7 simple ways to sharpen your mind and improve your life (backed by science)

Friday, May 12, 2017

We are overwhelmed by information and it’s breaking our brains.

Our attention-span has become a limited resource that is constantly at war with many things that are fighting for it: whether it’s our jobs, our phones, our computers, our friends or our families, everything and everyone is demanding our focus at various levels.

“Our brains are busier than ever before,” says Dr. Daniel Levitin, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, referencing the necessary and unnecessary information that’s assaulting our brains, “Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting. At the same time, we are all doing more”.

But not every distraction is external: it can also be our emotional distractions (thoughts/feelings) that pull our focus away from whatever is present.

So what can we do to improve our focus?

Stop Multitasking

We keep trying to cram everything into a single moment and call it ‘multitasking’. We think it’s productive but research shows it’s actually very inefficient and bad for our mental and physical health.

Multitasking, information overload, and constant interruptions are impairing the way our brains work, says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas — Dallas.

And what’s worse is that multitasking has biochemical effects that are both stressful and addictive.

“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking” says neurologist Dr. Daniel Levitin, and that multitasking also “creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation”.

Our brains are not wired to handle multitasking well: when we think we’re multitasking, what we’re actually doing is switching from one task to another very rapidly, “We’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner,” says Levitin. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, multitasking makes us less efficient.

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