Media Multitasking Leads to Poorer Cognitive Performance: A Mindful Response

In a recent study out of the Journal of Communication, researchers showed how media multitasking not only makes for poorer cognitive performance, but perhaps points to why, despite increasing our stress and making us less effective at home and work, we still do it.

The study found that there is an emotional boost when we engage in media multitasking. One thing we know about emotions is that they often guide our subconscious decision making. You might wonder why you say, “Okay, today I won’t text and drive,” or “I’m really going to focus on this project today,” only to find yourself falling back into the media multitasking trap; repeatedly checking twitter, Facebook and your text messages. Your conscious mind is not in the driver’s seat.

In a past blog post explaining why habits are so hard to break, Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, explains the dopamine kick that comes our way in the face of addictive substances. This dopamine drives our behavior toward whatever the gratifying substance is. In other words, there is a physiological and emotional gratification that we receive as we move toward the substance.

There are a few things we can do to raise our abilities to effectively integrate and manage this media in our lives, and I highlight these in The Now Effect:

  1. Acceptance – Accept the reality that your brain is often making decisions for you on a subconscious level and you’re not often consciously in control. You can use the serenity prayer; it certainly applies. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  2. Control your environment – Now that you understand that your subconscious mind makes most of the decisions, you can do certain things to influence it. Turn the phone off or maybe the ringer. The addictive behavior is so strong that you may not even be able to do that. Put up some signs in your work place or home that reminds you to be present to what you’re doing. Surround yourself with materials on mindfulness.
  3. Forgive and invite – Every time you notice yourself unintentionally multitasking with unimportant and non-urgent tasks, no need to be harsh on yourself, which only gets you further from a focused attention.  Just forgive yourself for the time gone by, recognize that you’re present, and in this “choice point,” make the decision to refocus.

Integrate these 3 steps into your life and you’ll be on your way to breaking the bad habits and more effectively harnessing the power of the technology that’s available today.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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