Friday, January 11, 2019

Growing Focus by Eliminating Multitasking

To improve anything in life requires first and foremost focus.  Focus is the ability to block out all distractions and keep a singular target for the goal at hand.

"Keep the goal, the goal."  Dan John

In todays day and age, it almost has become a bragging right to talk about all the things you got done at once.  I listened to this podcast, returned emails, played with my kid and ate my breakfast.  It's similar to having pride in how little sleep you get.  

We carry around these tiny super computers that bring dings and vibrations when anyone in the world makes a comment or a like to a post or a photo.  We get included into group chats.  We get texts that are expected to be answered within a few minutes.  From this, it is very easy for a quick check to become a lost 5 minutes...15 minutes.  

But times they are a changin'. 

Multitasking has been shown to be pretty much a sugar coated way of saying I'm ok with doing sub par work in a few areas of my life.  There has been shown to be a noticeable loss of seconds when we switch tasks.  Perhaps talking on the phone and doing dishes may not be that big of deal (or is it, I'll come back to this) but driving and talking is. 

They have now shown that driving while texting is the equivalent of driving with 3x the legal alcohol limit.  Doing two cognitive tasks at once is impossible for the human brain.  In fact, there have been some research that even suggests that it is decreasing the brain volume size when we multitask a lot. 

Outside of the dangers of obviously driving or doing anything with machinery, I think the true cost of  multi tasking is that we are training ourselves to get distracted.   Habits are being formed.  A life is being adjusted and created.  We are what we allow ourselves to become, good or bad.  

People understand training.  If you want to get stronger, run longer, move faster, you have to train your body and it will happen.   The whole body will respond to different stimuli.  No gravity and your bones will become brittle.  Don't move your hips, you get immobile.  Ride your bike everyday, your aerobic system will improve.  Practice sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day every day for years and it will get good at sitting.  The body is magical this way.  It becomes what you do.  It gets good at what we repeatedly do.

Multitasking is training the brain to get slower, to perform less, to accept a different level of "good."  It's training your brain to be easily distracted to the next fleeing thought, emotion, feeling, ding and pretty bauble.  We are getting better at being busy with an outcome of less accomplished and what is  less quality.  Multitasking is allowing lack of quality into our life and I think it is creating  stress in our lives.

Back to our example of laundry and the phone.  Surely if anything applied to successful multitasking, something as benign as this, would fit the bill.  I'll politely disagree.  Again, you are teaching yourself to be distracted.  You are teaching yourself to lack focus.  Your Focus muscle is getting smaller and weaker.  

"The way we do small things is the way we do everything."  Robin Sharma

You may think your giving your family or friends your full attention, but again, research has shown you are not.  You are in two places in your mind.  Give me your attention is one of the most powerful acts and also one of the most prized possessions.  So when someone give you theirs, be respectful.  

My favorite story I ever heard about Kobe Bryant was from Kobe himself.  He talks about how he started to the process of training focus.  2:20 on the video.

When we give our focus to a task, good things will happen.  I personally think meditation is becoming so popular, not just because it works (it does) but because it's teaching focus.  What we train we get better at, remember.  There is carryover.  Focus allows us to be a better parent, partner, spouse, worker, craftsman, or friend.  It feels good to apply our focus on things.  We call it flow.  Whole seminars and books are written about finding flow.  Being in the present.  Flow is just the ability to focus and block out all distractions.  

"Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand.  The suns rays do not burn until brought to a focus."  Alexander Graham Bell

Every time you block out the task, stay distraction free, say no to multitasking and focus with singular intent, you will do a better job, have a better outcome.  Have a quicker outcome.  But, more importantly your focus muscle will strengthen.  

At first shoot for a few minutes.  If your reading, read and immerse yourself in the words.  What is it trying to say.  When thoughts show up, which they will.  Acknowledge them, flick it way and go back to reading.  After the few minutes, then address your thought.  Sometimes just writing down the thought, allows us to go back for another few minutes of solid focusing.  

Some practice tips are working in 15-20 min blocks.  Are bodies are almost programmed to move every 20 minutes through a process called creep or deformation.  After 20 min of not moving the soft tissue starts to mold to that position at the cellular level.  But if you get up and move before then, it restarts.  90 min to 2 hours are another chunks of time to be used, with a brake that can be anything from 5-30 minutes.

Focus isn't just about doing stuff though.  Lots of people need to focus on shutting off.  Truly just letting the mind relax.  Sitting and thinking about all the stuff you need to do is not taking a time out. Recover.  As the famous saying goes, time wasted wasn't wasted time.  

Practice no phones with people you are talking too.  Practice just allowing one task to be done at once.  See it to the end and move on.  Get better.  One of my big fears in life is to wake up in a 10 years and be no better at manual therapy. To be the same.  To literally have the old cliche of 10 years of work, but it was one year, repeated 10 times.  How easy it for the same days to become weeks, the weeks a year.

In our clinic, I try to make a conscious decision each appointment to take literally 3 seconds and remind myself, have a new experience.  Accumulate new experiences.  Give this patient my focus.  

I thought a lot about what I wanted 2019 to be more like then the previous year.  It was focus.  In a weird twist ala M. Night Shyamalan style, I realized 2018 had taught me it.  A torn achillies basically forced me into a hyper focus rehab mode.  2-3x a day dedicated rehab with lots of my free reading being directed towards tendon and tendon health.  The result was I feel more fit and faster then even before the tear.  My understanding of tendons has improve leaps and bounds.  The first 6 months just flew by.  Flow.  As the focus slowed down, regular life become more normal again, but for one change, the first time I've started to really notice when I'm distracted.  I think it had been a gradual hardly noticeable slide, until it wasn't.  I could make lots of excuses, owning a business, wife, kids, hobbies, friends, fitness, continueing education, etc...but thats what they are, excuses.  Focus on the task at hand.  Then move to the next.  Build that Focus muscle.  Feed it and it will grow, multitask and it will starve.  

I'll leave you with this quote from the great Philosopher Yoda...

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