this is a photo of a bunch of smooth rocks

Multi-tasking vs. Mediation: Don’t Get Stuck in a Trap

My brain has been like Swiss cheese lately. My attention span is shocking and I can barely concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. I am totally serious.

I blame this on contemporary social media. I blame this on multi-tasking. I blame this on modern life. And we are losing our valuable brain power. I am not kidding.

While it may seem that my statements are a little harsh, I am not the only person who sees a problem with the trend of ‘multitasking’. Scientists recently created an app that could track people’s moods throughout the day. About three times a day, the app would ask the user what he was doing and then about his mood.

Could your mind wandering be making you moody?

The study revealed that people’s minds were wandering about 50 per cent of the time. The only time this was slightly lower was while making love. I would have to agree with this because although my mind usually wanders at work, during sex I can definitely focus! I even have trouble focusing when I am eating dinner; so I guess this means that I have a higher level of engagement while making love than eating. I do enjoy both activities, as do most of us.

Eating dinner while watching TV (and talking on the phone)

Last night I was eating dinner, watching TV, typing on my laptop and talking to a friend on the phone. At the same time. Needless to say, I was not performing any of these tasks successfully, least alone the conversation with my friend who I ended up having a minor tiff with over nothing.

Can meditation help your focus?

this is a photo of a man meditating

I have done quite a bit of meditation in this lifetime but I can say that I do not do nearly enough. It is important to maintain a daily practice. Honestly if we all exercised every day, made love every day and meditated every day – the world would be a better place. Today I have not managed any of those things.

Meditation can improve your ability to focus. This is imperative. In fact – this is the main purpose of meditation – to train the mind. If our minds are constantly jumping from one task to another, we lose focus and effectiveness.  If you do not know how to meditate I would recommend teaching yourself by going to Vipassana. Believe me, if you get through the free course, you will know how to meditate. Google Vipassana in your country. Please be aware, this is a Buddhist meditation but can be done by all people.

Is mind-wandering a bad thing?

Jonathan Smallwood from the University of California is mentioned in the study and he says: The connection suggests that cutting down on mind-wandering, either by practising meditation or simply by keeping busy, could help people battle depression.”

The article also goes on warn that we should not be cutting out daydreaming. “The irony is that mind-wandering also underlies invention. We don’t want to tell people not to do it.”

Multi-taskers are more impulsive and bad at multitasking

There are other studies that say that multi-taskers are more impulsive. I have to say that I am a very impulsive person and it’s not always a good thing. Students at the University of Utah (it has always been my dream to go to Utah because I am fascinated by bizarre modern religious movements) found that those who multitasked more were actually worse at it and more impulsive.

“The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking,” says author David Strayer.

You are not actually multi-tasking

That’s right, apparently your brain is simply switching between tasks; and not every efficiently either. A recent study called Cognitive control in media multi-taskers showed that your brain is actually not doing two (or three or four) things at once, it is simply switching back and forth and very inefficiently.

“Results showed that heavy media multi-taskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multi-taskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.”

So – our minds really are like Swiss cheese, we are not just imagining it. The only solution is to train the mind. The only way to do that is with meditation.

Now if I could only take my own advice.

Photos by elfsternberg and Hannah Eve – thank you!

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Can’t Remember Multiple Passwords? Have You Heard of this Easy Technique?

Capital A, epsilon, underscore, star, numeral four. Lower-case a, capital Q, umlaut. That is not actually my password – that wouldn’t be acceptable these days. Anything less than 15 characters long not featuring capital letters, symbols and ancient Greek, simply will not do!

You need a password for everything these days. I need to remember about 10 of them before I even get out of bed. I have different ones for my work PC, my banking apps, my various email accounts. I need one to access my coffee card, the photocopier, my discounts at Marcs… it’s driving me nuts!

Passwords need to be so complex!

I have noticed that increasingly, these passwords need to be very complex, requiring a certain length (when did this become a whopping eight characters?) and a variety of upper and lower case letters, numerals and symbols.

photo of a keyboard and password screen

The University of Texas says, “Hackers have become increasingly sophisticated at password ‘cracking’. What may have been considered a strong password a year ago may now be considered an open window to your computer.”

Pfft! It’s so bloody hard these days!

I should be working on improving the functioning of my brain!

That’s right – memory can be worked on, by focusing on exercises that build up your hippocampus. This part of your brain is located deep within your temporal lobe. It plays an important role in converting short-term memories (STMs) to long-term memories (LTMs). If you didn’t have it, you couldn’t live in the present, you’d be stuck in the past. It’s also responsible for associative learning and your spatial memory.

Get your brain fit and work on your memory

Aerobic exercise bulks up your hippocampus, and may even improve memory in older adults. As we age, our brain shrinks, and scientists believe that by exercising we can stop or slow this from happening. A research team found that adults aged 55 to 80 years old who walked around a track for 40 minutes three days a week for a year increased the volume of their hippocampus. The hippocampus also shows signs of trauma when Alzheimer’s disease is identified.

Trouble remembering passwords? Well, have you tried Chunking?

Another technique that could benefit your hippocampus is ‘chunking’; a technique which is said to improve your STM. Chunking is the process of organising material into groups, in order to increase the STM’s capacity, which is limited. An example of this is remembering phone numbers as chunks of digits, rather than a string of numerals (it’s easier to remember 0400 378 654 than it is 0400378654).  Chunking can be a useful technique when studying: to be most effective, you should break up study sessions into manageable chunks, focusing on groups of similar tasks.

Creating memorable passwords

Another method some people use is to create a phrase they will remember. “I like vegan food” becomes Ilkvegfd.

Wikihow also gives this suggestion:

Connect the first letters of a sentence. Develop a password using the first letters of a sentence or phrase that means something to you – like your national anthem or a slogan you have seen somewhere. “Don’t shop for it, Argos it” would become “DsfiAi”.

What techniques do you use to remember passwords? How many passwords do you need to remember in a typical day?

Photos by Jonathan_W (@whatie) and Titus Family thanks!