Don’t forget to purge your inner world, put an end to multitasking and liberate your mindset.
Just as we tend to accumulate material things, our minds also get cluttered and overwhelmed with thoughts and ideas — some not even our own — as well as nagging reminders of the tasks, responsibilities, goals and dreams we have yet to achieve. Instead of addressing everything separately, we tend to numb ourselves in distraction, using apps on our phones, or we attempt the “do-it all routine” as a way to multitask the multitude of things that come at us. All the while, we’re hoping to assemble the pieces of our life together and maintain our sanity.
Yet, it doesn’t ever work out. We know deep down that we’re never going to get it all done. The list will continue to grow, and as we complete one goal, a new dream will come up. We also know that we’re fooling ourselves, because that new app aimed at helping us multitask just becomes another distraction reinforcing our addiction to technology. It’s a vicious cycle.
Falling victim to multitasking
It’s not entirely our fault. According to researchers at MIT, our brains were not designed to manage the Information Age as we know it. And while we adapt, there is new research in the fields of neuroscience and productivity that reveals we are not wired to multitask: it’s an illusion. We’re simply quickly switching from one task to another, and quickly becoming inefficient along the way.
What’s more, research also shows that a multitasking habit also tends to increase the physiology of chronic stress. As we multitask, a rush of human cortisol is released into our system, triggering a fight-or-flight reaction that makes us less focused. Instead of turning the phone off after checking our to-do app, we end up scrolling Facebook and email. Suddenly, we’re not only way off task, but also feeling like our brain’s an overstuffed closet.
Too many windows
When a computer has too many application windows open, it can slow down or crash. Something similar happens to our minds. Russ Poldrack, a neuroscientist at Stanford, says that multitasking serves us very poorly because information is stored in the wrong part of the brain instead of the hippocampus, where it is most useful. Even worse, Glenn Wilson’s research on cognitive performance at London’s Gresham College shows that our IQ drops as much as 10 points when we multitask.
Nutritionally, we pay a metabolic cost when multitasking. When the brain shifts attention from one activity to another, it causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to deplete oxygenated glucose, which is the exact fuel required to focus. As a result, we feel burned out and disoriented, and we seek to refuel the brain with our other favorite addictions – caffeine or sugar, or both.
Three tips to prioritize your mindset
A spring cleaning of that mental closet can bring fresh perspective and inspiration. It takes a little strategy and techniques backed by science, but it’s possible to renew our focus and free our minds to perform as designed. Here are three simple shifts in mindset to end multitasking.
Clear the decks, eat the frog, and fill the anti-bucket list: Acknowledge everything that’s competing for your attention as if you were walking into a roomful of people vying for it. Make a running list (on paper or digitally) of things that need your attention, in order to get them out of your subconscious. Then put that list away.
Next, figure out what productivity expert Brian Tracy calls the “Biggest Frog” – the most pressing thing to tackle. He advises, “eat it first thing in the morning, right away.” It’s liberating to handle the most critical thing on your plate first, and has the added benefit of boosting your sense of self-efficacy – your ability to get things done. That’s pretty energizing, as well.
Next, take a page from Arianna Huffington and figure out your a-priorities, or the anti-bucket list. These are the things that, when you’re brutally honest, you don’t need on your to-do list today, like learning to knit or ski. Cross them off, and give yourself permission to decide that you will not do them now, or ever. You can always add those things back, later.
Think bigger thoughts: If you find yourself multitasking or procrastinating, you might need a bigger dream. We actually get to decide where we put our attention and energy. It may seem counterintuitive, but a challenge that requires all of you compels passion and leaves no room for distraction. Have you ever noticed how the most inspiring people are also the most disciplined, driven and focused? They choose to dwell on things that are so big that they create a dynamic energy that compels action.
Play the triangle: According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of the “Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Biology,” the key to well-being in the mind is to play the triangle. Not the musical instrument, but a triangle of well-being that connects our mind, our brain and our relationships. When in tune, we are inspired and engaged in our lives – and able to meet and engage in resonance with others. Dr. Siegel refers to the right mindsight, the ability to be self-aware and to listen and process what is happening inside your body and your mind. It also means you can discern and have empathy for those around you, which is a critical aspect of health and happiness.
Like playing an instrument, getting good at the triangle requires practice. But as we better understand how our daily interactions matter and our neural circuits change with practice, we can start to reshape ourselves and our lives.