Can You Really Multi-task?

I had never heard the phrase the “Bully in the Brain” but I have certainly gotten to a point, where my phone is dinging, I have calendar requests, and emails are coming at me way too fast!  I felt this way just last week.  My Dad used to tell me “You can only do one thing at a time.”  Now… some people will say that is no longer true and that we have to learn to “multi-task”.  The research says that we really do only attend well to one thing at a time and that we are delusional if we really think we can “multi-task” well.  If drive and text, we are in serious danger.  If we are talking on the phone and reading emails, the person on the other end of the telephone probably can tell we are not giving them our full attention!

Like the author below, I often find myself getting overwhelmed either emotionally or just overwhelmed from overstimulation and too much to do.  When this “overwhelm” feeling starts to happen, my ability to be productive and concentrate diminishes greatly.  What do we do to get back in charge (as the author says on the “E” track?) when we are feeling scattered and unfocused (on the “L” track).

“OK, Maam.  STEP AWAY FROM THAT SCREEN.”  (Think of the executive functioning police as intervening…) Take a breath!  Stretch your body.  Take 5!”  We do ourselves and others no good when we can’t focus.  Lately I have been taking yoga classes and the instructors make the point that between the intense postures it is as important, if not more important to REST and RELAX your body.  We need to learn to do that many times a day!!


Oh, that Bully in My Brain…


In Seeing My Time, I refer to the executive function of emotional control as the “bully in the brain.” Our emotions can wreck havoc with our ability to use our “rational” thoughts to move us forward on those things we “don’t want to do.” I see this all the time in students and adults as they get caught up in being overwhelmed, experience self-doubt, anxiety, and have a fear of failure. They get stuck in a loop of crippling thoughts, unable to access the “positive” self talk (metacognition) needed to activate their goal-directed persistence and to use their time-management tools. It’s so easy to disappear into escape behaviors. I have such compassion for folks because I too can struggle with that bully in the brain.

While I have many support structures and tools to keep me focused on projects coming up at EFS, (and at home), some days I just lose connection to the motivation to keep on top of it all, to keep going. Before I can even identify it, I’ve slipped into overwhelm and that’s a slippery slope to escape, most recently more than four straight hours of watching Sherlock reruns.

While taking breaks can be good for the body and brain, “escaping” is a different beast. What I’ve noticed about me is that the longer I’ve been escaping, the more connected I become to that escape behavior and the less connected I am to getting back to my life and work. The “work” is of course piling up, and in the corners of my mind I know that, so, down I go further into overwhelm, diffuse anxiety and doubt of purpose. Escaping can become a bit of an obsession.

How do I climb out, get off the L-train and back on the E-train? The answer is to break the loop created and sustained by the “bully in the brain,” my limbic system. I do it by opening up a journal to write, and just “dumping.” Basically I’m clearing out my working memory capacity by writing down all the fears, all the doubts, all of the “to-do” that are wearing me down. I write down all of the worse case scenarios. Getting it out of my brain creates space for my optimistic, energetic, and committed self to come once again to the forefront.

Journals are powerful tool. If you are “stuck” consider getting out of your head, and away from the bully in the brain, by writing down all those emotional thoughts. You can shred it or burn it when you’re done. No need to store those yucky thoughts and emotions.

Good luck with your bully!  – Marydee

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