I used to be a proud multi-tasker. I could eat and read at the same time. I could listen and write at the same time. I could walk and talk at the same time.
I still walk and talk on my cell phone at the same time, but only when I walk inside the house where I know how things are placed. I stopped doing this outside after I fell over a twig on an uncemented patch in our local park, nurturing a bruised elbow for 3 weeks. I was lucky not to tear a ligament or need surgery as my wife did after taking a tumble on a Chicago street. Much luckier than someone we knew dying after a fall hitting their head. If we think it will never happen to us, it may, one day.
I have stopped reading while eating most of the time, or talking on the phone. At the very least, it leads to overeating, overriding the body’s signals of satiation. It can be far worse. Choking while eating or drinking is the fourth leading cause of death in the USA. Watch what you eat and how you eat. This is an area where mindfulness helps.
Since becoming a coach, I stopped jotting down stuff while listening. When we write, we stop listening, period. If you think you are a superman or a bionic woman, test yourself. Active listening, especially along with observing non-verbal cues, cannot happen. Our brains are not programmed the way the brains of Octopus are.
If you’re in any kind of profession that requires total attention, record and listen. Don’t be lazy. Don’t try to scribble down in your shorthand what the speaker you are listening to says. You are only hearing, not listening when you multitask. You also damage the neural connections of memory by not using them. It’s a vicious cycle of downgrading yourself.
There are multiple other dangers to multitasking. When engaged in activities such as riding, driving, operating machinery, or even hiking and walking on a busy road, you are risking your life and far worse, the lives of others. There should be laws of involuntary manslaughter for such multitasking. In many other cases, you are risking your mental health. Multitasking leads to loss of memory, lack of focus, stress, anxiety, depression, and mental ill health. It also causes obesity. Can you or do you want to picture yourself as an obese distracted person, mentally and physically unhealthy? Let’s not multitask.
Why can’t we multitask? Our brain is supposed to be like a computer, and we multitask and multiprogram on a computer, don’t we? Actually, we don’t. Computers can only do one thing at a time, but because they do it so fast it seems as if there are multiple things happening at the same time. Most of us know that when we have multiple windows open, in most computers, it leads to hanging, with a hateful circle spiraling. This is why supercomputers came into existence. They too have limits.
The human brain is far more powerful than any supercomputer. We may have up to 50 trillion cells in our bodies and 100 billion cells in our brains. Some estimates are that our brain senses 10 million bits of data each second, but handles about 50 consciously. Most of the remaining data go into storage, which can be over a trillion bits.
Take all these data with a large spoon of salt. No one knows how to measure brain memory. It is a derived figure. No one has measured how many cells we have. This too is estimated. Each of us is different in multiple ways. All this data means is that our conscious awareness is a minuscular fraction of what we sense. So, let’s focus. Let’s conserve whatever conscious intelligent awareness we have, and stay healthy by being focused on what we do, not multitasking.