What is actually happening when we multitask? It turns out we are rapidly shifting our focus from one thing to another. The downside is that every time we flip the switch, the brain uses more fuel to recalibrate - the same fuel we need for focus and attention.
Our nervous systems are being taxed to the max in this Age of Information. Omnipresent technology encourages multitasking, and our brains have an upper limit on how much is processed at once.
No matter what we are doing, the brain has a consistent amount of energy available (about 20% of our total metabolic energy, in the form of glucose and oxygen). When we focus on one thing intensely, there’s a trade-off; we divert energy from other parts of our brain. So what are the benefits of sustained attention?
The biological cost of multitasking is that we wear down the brain's executive capacity, slowing productivity by as much as 40%! Complex mental tasks can also be emotionally challenging. This affects our immune systems too, as the sympathetic nervous system is activated. We end up feeling more tired more quickly, becoming stressed and exhausted over life’s daily demands.
We can’t change the world and go back to a gentler, simpler existence. So what can we do to alleviate this overload and support a healthy nervous system? How can we create a more wholesome experience of life, every day and in the long run?
Of course adequate sleep, a good diet and exercise all help. In terms of work habits, start with 25 minutes on a focused task and stay with it for up to 2 hrs. Take non-productive breaks every few hrs - not online, flitting from one thing to the next, which just creates more fractured attention and energy expenditure. Pace yourself. Subscribe to the mantra "good enough".
Note that watching TV or other media does NOT give your nervous system a break (but it is a time-out from thinking about anything else!) End that viewing well before bedtime; even though it seems like a passive activity, it’s actually very stimulating.
The ultimate antidote to all this is meditation, mindfulness and the state of Being. With an over-emphasis on Doing, we have a Being deficit. The first exercise I teach all my students is the Hara Line, a reference point for Being; it's a fast reset. Being is the main state we are in as we do healing work. In this way it benefits the healer as much as the client! I look forward to sessions with clients, as it takes me out of the normal drumbeat of my to-do list.
In writing about the Schumann Resonance recently I noted that nature, and especially trees, align us with slower brain wave states like alpha and theta. These are the same states that we access when doing healing work. They are also the perfect antidote to living a healthier, more satisfying and less stressful life.
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Peace, love and healing -