Multitasking be gone, or at least reduced significantly. Focus Time, concentrating on one thing for extended periods of time free of interruption or distraction, here we come! The last article in this series of "practices to prepare you for an enjoyable and productive now" was about sleep, and how necessary it is for brain growth. Sleep is not a waste of time! Are you ready for another myth buster? Multitasking does not make you more effective or efficient. Rather, focusing your attention in a continuous way for uninterrupted periods of time, or what Daniel Siegel calls "Focus Time" in his book Brainstorm, encourages the growth of the neural connections your brain makes when it has time to consistently absorb the information you are exposing yourself to. When you allow yourself Focus Time you stimulate brain growth. When you stimulate brain growth you are learning. As you allow your brain to learn you get smarter, not from the information you are exposing yourself to but from the different connections your brain makes in how to utilize that information in different situations under varying circumstances.
Everyone knows that a regime of consistent physical exercise leads to increased fitness of mind and body. The majority of people know the basic guidelines for eating healthy. Everyone knows that non-essential spending that leads to credit card debt is financially unhealthy. Knowing information yet being unable to integrate it into how you live your life isn't all that useful. You feel smart but live dumb. Training your brain to not only absorb information but connect it in ways that make it accessible to live out of is extremely useful. To sum it up, when you provide yourself regular opportunities to focus on one thing at a time for extended periods you optimize changes in your brain that are the basis for not only learning but integrating what you learn into how you live.
There is a tendency to attribute forgetfulness or the inability to retain information to aging. While changes as a result of aging do occur they can be easily confused with the impact of not fully concentrating on what you are doing. When you are not concentrating on new information when you study, where you put down your keys when you come home, what someone is explaining to you, etc. you are interrupting the very conditions that are necessary for turning what you are exposing yourself to into the synaptic changes in the brain that capture that experience into memory. Difficulty with memory may not be from aging at all but from constantly interrupting your brains ability to capture information by, regardless of what you were doing, randomly answering your cell phone, checking your email, the texts coming through, surfing the internet rather unintentionally, etc. The more you interrupt your focus the weaker your brain gets at being able to focus in an uninterrupted manner and retain what it needs to be effective. In a very real way you are scattering, rather than concentrating, your brain's ability to function.
This tendency for information to get scattered and therefore difficult to pull up can be reversed through giving yourself Focus Time. For those of us who are not currently studying in an organized program (college, graduate courses, professional education, etc.) some type of continued lifelong learning supports the brain to get and stay organized and grow again. Some examples of practices that support brain organization and growth are:
- learning a new skill (to play a musical instrument, an additional language, etc.)
- a book club
- a course at your local community adult education center
- a discussion group
- reading uninterrupted
- playing chess
- making something out of wood, clay, stone, etc.
- planning a garden
If we do not give ourselves Focus Time on a regular basis (consider a minimum of an hour a day) our brains stop doing what they were born to do, make new connections throughout life. With Focus Time you can not only prevent what we mistakenly think of as the inevitability of aging and "senior moments", you can also help your brain to become more flexible, adaptive, and capable! You can more easily live the information in your brain rather than simply knowing it. The more flexible, adaptive, and capable your thinking, the more you can actually retain, recall, and utilize the information you have been exposed to to creatively design and implement an awesome now.
Post written by Lisa Brick
Founder at Power & Purpose Coaching
Partner: Journey Beyond Divorce Coaching