I just returned from a conference on happiness, which featured numerous inspirational presentations and talks about how to live a happier life, most of them encouraging the practice of mindfulness, breathing, positivism, awareness, consciousness, gratitude, and forgiveness among others.
No doubt that we are experiencing a time of awakening and expanding spirituality, with millions of people learning to meditate, practice yoga and investing billions of dollars in books, courses, meetings, and conferences. All of this to overcome anxiety, lower stress, create internal coherence and find meaning and purpose in life.
Paradoxically, we live in a fast-paced world with high demands and complemented with modern gadgets that constantly distract us, thus making it particularly difficult to implement these virtues promoted at the spiritual encounters.
One example is the practice of multitasking, a term originating from programming computers to perform several actions simultaneously. We have introduced this concept into our lives so that seeing someone talk on the phone while typing an email and watching TV has become commonplace. Not to mention other combinations that have become pose a serious hazard, such as texting and driving.
We erroneously think that humans are built to do several things at once. The truth is that our brains are not designed to perform more than one task or activity at a time. What we accomplish rather is a fast sequence of activities referred to as context switching that makes our brain change from one moment to the next. The succession of different stimuli triggers incoherence in our body, and the brain responds as if it were in danger, activating the release of adrenaline and anxiety.
Some researchers find these short spans of attention to be the cause of frequent errors and a greater decline in productivity. Others consider that they adversely impact happiness in humans.
Many women pride themselves in excelling over their male counterpart in this practice. It appears that men do better at performing one task at a time, while women are more equipped for multitasking due to their superior memory and social networking skills. Working and taking care of children, organizing the agenda for the day, doing housework chores and running errands unquestionably constitute first-class training to become proficient in multitasking.
The repercussion of the multi-tasking epidemic can also be witnessed in children as well. It is not a coincidence that nowadays an increasing number of children are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. Could there be a correlation with what they learn from their parents?
It is evident that we don’t become multitaskers by choice, but rather from a desire to do more in less time and pressure stemming from the many interactions and multiple roles we assume in our daily lives and work.
Today, it is very common to find many jobs requiring employees to be “able to work on several projects simultaneously and multitask.”
It is no wonder then that executives bring their laptops to the conference room to participate in a meeting while at the same time they are answering emails and texting.
We live in a culture that allows and encourages inattentiveness.
On the other end, mindfulness centers on being present, at the moment, in the here and now. Mindfulness is diametrically opposed to multitasking.
Multiple studies published in media have shown that mindfulness lowers blood pressure and hypertension, is an antidote to depression and overall produces significant positive effects on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Engaging in one activity at a time with undivided attention is what differentiates a tedious, repetitive task that generates anxiety and frustration from a task that brings joy.
Even the simplest daily chores can be a source of pleasure if carried out with presence.
The more we practice mindfulness, the more benefits we reap, as the effects are cumulative, rendering our lives meaningful and exciting because we are living each moment.
It is counterintuitive to start our morning with meditation and then multitask the rest of the day. Unless we stop the absurdity of imitating computers and robots, we will be wasting time and money in trying to pursue coherence and happiness and will be missing the opportunity of a rich spiritual life