I think by now many know that multi-tasking is a myth, at least on an intellectual level. But I recall the first time that I heard it via a friend sharing an article she had read in a science journal. I had always thought there was something slightly wrong with my brain in that I had such a hard time focusing on more than one task so I was utterly relieved. I’ve always been drawn to depth rather than breadth but that doesn’t stop my monkey mind from continually trying to add one more thing to my mental work space. At some point, I have to clear all of the possibilities off and start with a clear counter top. I often think of the Lao Tzu query during this process: “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”
As a person who values creativity, it can be a real challenge, and indeed a discipline, to choose ONE idea at a time and complete a task before beginning another. That doesn’t mean,however, that the thread of a creative idea can’t lead to another thread, and then another, and so forth. The trick, I think, is to allow enough time and space to gain insight on how to gather the threads and work them into one “seamless garment” as the orthodox tradition says.
I have referred a couple of times to this time a year ago when I realized that I absolutely had to make a change. One of the biggest parts of this shift was learning to set boundaries and not just with other people, but with myself and my own thinking. Identifying the thought patterns that cause distress is critical for mental health. I believe that one of the most insidious thought patterns (for me, at least) is the faulty idea that stress causes productivity.
Do you have in your mind a busy person? She likely has a furrowed brow, a very forceful and purposeful gait as she strides toward all of the many things that she is going to do all at once. For heaven’s sake, don’t be caught sitting down as she marches past you lest she judge you for being lazy. This person, whom I call Florence, often lives in our minds, lecturing us from our to do list and telling us that the more stressed we are, the more we have our priorities straight. Florence does not give a fig for your health or happiness, she wants you to work unrealistically and keep as many balls in the air as possible. Florence could not be more wrong.
In fact, there is a good amount of research showing that stress and depression can be gateways to dementia. A mindful approach to life is thought to prevent or slow down the progression of cognitive impairment. My mother has dementia so the wisdom of repairing my inaccurate thinking seems very pertinent. She was the quintessential busy person (thought not as grumpy as Florence) for most of her life so I can’t help but wonder at the possible connection.
And honestly, living slowly is just a happier way of being. I don’t bark (quite) as much at my family, I can get MORE done each day, and I am actually enjoying working on what is right in front of me. I am learning to follow one thread at a time although Florence will keep trying to hand me eight tangled masses to untie immediately. I ignore her, knowing that if I am patient, I will eventually create a beautiful piece of fabric.