Archive | January, 2014


31 Jan

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days (check out the Time Magazine cover story for Feb.2014)  Many people are unfamiliar with the term, but probably recognize the behaviors.

Scientists define mindfulness as the experience of paying close attention to our present in an open and accepting way, or directly knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves moment-by-moment.  FYI, this would be the opposite of scarfing down a piece of stale chocolate cake you didn’t really want – just because it’s there, or letting your brain run wild creating a fictitious negative scenario about some jerk at work.

In our uber busy worlds our brain is most often projecting forward or rehashing backwards.  We’re considering what isn’t yet done, how an event will go or what went wrong with the last event.  None of those thoughts help us to be effective in this moment or even in the next moments.

Mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention rather than living in our heads.  “It is our ability to pause before we react,” Dr. Siegel explains.  “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”

Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned.  It is not difficult to do it, it is difficult to remember to do it.  The challenge with being mindful, or fully present, has everything to do with the autopilot narrative, or storytelling, going on in our brains (see Oct. 31, 2013 post).

Research has found that people who can stop and be aware of their internal experience (thinks about what you’re thinking about) heal more quickly from operations and skin disease, are less anxious and can decrease recurrence of depression by 75 percent.  Basically they are physically and mentally more healthy.

Dr. Yi-Yuan Tnag’s conducted a study where two groups of 40 individuals underwent training for twenty minutes per day for five days.  One group was trained in an integrative body-mind technique (mindfulness), the other in relaxation.  The mindfulness group had almost 50 percent greater immune function on average and cortisol levels were also lower.  Mindfulness apparently is more than just relaxation.

So, how to become more mindful?  One, pay attention to what you are thinking!  Switch off your autopilot.  Thoughts are simply “mental events”, they do not need to control you – you don’t have to believe all of your thoughts!

Two, take time each day to practice being mindful:

  • At least once a day, pay attention to what you are eating.  What is the texture and taste, what does it look like, smell like and taste like?  We tend to ‘think’ about food more in the past and future than we actually experiencing it in the present.
  • Pick one activity a day and stay fully present – possibly driving to work, taking a shower, walking the dog.  Turn the autopilot off and notice what is going on around you.
  • Believe it or not, breathing is critical.  Practice breathing slowly and thoughtfully (see May 2, 2013 post).  The best is if you can take 15 min. once a day and literally just pay attention to your breathing and nothing else.  If that is too daunting to start, take 60 seconds and breath deeply while focusing on your breath.  Do this at the beginning and end of each day, meeting, meal or when you feel stressed, it changes the physiology of your body and your brain!

Your choice for today…RIGHT NOW make a note or do something that will remind you to practice being mindful today and tomorrow!

Additional resources to consider.  Your Brain At Work book report.  There are tons of on-line resources, here is one example:

Multitasking and Distractions

14 Jan

Do you pride yourself in being good at multitasking?  Guess what, research indicates you can’t do it very well!  When people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old. A University of London study found that constant emailing and texting reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test.

Multitasking isn’t a skill issue; it’s a brain design issue.  While you can hold several chunks of information in mind at once, you can’t perform more than one conscious process at a time without impacting accuracy or performance.

When it comes to conscious activities your brain works in a serial way – one thing after another.  Research by Harold Pashier found that people attempting to perform two basic tasks at once took twice as long. Practice did not change the results (you aren’t actually saving time!)

A second study by Pashier found when participants were asked to do one simple mental task and one simple physical task simultaneously their performance dropped by 20%.  When asked to do two tasks that required very simple cognitive ability, their performance dropped by 50%. So, you can’t look for your favorite pen and listen attentively at the same time, and thinking you can skim your email while participating on a conference call is a fallacy!

“No, I did not get that email.”  “What?  I didn’t agree to that on our call!” – Are you sure??

Get a load of this!  One study found that office distractions eat up an average 2.1 hours a day.  Another study found that employees spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before being distracted.  After an interruption, it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they do at all.  People switch activities every 3 minutes, either making a call, speaking with someone or working on a document.

Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task and they make up to 50% more errors. Any distraction, however small, diverts your attention.  It then takes effort to shift your attention back to where it was before the distraction, especially when a circuit is new or weak.

 Whether you are multitasking or being distracted by text, emails or calls, “always on” is not productive; it forces the brain to be on “alert” far too much.  This creates an artificial sense of constant crisis, which can cause the fight or flight system to kick in.

A few choices you might act on…

  • Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down.
  • The only way to do two mental tasks quickly, if accuracy is important, is doing them one at a time.
  • Find ways to decrease external distractions.
  • Turn your phone OFF for a few hours each day!  No, the world will not stop twirling if your phone is off!
  • Read the full book report Your Brain At Work by David Rock.