarizes research about the brain’s functioning, its anatomical structure, hormones and chemicals and the workings of the mind. An important finding in “Can I Have Your Attention?” is that a person is not stuck with a fixed genetic allotment of brain power, but can train the brain to improve attention.

Some of this information has appeared in news reports, including articles in The Gazette. But Cardillo’s book is noteworthy for bringing large segments of this information together in one place.

“Can I Have Your Attention?” includes information on the concept of emotional intelligence, a means to measure a person’s entire intelligence and not just elements captured in an I.Q. test. It also examines how medication can help or hinder children and adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

A chapter with exercises to help strengthen a person’s attention span is included at the end.

Framework needed

Cardillo catalogues a flood of discoveries and insights in the science and psychology of attention. He does not do enough to give readers who are new to the subject a framework to follow and understand the many discoveries. Further, his chapters are full of small sections, each of which is understandable in itself but which are often hard to relate to the overall concept of attention.

The author offers exercises to help readers sharpen their attention. However, these appear after 171 pages of concepts. By the time I got to this section, I had trouble remembering what attention-strengthening concepts were reinforced by the exercises. If these exercises were mixed in with the concepts, the book would be more effective.

Cardillo partly overcomes this organizational challenge with his writing. At the sentence and paragraph level, he writes clearly and vividly. He is gifted at tying concepts to real- life examples. I particularly liked the way he explained how people have productive and unproductive times in the day and his advice for matching types of work to each time.

If you are interested in strengthening your attention, you will find something to help in this book. Perhaps in a future edition, Cardillo can strengthen the organization so readers get even more out of it.

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