“Elegance is achieved when all that is superfluous has been discarded and the human being discovers simplicity and concentration: the simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful it will be.” -Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and novelist.
Many of us believe we can multitask and handle many things at once. As a matter of fact, many of us do many things all at once for extended periods of time, but occasionally, that one extra task or requirement causes us to snap, even get angry at the stimulus who finally tipped the scale.
We are talking on the phone with a friend, keeping an eye on our baby sister, cleaning up the water bowl that the dog just knocked over and then our little brother comes running in to the kitchen and asks us to look at the picture that he just made for us and we snap, “Will you please hold on! I can’t do everything at once!” The stimulus that tips the scale can be so minor but we have reached our stimulus limit.
We can even become overwhelmed when we are sitting still. We have multiple problems or issues we are thinking about and trying to solve all at once. Then we get that one email or phone call that just tips the scale and we snap.
Typically, the stimulus that tips the scale, if experienced alone, would not affect us at all, but we are bound to overflow at some point because we are not machines who can multitask with 100% efficiency. There is a limit to the amount of stimulus our minds can manage at once.
“Apparently our nervous system can only process about 110 bits of information per second. Listening to someone speak takes up about 60 bits of neurological ‘bandwidth’, which explains why we can’t listen to more than one person at a time.”-Mihaly Csikszentmihali, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremond Graduate University
In one study examining how much subjects could retain in short-term memory (aka working memory) during a visual test of shapes and squares, researchers J. Scott Saults and Nelson Cowan (2007) found that subjects could hold on to no more than four items (or thoughts) at one time.
It’s important to point out here that this is drastically different than having the capacity TO DO four separate actions at one time. Studies prove that it is essentially impossible for a human.
Researchers aren’t sure why working memories are so limited, but they theorize that evolution appears to have opted against information overload and decided that focused energy was a more favorable survival instinct.
This is probably why focused energy and a focused mind can virtually accomplish anything.
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” -Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone.
The mind prefers to complete one task at a time. If we cannot do this due to having many responsibilities, we must learn to limit the number of tasks we are trying to accomplish all at once while also leaving room for an unforeseen event that normally may have tipped the scale.
Define your priorities and set certain times for certain activities.
5 activities completed one at a time will get done much sooner and the results will be much better than doing all 5 at the same time. Consider studying with your phone off, preparing breakfast and what you will be wearing ahead of time, getting your homework done before you are expecting company, or preparing for an exam, project, or report days in advance.
If you are trying to figure out some solutions to issues you are having, consider focusing on one issue at a time by not allowing the thoughts of another to intrude. Consider putting time aside for mental contemplation just as you would a physical activity.
Simplify your life and schedule.
Plan things and spread them out.
Ask yourself: If I relax, will anything change? Do I really need to accomplish so many things all at one time? How can I spread them out? What is my top priority today? What is my top priority at this moment? Who is my top priority? When do each of these things need to be completed? Do I have control of the deadlines or do others? What can I put off until later? What can I say “no” to right now? What can I eliminate? Can I ask for help? Is there a task that I can start doing ahead of time to prepare for my next busy time?
If not checked, overwhelm can turn into long-term stress and contribute to many health related illnesses such as:
- Heart disease
- Heart attacks
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems and abdominal pains
- Skin problems
And much of it is completely avoidable.
You are in control here. You’ve got this.
If you want to learn more about your mind and emotions and how to master them, sign up for the Free Total Mind Development Program for Teens and Young Adults.
About the Author: Michelle C. USTASZESKI-HUTCHINSON is the Founder and Editor of The Teen Mentor, LLC, a Personal Development Expert, and the Creator and Author of the Total Mind Development Program for Teens and Young Adults based in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. She has been quoted as a “Master of Success” among some of the worlds most famous thinkers and published in numerous books and on thousands of websites around the world. Read More about Michelle or Find More of Michelle’s Articles…