In the early part of the year, it shouldn’t be surprising that nutrition and well-being is at the top of the list in the media. Many of us may have been lured into making those rash New Years Resolutions, which lasted for a couple of days at the most and yet, we are still looking for ways in which we can boost our health and well-being. Thats a good thing. I have been doing some writing and contributing for various publications over February and some of the nutrition in the news below might just contain the tip that can help prepare you to do amazing things. This year is the International Year of Pulses and we are not talking about whether your heart is beating, but those little nutritious treasures such as baked beans, lentils, chickpeas and their friends. You can see what I had to say about them as a Bowel Cancer Australia Ambassador here. You might also like to check out the resources of Pulse Australia and grab some recipes here too. The school year took off with a bang a couple of weeks ago in Western Australia and ‘Today Tonight’ ran a story on an innovative concept called BakeSw@p – initiated by a group of women and mum’s at a West Australian primary school. Each parent registered with BakeSw@p brings a plate of their own healthy snacks for school, meets at the designated meet-up spot and swaps their own kids snacks with other parents. Each family then takes home a variety of healthy school snacks for the week. The story than ran on Channel 7 a couple of weeks ago, generated huge interest – I always love hearing about people being engaged in improving the health of their children by home cooking and limiting the use of prepackaged foods. You can check out the segment here and what BakeSw@p are all about here. Lastly, lets not forget the annual issue of getting back to work after taking a festive break – this one can most certainly be a tough gig. Getting traction and enthusiasm can be all too elusive at the beginning of the year but never fear, there are ways and means to enhance our focus and concentration while at work. My article over on WatchFit runs through some strategies to do just that – you can take a look here. Not all news is bad right?
A few nights ago I came to the end of my first month back at interval run training. I say back, because prior to this, the last time I graced the springy grass track was over 10 years ago before I had kids. It has hurt me big time, because for many years I have just been running. Training for 10, 21 and 42km events that have seen my pace pretty much stay the same. Flatline. This year, I wanted to shake it up a bit and see if my legs could turn over a little faster. It seems they can. Going to intervals makes me anxious. I know its going to be hard and competitive. My heart and lungs will feel like they are about to jump out and run their own race. But what gets me to the end of each gritty set, is the finish line and a short breather. These days we run our lives like a marathon event with no rest and no finish line in sight. We just keep going without regularly stopping to recover and regroup, which dramatically impacts our quality of life and ability to stay at the top of our game. Research shows that our bodies work best with 90 minute cycles of work, followed by a brief break. This means focusing on whatever your task may be for 90 minutes, reaching the finish line and then taking a 5 minute breather. Your focus will be hugely improved, your energy levels will be stable and you will be amazed at what you can achieve. It cuts down on distraction when you know there is a finish line just around the corner. Start thinking about your life as a sprint event not a marathon. Sprinters give 100% because they can see the finish line.
There are few people that would dispute my conviction that Italy produces the best coffee in the world and my current sea change in this beautiful country has meant that I have been able to conduct some serious research into the topic. This morning as I greeted my favourite barista and watched her expertly take orders, make my coffee and at least ten others, serve pastries whilst washing cups and greeting every single person that walked through the door with a smile, it was obvious to me that she was expert at multi-tasking. It certainly didn’t appear to be negatively impacting my Italian barista but is multi-tasking such a good thing? These days, multi-tasking is a term thrown around in all directions and is something we are expected to do in the workplace, at home and in the general management of our lives.
The term “multi-tasking” is not new though and originated in the computer industry, referring to the ability of a microprocessor to process several tasks simultaneously with the first published use of the word appearing in 1965.
Almost 50 years later, multi-tasking is alive and well and it is very difficult not to do it. We are expected to achieve a great deal each day (often quite unrealistically) and we are bombarded with a constant stream of information and technology. Most of us think we are good at it and it is common knowledge that many women believe they are much better at multi-tasking than men, quite often congratulating themselves on their prowess. Leading brain expert, Norman Doidge M.D. author of The Brain that Changes Itself, discusses some research in his book that suggests the left and right hemispheres are better connected in women and that women are better at multi-tasking than men. For all the indignant males out there, it is a moot point anyway as you will soon see.
Doing things like speaking on the phone while folding washing or watching the TV screen while on the treadmill are easy and possible without error, because they don’t require much brainpower. However, if you want to learn a particular skill or do something well that requires concerted effort, multi-tasking is not advisable, according to Norman Doidge, who is a passionate anti multi-tasker.
It would seem that our brains just aren’t equipped for multi-tasks that require brainpower. George A. Miller, a respected cognitive psychologist, published one of the most highly cited papers in psychology that is often interpreted to suggest that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7+/- 2. This is usually referred to as Millers Law. When information doesn’t make it into short- term memory, it can’t be transferred into long-term memory for later use. The bottom line is, if you can’t recall it you can’t use it.
In The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge points to the detailed studies that have been done on multi-tasking which show that people don’t do things as well. It takes a certain amount of mental effort and time to switch from Topic A to Topic B and, if you’re truly multi-tasking – activity A to activity B, you are constantly shifting your brain just like a computer, booting up some circuitry and closing down other circuitry. In the end multi-tasking is working against you and results in inefficiency, fatigue and stress.
Multi-tasking can be dangerous too. Distraction is known to be the leading cause in 22% of car crashes and 71% of truck crashes, with one of the major distractions being the use of mobile phones and hand-held devices. The use of mobile phones, in particular texting, increases the risk of a car crash four-fold. Driving a vehicle is a multi-tasked activity itself and a classic example of where multi-tasking cannot work, constituting a major threat to life.
Children are no different to adults and do not possess any special ability to multi-task. Many brain experts agree that learning to concentrate is a skill not just useful for academic pursuits but also for life.
So instead of reading this blog while watching the news, cooking dinner, and talking to your kids, try something new. Just do one thing. Do nothing else and give your brain a rest. Everything else can wait.