by Casey Chainee
Sometimes we surprise ourselves when we are able to give up the very thing we thought we’d be totally lost without, and thereby inadvertently learn a way of being less distracted.
At the end of March, we got rid of our television service. I’d been dreading and longing to do this for years and years. I had always had a love hate relationship with television; I liked the background sound and entertainment it provided, but I also resented that it kept me from writing more. Often while watching a show or movie, I’d be thinking someone had to sit down and write this script. Finally, two things catapulted my decision – first, I was finally ready to put aside my major distraction, and second, the cost was becoming prohibitive.
You all know that experience where the anticipation of something is so much worse than the reality. When I reflect on the anxiety I used to suffer just thinking about not having television, it shocks me to realize how addicted I was to it. But over the last year or so, that dependence had begun to wane. Well, it’s been two months now without it, and I haven’t missed it one day. Not one day! I can’t believe it. The funny thing is I used to rely on the distraction of television to get so many things done in a day.
I used to pride myself on how much I was getting done while “watching television.” Out of friendly curiosity, I should revisit those finished products and projects to see just how well they were completed.
Ever since the service disconnection, the first thing I’ve noticed is how centered I feel. These days while cooking or gardening I no longer hear that constant internal dialogue, “I wonder what’s on right now?” This voice has been silenced, (probably replaced by another, I don’t doubt). As a result I don’t feel so split in mind and body.
Now when I’m cutting vegetables, all of me is there at the counter cutting vegetables. It’s a wonderful feeling. And these tasks seem to be carried out with a calmer presence.
While I may be moving slower (perhaps because of age or just being more mindful), my tasks are completed with less frustration than in the past. Before in my haste to not miss the start of a movie, I’d try to rush through the job at hand, and if things were delayed then the stress increased.
When we multitask, we are subjecting the mind and body to quite a bit of stress. The implicit suggestion in multitasking is that there are many things to do, and only so much time in which to do them; this then forces us to split our attention to get it all done as quickly as possible, which in turn puts a strain on the mind and body.
In my mindfulness class, I have to remind students that when it’s time to meditate, they should do just that. In class, they put their writing materials on the floor rather than balance them on their laps during the meditation because it signals to the mind and body that the present activity is the priority and focus. Otherwise the mind will not fully settle as it will be preparing to return to the other activity before long.
In this vein, research shows that splitting the attention between two or more tasks requiring input from a person isn’t the best use of time. There are situations where we can multitask effectively: tasks like typing a letter which requires our contribution and effort, and another like chewing or drinking a cup of tea requiring no input. But multitasking is less effective if both activities require input.
Having to switch the attention from one task to another, the brain has to deactivate from one activity and brain region, regroup and reactivate in another region for the other activity thereby increasing the time taken, effort expended and chance of errors occurring. So focusing on one task at a time is a far more efficient and effective use of the brain and energy, as it helps the person better retain information about the job, make fewer mistakes, save time, decrease stress, and increase memory retention.
In the meantime, we’ve taken to renting movies and shows occasionally, and now we get to watch what we want, when we want. Less stress and more enjoyment.
May you be free of distraction today!