“Fucking two things up at the same time isn’t multitasking”
Multitasking in the 21st century
With the arrival of the 21st century multitasking became more prevalent than ever. Technologies that allow us to stay connected, access the world news, and watch cat videos on YouTube always reside within our pockets. We are always able to multitask which distracts us from true focus.
In the time of the tribe multitasking was rare and focus was common practice. When a tribesman was hunting his attention was on the mission. He wasn’t calling his squeeze back at camp “Hey baby guess what I’m bringing home for tea tonight?” No he was focussed on the task at hand.
Today we are living in the age of information overload where we have access to everything instantly and wherever we go or whatever we do the opportunity to multitask rears its ugly head.
People go on dates but spend more time on their phone than they do talking to the person they are with. We try to complete important projects while simultaneously checking email and social network.
People who are great “multitaskers” are even envied in today’s society. It makes us feel productive and makes us feel like we are accomplishing lots of things at the same time. The truth is we have been led into a false sense of reality.
Multitasking effectively is a myth
The Human brain is unable to effectively multitask. You’re probably thinking but I can pat my head and rub my belly at the same time. Congratulations Bobby Boucher! I’m not talking about simple tasks which we are able to train our brains to accomplish. I’m talking about complex task that demand our attention.
If you’re working on a project or attempting a new complex movement pattern, anything that requires a reasonable amount of cognitive ability becomes comprised if we try to complete it whilst our attention is divided between another activity (or two).
You may be able cook your food, take a phone call, and listen to your favourite rock band and think I’m a greater multitasker. However, it is likely the food tasted bad/burned, the person you were talking to didn’t enjoy the conversation, and you missed half of the song. Even if you can do all these things at the same time you are draining your brain of energy. I’m not saying this neuroscience is saying this!
The human brain is unable to effectively multitask. What actually happens is the brain rapidly switches back and forth between the separate tasks. This uses up a lot of energy and actually makes us less productive. If we do this over long periods the brain becomes fatigued, and whatever we are trying to accomplish becomes a watered down version of what it could have been.
Distractions and multitasking are best friends
We have established multitasking prevents us from being completely present and truly focussed on what we are doing in the moment. We want to allow ourselves to become fully absorbed in whatever we are doing but we are continuously bombarded with distractions that encourage us to multitask.
How can we prevent this? There are two types of distractions: external and internal, which translates to distractions than come from our environment and distractions that come in the forms of thoughts. Both of these types of distractions can feed off each other.
Have you ever being trying to do something and you get a text (external distraction) so you stop whatever you are doing to answer it? Or perhaps a voice in your head tells “check your phone, send a text” (internal distraction) so you drop what you are doing and give yourself the instant gratification?
Every time we give into these distractions our brains release a little dopamine to reward us. We may not have completed our big task, but we are completing some small tasks so we get a shot of the happy hormone. This creates a positive feedback loop which encourages us to keep multitasking. In reality this is a feedback loop from hell.
These are just a couple of examples of distractions that encourage multitasking, but in today’s world the distractions can be endless. We need try to minimise the amount distractions that pull us away from what we want to be doing. We all know what they are whether internal or external.
Developing a Zen-like focus
Something the tribesman and the Zen monk both have in common is they focus completely on whatever they are doing in the moment. This is usually only one thing at a time! When walking they walk, when eating they eat.
If we are successful in eliminating the things that distract us and encourage us to multitask we should also be able to develop a Zen-like focus and become completely absorbed in whatever we are doing.
For me when I head out into nature I don’t take my phone with me. Nature is my place to escape and be wild. I don’t want any distractions. If the idea of not having your phone with you freaks you out in case there is an emergency you could always try leaving it in the bottom of your bag.
If we learn to practice doing one thing at a time we can truly experience whatever it is we are doing, and not simply be half-present. This is a lot easier said than done, but I have been trying to put it into practice, sometimes more successfully than others 😉 Breathing to centre the mind definitely helps with this.
There’s and old saying wherever you go there you are! If you are in a class actually be in the class. If you are socializing with friends, be there! (not with your virtual friends). If you are working on something, do that and don’t allow your attention to be scattered over multiple activities.
The more we learn to focus on doing one thing at a time the more enjoyable the experience becomes. Better to do one thing well than several things poorly!