Too Much of a Good Thing
Just like the muscles in our body, we need a strategy to help us build better mental capacities like focus, concentration, and attention.
Although many of us have trained ourselves to be pretty good at multitasking — and regularly fall into this pattern on automatic pilot — we can create a new way of doing things by utilizing the training strategies of cognitive fitness.
In her book Rapt, author Winifred Gallagher reminds us, “Most failures occur despite effort, not due to a lack of it.”
It’s not about working longer hours or trying harder; it’s about bringing the best energy we have to the time we have. Mental focus and attention are crucial to making sure that happens.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Despite the fact that most people consider multitasking a necessary skill for today’s complex work environment, our brains simply aren’t designed to deal with several tasks at once. It turns out that we may have even more reason to feel pulled to multitask.
Hindered Cognitive Performance
In a study at Ohio State University, college students reported feeling more emotionally satisfied when they watched TV while reading a book, even though their cognitive performance was hindered. Researchers found that as mental demands went up, students sought out multiple media outlets such as web browsing, radio, and television to meet their emotional needs (fun/entertaining/relaxing). Although the multitasking clearly hindered their cognitive performance, the emotional support strengthens neural connections, creating a dynamic feedback loop that leads to more multitasking in the future.
An important consideration here is the impact of constant stimulus on the brain. Because there are so many things that compete for our attention at any particular time, the brain’s job is to determine what is important and what we can ignore. We are often unaware of how much media stimulation is competing for our attention.
Ways our brains are constantly being over stimulated.
- Phones and emails may be obvious — but what about today’s supercharged advertisements, with constant scrolling data along the bottom of our screen?
- And what about those promotional ads that seem to pop up out of the blue?
- Even just the noise in our environment or the business of people working — the hustle and bustle of daily life — can require a bit of mental energy to determine if it’s worth paying attention to or not.
Imagine you took the time to notice everything around you at one time; you’d have an attention debt for sure! Our ability to tune out the unnecessary is critical for our brain to maintain optimal functioning.
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