All too often, people who are good at intellectual pursuits or technology feel daunted by the emotional and psychological aspects of life. Hence the image of the geek as socially inept. But this happens because geeks see emotional and psychological issues as separate and different from what they are good at.
What you need to do is to realize that you have amazingly wonderful resources to tackle these issues… if only you look at it the right way. Think of it as using your talents to hack into the “secrets” of mindfulness, inner peace and harmony. There is no better place to start than in dealing with multitasking.
Information overload, and multitasking, far from making us more efficient, impair our performance. So we need to reduce the amount of information we are processing at any given time.
How? In a way, the answer can be summarized as “Just do it!”. That is, you consciously focus, moment by moment, on one task and on the information required for this task, as opposed to multitasking. In the information-rich environment where we live, this is easier said than done. If you expect this focus to happen “naturally”, you will be disappointed time and again.
It is important to realize that the urge to “multitask” is not a modern development, but is based on deeply rooted instincts. By “deeply rooted”, I mean going way back, before our ancestors were even human. The default mode in nature is for attention to be constantly solicited by new information. Just think about it this way: If you were an animal in the wilderness, wouldn’t it make sense for you to be constantly on the lookout for new information that could signal possible sources of food, or possible sources of danger? This is what we evolved from, and we bring these old instincts into a modern environment where they are not always suitable.
So it is useful to remember that ignoring new, extraneous information in order to focus on one task is going to require an effort. It is actually going to take two things: One is a certain peace of mind, the sense that there is no danger that warrants being on the lookout for new information. The other is a conscious decision to ignore external information in order to focus on the task at hand.
There is a relationship between these two things. One way it manifests is in a vicious cycle: When we are nervous, we find it hard to concentrate; as our mind keeps jumping from one thing to another, we become even more nervous… Conversely, there is the virtuous cycle: As we make a conscious decision to ignore this or that distraction, and consciously concentrate on one thing, we progressively become calmer. This virtuous cycle, by the way, is what is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not something that is based on sitting a certain way, or practicing a certain technique, or subscribing to a certain metaphysical belief system.
Mindfulness simply refers to observing what happens in our mind, noticing the mind’s tendency to be constantly pulled into new directions, and noticing how gently paying attention to what happens in our mind helps regulate it. The latter point is important: “gently paying attention” means there is intentionality.
Over time, this strengthens your capacity to deal mindfully with challenging and stressful situations.