“Most of us have action addiction; it’s that dopamine craving. We’re spinning our wheels with insignificant things. You run fast without achieving anything. It’s so widespread, and it’s the main threat to mental effectiveness and productivity.” -Rasmus Hougaard, Co-Author of “One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work With Mindfulness”
Multitasking for Instant Gratification
Multitasking is inefficient and unproductive. However, our brains are geared towards this by default. But why? Firstly, we have a wandering mind. Case in point: I’m sitting here on my bed, and as I attempt to write this article, my mind is wandering; I’m thinking about going out for a drink with friends. But, I’m mindful of this distraction – this is crucially important – but more on that later.
Secondly, each time we complete a new task, no matter how trivial – this could be sending an e-mail to answer a work colleague’s question – we receive a reward. This reward takes the form of a dopamine injection – a naturally produced neurotransmitter directly linked to addiction. When released we immediately feel good. We receive instant gratification, despite the sheer insignificance that the task may entail. Our brains learn this, and so, we continue to chase this instant gratification.
How to Stop Multitasking
If we’re able to stop this multitasking, which is very much a part of who we are, our brains will change. How though do we stop multitasking and more importantly how will our brain change? Let’s find out.
For us to stop multitasking and subsequently improve our productivity and focus, we need to work against our brain’s natural inclination to multitask. We need to stop focusing on small insignificant actions and rather focus on important ones. We need to be more mindful. There are two rules of mindfulness training.
Mindfulness Training: The Two Rules
1. We can let go of the majority of distractions
We need to be cognizant that the majority of distractions are negligible and we can consciously choose where we focus our attention. Yes, our brains will wander by default – I mean they’re wandering 46.9% of the time – but the art is to notice these distractions, without getting distracted.
For example, earlier I was being mindful of wanting to have a beer with a friend; I noticed it and re-focused my attention on the article because the article was more important at the time as I have a deadline looming. Always remember we have control over our distraction. They do not control us.
2. Strategically Handling Our Distractions
We also need to strategically handle distractions, either by choosing to let them go totally, dealing with them in the future or diverting our attention to them fully (if they’re more important than what we’re currently doing). For example, if I was faced with a family emergency whilst writing this article I would immediately divert my attention to that, as it’s far more important. Or if I received an e-mail from a work colleague asking me a question about a client meeting that’s happening in a week, I would choose to answer the question sometime in the future. These examples illustrate doing the right thing at the right moment.
How will this change our Brains?
By practicing mindfulness and refusing to give into our brain’s default tendency to wander and multitask, we’re training the prefrontal cortex of our brain. This is the part of our brain that gives us the ability to maneuver at will. We’re also able to better focus on important tasks and gain control over what Hougaard refers to as the “digital weapons of mass destruction.”
On that note, I’m going out for a beer with my friends.
Featured photo credit: medicine.stonybrookmedicine.edu via medicine.stonybrookmedicine.edu