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Meditation Counters the Negative Effects of Multitasking

Steve Jobs is a great example of the powerful benefits one can reap from daily meditation. Why? Well, because when Steve Jobs died at 56 his brain was only 27, thanks to daily meditation practice. (I highlighted these results back in my February newsletter.) By roughly the age of 45, symptoms of brain deterioration related to the aging process become apparent and measurable. Meditating for just 30 minutes a day can “reverse” the aging process of the brain, repairing cells and thickening areas associated with memory, emotional regulation, self-confidence, focus, empathy and more. In one study, these results were seen in as short as 8 weeks of regular meditation.

If that’s not fascinating enough, meditation can also help counter the negative effects many people experience from multitasking. Women are the ultimate multitasking pros who juggle work, home life, children, doctor appointments, cooking, social calendars and more, so this is especially compelling for us.

 

 

But wait, let’s backtrack for a second here…multitasking is a NEGATIVE thing?!?

That’s right, friends. This news stopped me mid-stride in one of my daily mental sprint sessions. I’m the queen bee of multitasking and I take pride in it! I juggle two young children as a stay-at-home mom, a daily breastfeeding schedule, part-time work squeezed into nap and late-at-night hours, and oh yea, self care…that ever-elusive concept. I literally sit down to nurse my baby with an agenda, my mind ramping up to full speed as I tackle 5 emails, respond to 3 texts and proofread an article…all in 15 minutes while nourishing a small human. I mean…yikes!!! Is anyone ELSE’s head going to explode? Mine sure is close…

 

It turns out that there are 3 different types of multitasking:

  1. Multitasking – attempting to do two or more tasks simultaneously
      • Ex: Computer work while making an unrelated phone call
  2. Switching costs – switching back and forth between tasks
      • Ex: Prepping dinner for children and running to the living room to keep toddlers entertained (because they just love to run into the kitchen the second it’s time to take something out of the hot oven)
  3. Attention residue – performing a number of tasks in rapid succession
      • Ex: The fast pace of western culture. End of story.

 

The Negative Consequences of Multitasking

According to Rescue Time, an app that “helps you understand the habits that make you productive,” multitasking leads to the following negative consequences:

  • Impacts short-term memory
  • Leads to increased anxiety
  • Inhibits creative thinking
  • Stops you from getting into a state of flow
  • Causes more mistakes and less productivity
  • Can drop your IQ by 10 points
  • Similar to losing a night of sleep

Okay, now it’s really clear that multitasking does harm to our minds and bodies! This is seriously such a game changer for me as a wellness blogger because I routinely wonder why I’m so exhausted at the end of every insanely busy day, even after a good night of rest and some healthy exercise in the morning. Anyone else feel like their *brain* needs some rest and rejuvenation? I can practically hear all the miscellaneous thoughts and agendas rattling around in my own as I write this, just waiting for me to give them attention. But this information really makes me pause and consider how I might approach each day a little differently. How about you?

 

 

Decision Fatigue

Multitasking is part of what makes moms so worn out because it “comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.” This may be why women need on average 20 minutes more sleep each night than men. Another aspect of multitasking is that it leads to decision fatigue – that feeling that once you’ve made so many decisions in a single day you simply don’t have the energy to make another one. This is a real phenomenon!

An article from the New York Times states that “decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.” This totally explains why I have a hard time making decisions after 5:00 pm. Anyone else in the same boat? I’ve used up all my decision making power right in time to cook a million different things for small humans with specific food needs, portions and cut-into-bite-size meals.

 

Different Types of Meditation

Still thinking about whether or not meditation is right for you? I have good news; there are lots of ways to meditate so it’s easy to find the right style for your personality and energy. There are four main methods that I will mention here:

  1. Body-Scan Meditation – scanning your body top to bottom and becoming aware of different sensations as they arise, one body part at a time, bringing your attention back to the practice when your mind wanders. This allows thoughts to stay in the background and breathing and relaxation to take the main stage.
  2.  Breathing Meditation – in traditional ashtanga yoga this is called pranayama or breathing practice. There are lots of ways to do this (I will try to write a whole article on it some day) but the most basic is slowing down the breathing and silently counting inhalations and exhalations while quieting the mind and refraining from judging one’s own thoughts.
  3. Observing-Thought Meditation – this is the same thing as what some call “mindfulness” meditation which allows for greater awareness of the nature of one’s own thoughts. It is sometimes done while picturing your thoughts as clouds passing or waves coming and going, acknowledging their temporary nature.
  4. Loving-Kindness Meditation – repeating positive phrases about oneself then applying those phrases to another person, then to a person who you are in conflict with, then to all of humanity.

For what it’s worth, my personal favorite is breathing meditation because it creates a rhythmic pattern that helps me better establish flow. I also enjoy switching the type of breathing exercise midway. It helps hold my attention while remaining calm and peaceful.

 

 

The Good Stuff: Meditation Resources

Meditating just a few times a week can prove beneficial if it helps you calm down. I’ve personally found that my morning “meditation” of sorts is to listen to the Bible and to do yoga or meditation a couple times a week, when I’m diligent (let’s be honest, not every week is “perfect”). Other times I pray for a few minutes or try to close my eyes and just clear my head for a second. The point is that you can approach meditation with flexibility and openness rather than stress over how to fit it into every single day. Allow yourself to grow and get there gradually. After all, there’s no rush.

Below is a list of different apps and websites that you can use to help you establish a routine with meditation.

  • Headspace – mindful approach to improved happiness, health and sleep
  • Meditation Studio – various meditations that are led in [what I consider] a psychologist/counselor style so great for people who want a lot of guidance and discussion of emotions
  • Stop Breathe & Think – short activities to tune into emotions, can even be used on Alexa
  • Calm – app for “mental fitness” and has option to use its services within the workplace/for a team
  • Ten Percent Happier – meditations by some of the world’s leading experts, book and podcast by the same name
  • Mindful.org – podcast with free body scans ranging from 3-25 minutes long
  • Audible – free with subscription; “Morning Meditations for Daily Magic” & “Rise & Shine Yoga Flows”

Last but not least, if you’d like to take your practice to the next level I suggest you consider a personal growth journey through Mindfulness Certification Training for Individuals and Coaches. My experience getting trained to become a yoga teacher was one of the foremost challenges of my life. Pushing yourself, even for a short while, to become disciplined in meditation can be life changing. My experience was over a decade ago and I’m still learning from it to this day.

If none of this sounds enticing then…

Just. Breathe.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie