In our fast paced, impatient world we worship at the throne of multi-tasking and delude ourselves into thinking that we are making great progress because we are doing so much at one time. But according to psychologists, neuroscientists and management professors, our brains function better when we stay focused upon one thing at a time.
Dr. David Mayer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan says, multi-tasking slows us down and greatly increases our chances of making mistakes. Since we have learned to place so much emphasis upon multi-tasking we have developed some new ways to describe the behaviors associated with it.
One of them is something called Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). This is a way to describe a person who continues to e-mail, text message and blog while trying to carry on a conversation with someone. Another is Surfer’s voice which is tallking or listening to someone on the phone while surfing the Internet, reading e-mail, sending instant messages or texting.
The effort to be present to more than one thing makes us absent most of the time. We all know more about the pitfalls of multi-tasking than we probably wish that we knew. Our culture supports the notion that there is not enough time for everything, so we have to do the best we can to make the day more productive.
As I have said several times before, we need to return to true listening. We need to listen to our own hearts and that will help us to create the space to listen to the hearts of others.
There is a wonderful story told by Dr. C.G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, about his travels in Kenya, East Africa. He had hired a group of native Kenyans to be his guides and helpers while on his visit. They traveled for several days without stopping and were intent on keeping that pace for the remainder of the trek through the African forest. Since the guides and helpers could see that no plan for rest was set for the near future, they staged a small rebellion. They simply sat down on the ground and refused to get up and start again. When asked what was wrong, they answered, “We have been going so fast until we need to stop and let our souls catch up with us.”
It takes a wise person to realize when there has been a break in the harmony of the energy between the mind and body and spirit. Since this imbalance is usually not as easy to name as other ailments, it often gets called by many other titles. This separation is the source of many modern day maladies. The effort to restore the needed harmony is more often resisted than embraced because of our focus upon productitivy and our attitude about time and how to use it.
There is a great irony about where we find ourselves these days. We microwave our food so we can save time, we have prepackaged so many things including our food and we are constantly being sold the idea that if we get a few more gadgets we can make the day longer and get more done. But all of the gadgets and the efforts to multi-task have not served to invent the quality of life that many are seeking to create.
While there are many in our communities who know how to listen and who seek to learn more about the relationship between the quality of life and living with focus, we continue to experience too much absence while being present. If we think about it critically, we will realize the impact of having a divided mind. But we can focus and become more intentional, and when we do, our lives will be more empowered and we will be much more peaceful.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.