Today I am struggling to find just one thought to ponder on. My mind is flitting here and there, glimpses of ideas that then run and hide again catching my attention of a flicker of an eyelid.
While I at times I enjoy my restless mind, as it takes me on adventures and makes unexpected discoveries, today it is a little frustrating. Not only are the thousand thoughts running through my brain distracting me from the many tasks on my list, they are making me restless, fidgety and even a little bit nervous.
The up-side to this marathon of thoughts is that it reminds me of information long forgotten. If by coincidence or an ironic trick my mind is playing on me , I remembered something about how the mind works and why we only have a limited amount of attention span each day.
When our brain is concentrating on a specific task it uses up a measurable amount of glucose. As we go through our day our resources deplete and it takes more and more effort to focus. Decision making, discipline and creativity are high-energy tasks diminishing our supply of glucose fast. This flow of glucose is stopped whenever we are distracted and used for other things, like musing over the weather, deciding if it’s time for another cup of tea or if the phone rings, an email pings or a text messages bleeps.
One study from 2005 even showed that we lose more than 2hrs each day by being distracted. When we start a project it takes about 11minutes before a distraction pulls our attention away and it takes another 25 minutes for us to refocus and continue with what we were doing, if we go back to the original task in the first place. And because our mind is jumping around, playing tag with the latest distraction, steadily depleting our glucouse supply, we need longer and longer to focus on new projects as the day goes by.
The only thing we can do to contract being pulled away from the task at hand seems to be by switching of anything that can distract us and allow our mind to just deal with what is in front of it. This may sound simple, but in the age of double screening and multi-tabbing most of us find it nearly impossible to do.
And our brains really don’t help, as the lure of the new always piques our curiosity, our mind always picking the new over the old. The reason for this is that the medial prefrontal cortex, located behind our forehead, activates when we are not doing much. This part of our brain is responsible for thoughts about ourselves an other people, it deals with our inner dialogue and emotions. It is also part of the “default network” in our brains, that part of our mind that tends to wander and create independent thought. So when we are concentrating on doing the task at hand there is a part of our mind that flicks the on-switch and allows our thoughts to go for a stroll, distracting us, whether we like it or not.
As the day grows shorter and my mind is still playing hopscotch, maybe I should go for a walk and hope my brain will be too played out tomorrow to cause too many distractions.