Dr. Caroline Leaf, Neuroscientist

By Guest Writer, Dr. Caroline Leaf


See this 2.25min VIMEO

One of the plagues of modern existence is multitasking, which leads to the current plague of “hurry sickness” and obsessive time management. The truth about multitasking is that it is a persistent myth. What we really do is shift our attention rapidly from task to task, resulting in two bad things: (1) We don’t devote as much focused attention as we should to a specific activity or task or piece of information. (2) We sacrifice the quality of our attention. I call this “milkshake-multi tasking.”

Multitasking Is a Persistent Myth

This poor focusing of attention and lack of quality in our thought lives is the complete opposite of how the brain is designed to function and causes a level of brain damage. Every rapid, incomplete, and poor quality shift of thought is like making a milkshake with your brain cells and neurochemicals. This milkshake-multitasking, which is the truth behind multitasking, creates patterns of flightiness and lack of concentration that are unfortunately often erroneously labeled ADD and ADHD and that are too often unnecessarily medicated, adding fuel to the fire. And it’s a rapid downhill slide from there if we don’t get back to our God-design of deep, intellectual attention. What does deep, focused, intellectual attention look like versus milkshake multitasking? The answer is modeled in Proverbs 4:20–23: “My son, pay attention to what I say. Listen closely to my words. Don’t let them out of your sight. Never stop thinking about them. These words are the secret of life and health to all who discover them. Above all, be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.” We understand that we are deeply intellectual beings –are you surprised? We are made in God’s image after all. He designed us to think through things one at a time in a focused, quality manner by paying attention, listening intently, keeping our eyes on one thing, and fixing it in our mind.

The 140-Character Twitter

This contrasts undeniably with the general pattern of modern life today in which so much attention is paid to twittering, instagramming, and facebooking to the point that we forget all about enjoying the moment. We are told by so-called social media experts that information needs to be in bite-size amounts and in a constant stream of new information before the previous information has even been digested. This is not stimulation; it is bombardment. We have been reduced to 140 characters and an addiction to looking for the next informational high. Students can’t sit quietly and enjoy reading a book, allowing their imagination to take flight. Before sharing some of the researched consequences of this milkshake multi-tasking momentum we are in, I want to assure you that I believe social media plays an important role in society, business, and life. When used correctly and in a balanced way, it is a phenomenal communications tool. I am all for progress. Used incorrectly, however, this good thing becomes a bad thing.

It’s All about Balance 

Our brain responds with healthy patterns, circuits, and neurochemicals when we think deeply, but not when we skim the surface of multiple pieces of information. Colossians 3:15 in the Amplified Bible explains peace as “soul harmony” that comes from Christ and that acts as an umpire who helps us think, choose, decide, and settle with finality all questions that arise in our minds. But milkshake multitasking switches off our brain, making soul harmony impossible. Scientists have found that the amount of time spent milkshake multitasking among American young people has increased by 120 percent in the last ten years. According to a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry, exposure to more television and other electronic media during the teenage years—such as playing a computer game while watching television—appears to be associated with increased depression and anxiety in young adulthood, especially among men. Considering that teens are exposed to an average of eight and a half hours of multitasking electronic media per day, we need to change something quickly.

Social Media Enthusiast or Addict?

Another concern this raises is whether you or your teen is a social media enthusiast or simply a social media addict? This is a very real problem—so much so that researchers from Norway developed a new instrument to measure Facebook addiction called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. Social media has become as ubiquitous as television in our everyday lives, and this research shows that multitasking social media can be as addictive as drugs, alcohol, and chemical substance abuse. A large number of friends on social media networks may appear impressive, but according to a new report, the more social circles a person is linked to, the more likely the social media will be a source of stress. It can also have a detrimental effect on consumer well-being because milkshake multitasking interferes with clear thinking and decision making, which lowers self-control and leads to rash, impulsive buying and poor eating decisions. Greater social media use is associated with a higher body mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit card debt for consumers with many close friends in their social network—all caused by a lack of self-control.

We Can Become Shallow

Milkshake multitasking decreases our attention, making us increasingly less able to focus on our thought habits. This opens us up to shallow and weak judgments and decisions and results in passive mindlessness. Deep, intellectual thought, on the other hand, results in interactive mindfulness— the “soul harmony” presented in Colossians 3:15. This requires engaging passionately with the world. We need to increase our awareness of our thoughts and take the time to understand and reflect on them. Let us now take a look at some studies that show the impact of changing from a milkshake multitasking mindset to a deep, intellectual mindset. In 2012 a research group at the University of Washington did an interesting study on the effects of meditation training on multitasking. They found that the subjects of the study had fewer negative emotions, could stay on task longer, had improved concentration, switched between tasks more frequently, and spent their time more efficiently. These results excited me because I found similar results in my own research.

My Research

In my documented research with patients who had traumatic brain injury (TBI) and students and adults who had learning and emotional disabilities, I was astounded at the change in their cognitive and emotional function once they started applying a more deeply intellectual thinking pattern. I abandoned all traditional therapy, trained them in my 5-Step Switch on Your Brain® technique and showed them how to apply it to their daily life. The changes were almost immediate: improved focus, concentration, and understanding, shifting efficiency, overall effectiveness in producing quality work. There were even positive emotional changes, specifically in self-motivation and self-esteem. And it didn’t stop there; over time they continued to improve in cognitive and emotional functioning. Once they were set on a healthy thinking path, it continued upward in a cascading fashion.

ORDER the Switch on Your Brain with the 5-Step learning Process

In the ensuing past twenty years, I have seen this in thousands of patients and clients. This work is the result of God’s guidance because when I started down this path, it was the complete opposite my academic training. I instinctively began with and continue to use Scripture—specifically the drive and focus that is called for in Proverbs—as guidance and motivation for my research on the science of thought. This research produced what I call the Switch on Your Brain® 5-Step Process, which teaches people to use disciplined, focused attention to develop the kind of thinking pattern that has huge benefits on attention networks and saves us from the enemy of distraction.

The benefits of focused thinking and disciplined concentration are not just behavioral. Everything you do and say is first a thought in your physical brain. You think, then you do, which cycles back to the original thought, changing it and the thoughts connected to it in a dynamic interrelationship. As the Scriptures say: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).

Scientists See Evidence

Scientists are seeing the evidence of deep, intellectual thought versus milkshake multitasking in the brain. Deep, intellectual thinking activates the prefrontal cortex (just above your eyebrows) in a positive way, producing increased concentration, less distraction, less switching between tasks, decreased emotional volatility, and overall increase in job completion. Scientists have also found that deep, intellectual thinking improves connections within and between nerve networks, specifically in the front part of the brain and between the front and middle parts of the brain.

Other researchers found that when an individual pays attention to a stimulus, the neurons in the cerebral cortex that represent this object show increased attention. We can also alter these patterns of activity by altering our attention, which remaps the cortex.

For more on Milkshake Multitasking and for references, see:

Read Switch on Your Brain

Or watch the full 28 min VIDEO

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About Will Myers

I am an "Intelligent Design" writer who has the Christian faith. Part of my background is that I have a degree in physics, and have been inducted into the National Physics Honor Society. Sigma Pi Sigma, for life. My interest has lead me into metaphysics, farther into Christianity. Optimum metaphysics becomes religion.
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