So…. let’s change the questions. How do we adapt to our complicated world filled with so many messages fighting for our attention? How do we sort through all those “distractions”, decide what is important, and find a way to put them all together without missing things we need to live well?
One key is letting go and allowing our brains to do what they do best – put things in categories, process, create, and act. All this talk about multi-tasking being bad for performance is task oriented, not brain oriented! Our brains crave activity and are continually problem solving.
There is so much left to study but the bottom line just might be that singular focus and attention to one task at a time could be over-rated in today’s information heavy world. Maybe the best way to function is on multiple channels in the context of everyday life.
A group of researchers studying brain imaging found something really interesting… completely by accident. They were testing how fMRIs (images of the electrical and chemical activity in the brain) look during specific kinds of tasks – what areas of the brain light up, what activity slows down, and other related things. Yes, they found variations in the images when subjects were performing a variety of tasks. However, they also found increased brain activity in between tasks – when participants were doing nothing. This spurred more imaging research focused on participants who were not doing anything. So far, that growing body of knowledge seems to suggest two things: 1) increases in overall activity and 2) increases in coordinated activity in more parts of the brain are apparent when the participants said they were “not thinking about anything” than when they were “doing something”. Does that mean our brains function better when our mind wanders?
There is a great video on Mindwandering, a TEDx talk by researcher Malia Mason, that gives a more detailed (about 9 minutes) description of why it is important to think about attention differently – attention that is fluid – attention that moves, shifts, and adapts.
Take your world and tasks in context and let your brain do what it does best. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, Find the Difference puzzles at www.craniumcrunches.com help you see the details of life, all in context, while you solve a problem. Practice what you need: problem solve in context.