Life is getting more and more chaotic and fast. Not too long ago, we praised the ability of multitaskers who could simultaneously do a billion things “brilliantly.” The more we could manage at one time, the more talented we were. Now studies show the opposite, that unitasking is the way to go. It not only helps us get more done, but it also helps keep our brains properly wired and happy. It seems counterintuitive but in actuality, by slowing down and concentrating on one thing, we become more efficient and productive.
Related: What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed
Our brains aren’t meant to juggle multiple things at once. Attention to too many things can result in absent-minded parents leaving children in cars or bad judgment calls about the direction of a company policy. We make errors when we forget to mind our minds.
“Drive slow and enjoy the scenery—drive fast and join the scenery.” —Douglas Horton
Author Kristin Race offers some other thoughts on the importance of settling down, paying attention and expressing gratitude as a way to build our resilience, lower our stress and become more balanced and effective every day.
One of the egregious sources of an increasingly chaotic life is the electronic handheld device. We are so glued to the instantaneous messages and newsfeed on our phones and tablets that we have trained ourselves to never rest. We can’t be away from our phones for more than 10 minutes without seeing what happened in the world or who has posted something essential to our lives. This need for constant updates and news keeps us ever alert, but we’re never fully alert because we don’t actually pay attention to the message. Once we read it, we crave the next bit. And the next. Nothing gets fully absorbed or reflected upon. We chase the neon lights in an endless pursuit that only raises our stress and inability to think and do.
Our brains are wired to fight, flight or freeze. It’s what’s protected us from the saber-toothed tigers. When we are now faced with something new or stressful, we often respond by increasing that stress. We hold our breath, which overstimulates our brains and that’s when we don’t necessarily make the best decisions. Think about when we’re scared or even just learning something new. Imagine we are learning to balance on one leg on a balance beam. Because we’re scared of wobbling, we hold our breath the entire time, which makes us wobble even more. Instead, if we just breathed, our whole body could relax, allowing our brains and legs to be still. Breathing is pretty miraculous.
Part of why we often have a hard time slowing down or reducing our stress is we are trying to pay attention to too many things. It’s as if we are moving a spotlight in a dark forest, going from one object to another. We’re moving the spotlight so quickly and so frequently that we can never actually see what’s in front of us. It could be a bear or a tree or a mountain lion. We don’t know because the spotlight never stops moving, raising our stress levels even more because we don’t know which way to move forward. If we just pause and focus on one area, we might see that the dark shadow is not a bear but a path that leads us to safety. Or it might be a bear, in which case, go the other way.
Related: 7 Thoughtful Ways to Stress Less
Dr. Belinda Chiu is an educator, facilitator, and coach. Principal of Hummingbirdrcc, a boutique consultancy that uses positive psychology and strengths-based mindfulness, she’s an advocate for authenticity, awareness and achievement. Belinda penned the 14-part series Bite Me, on working with challenging colleagues—and avoiding being one—based on her undercover stint as the food sample supermarket lady. Author of a women’s guidebook to the Camino de Santiago and a children’s yoga book, she doesn’t believe ego has a place at work, but rather, mind-body awareness and a healthy dose of humor.