There’s a growing body of research evidence that suggests that a day full of digital distractions is less than optimal for the health of my body and my brain. One reason, as neuroscientist Daniel Levitin points out in his book, The Organized Mind, is that distractions are energy hogs in the brain. Every time I shift my attention from one task to another, from thoughts on one topic to thoughts on a different topic, extra energy has to be expended.
So, for example, if I’m driving to work and I’m shifting back and forth from the road to the iPhone screen while I’m texting over and over and over, by the time I get to work, I will have expended much more energy than if I had simply kept both hands on the steering wheel and paid full attention to the road in front of me. I very likely also decrease the probability of running into bicyclists or telephone poles.
Neuroenergetic Theory Abides
But this additional energy expenditure has other consequences. Deliberative thinking is hard work. Neuroenergetic Theory argues that the sequence of the fuel injection process that brain cells use in thinking is adversely impacted by multi-tasking. Once brain cells we use for paying attention to one task complete a fueling sequence, they are inoperative and must undergo a refractory period until they can bring more fuel on board. During that resting phase these brain cells are subject to being overridden by other cells in the brain which can end up calling us off in the direction of any number of alluring distractions. The more we multi-task, the more easily we are subsequently captured by distractions. Whatever we pay attention to and how we pay attention to it, tends to increase. What to do?
Be Pokey, Mon
Slow everything down. What’s the rush? Rushing is stressful. Here’s an interesting study from researchers at UC Berkeley. What they’ve found is that stress causes proteins to misfold in a cell’s powerplant – its mitochondria. Misfolded mitochondria proteins cause a cell to rapidly age and then die. Slowing down processes in a single cell’s mitochondria allows for the proteins to begin to fold correctly, restoring the cell to full health. Might slowing down work to benefit a preponderance of the 37.2 trillion cells that make up the organism called … you!
There’s only one real way to find out, right – experiment. As I age, I find slowing down and being mindful becomes increasingly important if I don’t want to have the frustrating (and sometimes frightening) experience of going through large parts of my day while not being fully aware and awake in any present moment. One area where I find it particularly beneficial, for example, is when I’m working on a God Pod and I place a chisel or a chalk line down, I deliberately pay extra attention to the placement. If I don’t mindfully mark the placement, I’ll spend an inordinate amount of frustrating time searching all over the place for the tool.
Marky-Marking What Ails Me
Another way I have learned the importance of slowing down and being mindful is again, when I’m working on a Prayer Pod (or cutting and splitting firewood), to deliberately notice when I bang a shoulder into a roof rafter or knock a shin into an alder round. By mindfully marking the experience, a day or two later when I’m feeling the pain from the incident, my mind doesn’t automatically assign a cancer or leukemia diagnosis. I remember: “Oh, right. I banged myself there yesterday.”
At earlier times in my life, I used to be an insurance company’s profit poster boy. While mostly good at avoiding auto accidents, I would acquire speeding tickets that kept me right on the cusp of having my license suspended year after year. With those tickets came higher insurance rates, of course. Even when it was pointed out to me that on a trip of almost any duration, the most I would likely shave off my time would be five minutes or so, my nervous system seemed to just want me to go fast. I tend to walk fast, as well.
Nowadays, however, I have made the choice to deliberately slow down. Over here on Whidbey Island, the speed limit in town is 25 – strictly enforced. Neighbors take down speeder’s license plate numbers and notify the police. And most of my walks now have dogs with me on leashes who demand that we stop and pick up Pee-Mail every 20 or 30 feet as we meander the pathways at the dog-park. And you know what, these days my brain, body and I are deeply appreciating that “Bodhi’s got mail!”