Lifestyle · Psychology

Focus: The Antidote to Multitasking

distract-drivingHow long can you go without checking your smart phone? Two minutes? Maybe five tops?

I’m amazed I can even focus long enough to dress myself in the morning, let alone function throughout the day given the number of distractions that occur.

Research points to the detrimental effects of multitasking–your IQ can decrease 10 points when you’re distracted by an incoming call or email. What’s worse, most of us lose more than two hours a day due to distractions and let’s not forget that driving while using your phone is like having a blood alcohol level of .08%. (Typically two drinks.)

By focusing for a few seconds on one thing and moving to the next, our fight or flight instincts kick in and we’re essentially operating for our entire day on adrenaline and dopamine.

This, in turn, increases hormone levels, decreases our ability to process fat, and adds to our risk for heart disease, stroke, or other stress-related illnesses.

The world isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Take one of my new favorite social media sites Vine (which you can see in the clip above) which lets you film a six-second looping video clip. If You Tube videos are too long, this six-second increment is perfect. Look! I can speed my entire morning practice up into a short six seconds. It’s really quite addicting.

Because my job requires me to use social media daily, these distractions aren’t going away for me anytime soon. Between six-second videos, tweets, email, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and multi-tasking among these sites, how often do we stop the brain’s churning to really focus on one thing?

Focus on ONE thing? At a time? For real?

Yes! At the opposite end of the attention-deficit spectrum is meditation. To meditate is to simply focus attention on a single object or thought for a period of time. As your mind gets distracted, you gently bring it back to the object of focus. It’s often said that this process is a lot like training a puppy.

When I learned meditation 10 years ago, I was amazed at how calm and clear I felt with a daily 20-minute practice. An actual biochemical change came about leaving me more patient, more focused (which has been a life-long challenge for me), and left nearly all symptoms of depression behind.

It’s not just in my head. The research on meditation shows that it helps with post-traumatic stress disorder, blood pressure, weight management, and a number of chronic health issues.

Meditation is the ultimate form of connection, but not with a smart phone or social media, but with yourself. Even MIT says so.

“These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.” (Read more in MIT news.)

Our brains and our health depend on having time to focus. Perhaps we’ll become a world of multitasking meditators, brushing off the days’ tasks with a good sit.

What do you think? (Now, put down your smart phone, get off the computer, and go meditate.)

Photo credit: OrgeonDOT.

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