One Thing At A Time

There have been several recent studies, like this one, that have definitively proven that multi-tasking is not only inefficient, but also Publication2-page-0harmful to the brain. Frequent or chronic multi-taskers use their brains less effectively than folks who focus on one task at a time.

This, of course, is not news to ancient Yogis who knew the value of singular focus and a less cluttered brain. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali talk about training the mind to focus on one single principle or object.

Despite the research, multi-tasking still seems to be a badge of honor and something that is highly valued in a prospective employee. It may take a few years for the research to catch on, but in the meantime we can all benefit from unlearning this “skill”. Not just in our work life, but in our personal lives as well. So much of each moment is missed when our brains are occupied with things that have happened, are happening simultaneously, or will be happening.

Like any habit we’ve formed, in order to change it, we need to form a new habit by repetitively and mindfully choosing to focus on one thing at a time. A regular and comprehensive yoga (meaning, ALL of yoga, not just asana) practice is a good way to train the mind for singular and directed focus. By giving our brains the opportunity and space to focus on our breath and only our breath we begin the hard work of retraining ourselves to operate more effectively and efficiently in a world that is built around multi-tasking.

One breath at a time, one moment at a time, one thing at a time.

3 to 1 positive emotion ratio

So, some studies have been done and its been “discovered” that the most resilient and satisfied people are those who experience three positive emotions for every one negative one.  One of the keys to increasing positive experiences is to have present moment mindfulness. The fact is that most of what we experience in a day is positive but we don’t always notice, preoccupied as we tend to be with things that have already happened or that we expect to happen.

If any of this sounds familiar that’s because this research echos what various eastern philosophies, including Yoga and Buddhism, have been saying for literally thousands of years. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to have the research to back it up, and anything that makes these philosophies more palatable or digestible for the western mind is a good thing in my book.

It’s interesting, though, the use of the words positive and negative, as one could argue that not attempting to label our experiences as one way or another could also lead to more satisfaction. It is indeed a very western habit to definitively name things. Buddhist and Yogic teaching both stress the importance of equanimity in our approach to life. Things are not necessarily good or bad, they simple are.

This is one of my greatest challenges, especially as it relates to parenting. When my little one won’t take a nap, for example, it is a real struggle for me not to see it as a failure of some sort, rather than a simple fact to which I can respond however I choose. My mind tends to go towards worse-case scenario, imagining his tired brain unable to learn new things, as well as the inevitable fussing and whining that often accompanies a tired baby boy. I know, through both experience and observation, that missing a nap every once in a while will have no lasting effect on his brain development, and that we can still have a perfectly lovely day even when he is tired. Days are no doubt better when he’s napped… but there I go again placing a value on things. Better, worse, positive, negative, right, wrong… it’s a very hard habit to break!

While I keep working on that, here’s a video you might be interested in watching. It’s from a TED talk and it draws on this research.

(I will be working on equanimity long after you’ve finished watching the video, through this lifetime and many others, I imagine)