Mental Multi-tasking

>> Monday, November 17, 2008

When we think of multi-tasking most of us think of examples of physical multi-tasking. We listen to music while we clean our houses. We cook and hold conversations with our families. We talk on the phone while driving.

Mentally, the list is even longer. We plan our day while in the shower. We think about other things while washing the dishes. I know of children who daydream about video games while in math class. Some people rehearse breaking up with someone while out on a date with them!

I admit I tried to save time by doing two things at the same time. Or I would be planning something while working on something else. I have even been known to check emails while sitting in a meeting. But this has become accepted, even looked at like as an asset. In the name of efficiency to increase productivity, multi-tasking has gone from being a buzz word to being an expected skill.

But is this a good thing? I have even been talking to people while they have been doing something else. They tell me,"I'm listening; I'm just multi-tasking." I even know of women who pump their breast milk while writing reports.

With the example we set, is it any wonder why some kids have trouble focusing in school?

Even as I sat here writing this first draft, I was watching a ball game on TV. The next day I listened to the highlights on the radio while driving and wondered why I missed so much of it. Then I realized I didn't even remember driving home.

Do we ever fully pay attention to anything anymore? It's like multi-tasking, especially, mental multi-tasking has become a coping skill of sorts. I'm not talking about visualizing here. I am talking about the immense pressure of trying to do everything so we have time to do something.

But if we aren't mentally present for the something, we miss it. We don't remember the details after. We haven't been in the moment. We haven't really been there.

I have missed much of my life because of this. I have missed entire vacations, conversations and many small moments. Mental multi tasking hasn't helped me, it has hurt me. I was angry and stressed. I was tired all the time.

But I have discovered mindfulness. It has changed the way I do things. I am now present and in the moment more and more. I have seen things I never noticed before. My anger is only occasional and short lived. I remember things, people, conversations. When I feel scattered, I am very aware of it and I breathe.

I practice mindful meditation, for 20-30 minutes a day. In that small investment I have reaped great benefits. Life is so much better when I there to enjoy it.