Imagine it. You’re toggling between browser tabs on a conference call while juggling a grand cappuccino and a group chat on What’s App. Right about now you feel the MVP of Productivity until several audible notifications appear on your smartphone. So, you check them – all of them. Before you can say ‘ringxiety’, you’ve told your boss to make sure she does her homework, sent your nine-year-old the Q2 marketing report and accidentally sexted your mother-in-law who, thanks to autocorrect, is bemused about your love for ‘duck’. Right about now you feel stressed out and anxious, coated in brain fog and reaching for the ‘escape’ button.
Ironic, isn’t it? We’d all be masters of calm if only we weren’t so damn distracted. Primed and online at all times, the incessant data munching in modern life is giving us all quite the mental muffin top. With increasing mental spam (‘digital dementia’, anyone?) comes increasing mental strain, not to mention atrophied attention spans (8.25 seconds compared to the 9-second window of our freshwater friends).
Here’s the kicker. Florida State University researchers have discovered that mobile phone notifications alone can distract us from attention-demanding tasks, even when we choose to ignore them. The culprit? Dopamine. This frisky hormone gets its reward not just in the checking of our devices but the pure wanting of it. And wait for it… Scientific studies have also proven that attending to digital distractions incurs what’s known as a ‘switching cost’ – a lag time of 25 minutes before regaining full mental focus to a task at hand. Oh, it decreases our levels of grey matter in the brain too.
The good news? It doesn’t take too much effort to reset our factory settings from mindless to mindful. Want to put the kibosh on those pesky distractions. Here are two simple steps to help curb those cravings:
When we plug ourselves into too many devices at once, we’re bound to blow a fuse. And when we do, the only thing to do is switch off the circuit board before resetting the trips. This process allows you to figure out what’s interfering the most with your connection or whether you’ve short-circuited yourself into oblivion. Test your daily routine for potential faults. Do you answer emails on your tablet before you get out of bed? Perhaps you use work on your laptop while watching TV? By creating more deliberate usage habits, your patterns of unconscious swiping and scrolling will begin to wane; your craving for novelty will begin to subside and more purposeful patterns will fill the distraction vacuum.
Setting times for internet usage is like setting the table for dinner. It creates space for it to become a ritual rather than a routine. Likewise, contextualising our data meals with a beginning and an end sends a message to the brain that it is full. Those who consume information as a method for distraction or while on the run are more likely to fall foul of always feeling hungry despite being overfed with information. Granted, the Google oracle is great in an emergency, but not everything requires a fast answer. Where possible, plan conscious internet meal times instead of relying on take-out or data munching throughout the day.
All that’s left ‘to do’ now is a quiet word with your mother-in-law.