My modern mind at work
As I write in this moment, my focus is on the way are brains work efficiently, but I am certainly not modeling it for you.
I am multitasking, the buzz word of business for a decade now. And, I think I am proficient. I'm sitting in my comfy, black leather office chair, eyes watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" on Netflix on my iPad, hands typing at the Macbook Pro, ears listening to a Ted Talk playing into earphones from my iPhone. Kids are readying for school in the hall outside my office, four of them, and mom is yelling ... I mean raising her voice.
Moments when I sit in quiet thought have become quite rare, and with four cute children, a lovely wife, teaching, reading, and writing, I see less mindfulness in my future. Mindfulness refers to extended periods of calm reflection on a single item, the present moment, and multitasking is the exact opposite.
Myth of multitasking
Recent psychology and neuroscience debunk the years of training in multitasking, reinforcing the human need for mindfulness throughout the day. Many psychology and neuroscience scholars suggest that working on one task easily trumps multitasking. We accomplish less when managing multiple jobs, and yet hold tight to the belief that we are doing more.The scientific support for uni- or mono-tasking made news recently, buried in the opinion section.
On a recent Sunday, The New York Times ran the opinion piece "The Power of Concentration" by Maria Konnikova, where she explores the science which is calling for a change in the way we work each day. She claims, and research supports, that we are doing damage to our efficient, one-track minds.
Konnikova invokes the image of Sherlock Holmes when he receives a new case, remaining in his comfy chair, pipe smoke billowing, silently reviewing the details. Holmes is mindful, in the present moment, as he ponders the one task at hand, and we see the benefits of this meditation when he solves the case.
Neuroscience and Mindfulness
Konnikova suggests that we should emulate Holmes' approach, working at one task and allowing ourselves moments of mindfulness. She states that Holmes' regulates his emotional wellbeing and that:
His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness. ... But mindfulness goes beyond improving emotion regulation. An exercise in mindfulness can also help with that plague of modern existence: multitasking.
Of course, we would like to believe that our attention is infinite, but it isn’t. Multitasking is a persistent myth.Two neuroscientific truths should give us hope. Konnikova reviews several studies in the past two years that illustrate neurons in our brains functioning:
- Neurons, neural pathways, and brains possess plasticity.
- Mindfulness and single-mindedness alter our brains in positive ways.
The first point refutes the centuries old belief that our minds are frozen after the age of 21, unable to change, adapt, or grow. Neuroscientists found instead that our minds are plastic throughout our lives, meaning that they continually adapt and reprogram. So, at your age, you can still change your brain.
The second point reveals the power of quiet moments and reflection during the busy day, while illustratin that multitasking fails. Neuroscientists offer scientific evidence that our brains function more efficiently on single, relatively quick tasks, and the structure of neural pathways adapts if we change our habits. Quiet moments of mindfulness reinforce these altered neural pathways.
Hope for the future of your mind
In this time of reflection on the past and anticipation of the future, bear in mind that regardless of your age, your brain can change grow and adapt, and resolutions that might seem beyond your reach are actually attainable. However, the trick is not simply doing more. The real secret lies in doing one thing well at a time.
I am not discouraged with the news that I have worked inefficiently for many years because neuroscience provides new hope, and my brain is not permanently damaged. I can exercise my mind to reshape it, and so can you!