“Multitasking” is a way of life for many of us today, but the term is misleading and inaccurate. We’re not really doing multiple tasks at the same time. We’re rapidly sequencing back and forth between tasks. We’re toggling between several different activities, repeatedly tuning in and out, maintaining multiple connections on a fleeting and superficial level. So when I see the term “multitasking”, I understand it as “rapid-sequencing.”
While this way of engaging with the world can be very stimulating, it also tends to be very unsatisfying. Without devoting time and focus to an activity, we create only the most shallow of roots, which cannot deliver the kind of deeply nourishing and satisfying experiences that we thrive on. And, according to Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth, multitasking can be very addictive, which takes a toll on our ability to create balanced and responsible lives.
Our bodies produce an addicting dose of dopamine, as we switch back and forth between technologies, which, according to Chapman “perpetuates the need for speed and ceaseless stimulation, making the cycle more difficult to break.”Multitasking also leads to increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which takes a toll on the memory region of the brain. “Multitasking is a brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness.”
So what can we do with all of this stressful, cortisol-creating news? Recent studies suggest that we can improve this situation, and here are a few simple steps we can begin with:
1) Take a few breaks throughout the day in which you simply let your brain rest. Don’t connect, tweet, text, or email. Don’t do anything but breathe and take in your three-dimensional environment through your senses. Allowing for some open mental space can help to settle our mental static. Start with 5 minutes several times each day. Enjoy.
2) You can also identify blocks of time (you decide how long) in which you will stay put and remain focused on one task and one task only. Devote your full attention and see what happens to your experience and your functioning. Resist the urge to switch, even for a moment, to a different activity. Just notice the tug, take a deep and mindful breath, and reconnect to the task at hand.
What is more basic to our lives than the way in which we engage with the world?
By making small and deliberate efforts, we can navigate through the complexities and temptations of our modern world with greater balance and perspective. We are all investigators in a new frontier. Let’s see what we can discover!
(Photo credit: Doug Wheller)