Multitasking is not as popular as it used to be. But there are still many businesses and people who do it, perceiving it as a way to keep up in the fast-paced business world, a way to be productive and efficient.
People who say they are multitasking may believe they are doing several things at the same time, but the truth is that they are not. Psychologists say that the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. So, when we think we are doing two things at a time – say talking on the phone and perusing our computer screen – our mind is actually switching rapidly back and forth between each activity. We are either focusing on the telephone conversation and tuning out what is on the computer screen, or the reverse. That is the reason why it is illegal to use a cell phone and drive at the same time, because when you are focusing on the phone conversation, you are tuning out the road.
As some psychologists explain it, our mind acts like a searchlight on a dark night. It focuses on whatever we pay attention to, what is in the beam of the searchlight, but everything else is cloaked in darkness. When we do something else, we are swinging the searchlight onto another object of our consciousness.
And, as it turns out, we can actually use the way our mind works to our advantage. There are two areas of the brain that control our attention. One controls what we focus on, the other area controls how intensely we focus on it.
When we practice meditation or mindfulness, we try to clear out mind of all thoughts and focus on our breathing. This is difficult at first. There are always stray thoughts that keep intruding. However, the more we do it, the better we get at it. We are better able to direct our attention, to maintain our focus. This is because, with practice, the area of the brain responsible for directing our attention actually becomes larger, better enabling us to focus. And this in turn better enables us to clear our minds for a while to reduce our stress and anxiety.
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