Do you have divided attention?
Are you always multitasking?
These are highly ineffective ways of focusing the mind.
There are three focusing techniques that are much more effective.
- Focused attention
- Open monitoring
- Effortless presence
These three techniques make us so much more effective it’s unbelievable.
I personally used to multitask all the time. I would be at work and while I was on the phone I would be reading a book and eating at the same time.
That’s the very definition of mindlessness. And there are lots of negative effects of multitasking on the brain, which we’ll look at in a sec.
But first, let’s look at what divided attention / multitasking is.
What is Divided Attention / Multitasking?
We are going to look at the problems of multitasking in just a sec. But first let’s give a definition of multitasking so we’re all on the same page.
A definition of Multitasking
Multitasking / divided attention is when we are focusing on several things at the same time.
Examples of multitasking:
- Being on the phone while driving
- Watching TV while working out
- Using the internet while at work
- Eating while watching TV
It’s a common misconception that multitasking activities makes us more efficient because we get things done quicker.
There’s just one problem:
Multitasking is actually impossible.
It’s been proven that we cannot multitask. The brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. When we think we are multitasking we are in fact just jumping very quickly from one thing to the next and back again.
This destroys the illusion of multitasking because:
- If we aren’t actually doing two things at a time we aren’t getting things done quicker.
- And if we are just jumping from one thing to the next we are causing our minds to be erratic.
That’s why multitasking is bad for you. It actually causes mental health problems.
Effects Of Multitasking On The Brain
Do you suffer from the following problems:
- Being unable to focus
- Focusing on multiple things at the same time
- Never getting anything done
- Being unable to complete one task at a time
- Feeling restless
If so, you’re probably suffering from divided attention.
BeBrainFit wrote an article all about the negative effects of multitasking on the brain.
They state that there are many negative effects of multitasking.
Makes you less productive (3)
Reduced mental performance (4)
Makes you less appreciative of your own abilities (5)
Makes you less effective at completing tasks (6)
Increases stress, anxiety and depression (7)
Makes you age faster (8)
Is addictive (9)There are seriously risks of multitasking. This image shows the effects of multitasking
Neuroscientist Daniel J Levitin is an expert on the subject of multitasking.
Take a look at his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. It is a real eye-opener on how multitasking and other mental habits effect our minds.
What is the best alternative to multitasking?
We know multitasking is bad. But what is a good alternative to multitasking?
If there is one field of study we turn to to learn about the mind, it is meditation.
In my in-depth article about different meditation techniques, I mention that there are different ways of focusing the mind.
- Focused Attention
- Open Awareness
- and Effortless Presence.
These three are ideal and healthy states of mind that are used in meditation, but they can also be used in everyday life.
Let’s take a look at them.
Focused Attention Meditation
What is focused attention meditation? These are meditations in which you focus on one thing.
This is the complete opposite of multitasking. It is very intentionally focusing on only one thing at a time.
If you would like to improve your ability to focus on one thing at a time, meditation can help.
There are lots of different types of meditation that involve focused attention.
Take a look:
Some focused meditation examples:
- Breath-based techniques
- Sound methods
- Candle meditation
As you can see from these examples, focused attention activities are about concentrating on one thing at a time.
So, what are the benefits of focused attention exercises?
When you use these focused activities, you are training your mind to focus on one thing at a time. So, the immediate and obvious benefits of this is that it improves your concentration.
However, because you are forcing your mind to focus on one thing, you are also letting go of everything else.
Focusing 100% of your mind on your breath means not focusing on anything else. In other words, you let go of your thoughts, feelings, mental imagery and so on. And this creates very many secondary benefits.
We’ve already looked at the benefits of meditation (that link will take you to a very extensive article about how meditation helps you). So, let’s look at some specific benefits of focused attention techniques.
- Helps us overcome negative thoughts.
- Make us more productive at work.
- Help us to tune-out background noise
- Help us stop multi-tasking
- Increase harmony between brain hemispheres
- Make us more able to enjoy life
- Relieve stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Prevents and relieves depression.
- Leads to less mistakes being made
- Improves clarity of thought
- Increases present-moment-mindfulness
- Improves efficiency
- Makes us more aware of our own abilities.
This is just a snapshot. Read more about the science of mediation using the link above.
As you can see, the majority of the ways in which focused attention helps is that it removes unnecessary information from your mind and improves focus. And because these are fundamental mental competencies, they help with very many other tasks and processes.
Open Monitoring Meditation
Now that we have detailed focused attention, a definition of open awareness is needed.
Open monitoring techniques, which are also called “open awareness” are the opposite of the above. The concept of open awareness activities is that they are about opening your mind to the entirety of the environment.
In open monitoring exercises, you let the entire world in, without focusing on any one specific thing and without being judgmental about anything. You simply let the whole environment into your mind with complete acceptance.
To give you an example of an open awareness exercise, step outside, turn your head up to the sky, and simply observe everything. Silence your mind and let the whole world in. That is an open awareness meditation.Doing yoga or meditating in an open space is great for open monitoring.
The benefits of open awareness meditation
The main benefit of open awareness is that it makes you more creative.
Unlike in focused attention, in open awareness activities you are letting the whole world in. That puts a lot of information in your mind. And because you are very relaxed, that information is able to flow more freely. This essentially means that there is lots of information flowing freely through your mind. Those chunks of information then meet one another (in your brain) and new associations are made. You see a round object next to a box and you suddenly realise that those two things together make a car.
So, when you practice open monitoring technique you increase your creativity. This is the primary benefit of open awareness.
Because you are letting your mind open and relax, there are many secondary benefits too. For instance, your body relaxes, tension releases, and this creates many physical and mental health benefits. Plus, in my personal experience, open awareness simply feels incredibly liberating.
Effortless Presence Meditation
Effortless presence actually comes from Yoga. If you have ever done yoga your teacher probably told you, at the end of the session, to lie down, let go and to exist without effort. That is effortless presence meditation.
Effortless presence meditation is about pure acceptance and relaxation. This technique lets you relax completely. It is very similar to open awareness, and the benefits are the same. Though you could argue that because effortless presence requires zero effort it is even more relaxing and even more liberating.
Open awareness, focused attention, and effortless presence, offer three psychological definitions for all the different meditation types.
Which of these types have you tried? And what are your experiences with them?
Leave a comment.
( REFERENCE: National Institute Of Health )