Monday, June 15, 2015

The Lie of Multitasking

To do two things at once is to do neither.
—Publilius Syrus, Roman slave, 1st century B.C.
Multitasking is merely rapid attention shifting. You are never, ever really doing more than one thing at a time. You’re just doing them in rapidly churning microbursts so that at the end of the day you’ve made incremental progress on a whole bunch of things and not finished anything. In case you haven’t noticed, this is not an effective strategy. 

The research supports this assertion:  Earl Miller, MIT neuroscientist, says “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”  Multitasking by all accounts is counterproductive – you think you are doing more but in actuality you are doing less. It reduces performance, it increases stress, it reduces our ability to focus, it makes us dumber and the list goes on. In other words, multitasking is actually a waste of time.

Many lawyers have seemingly actually lost the ability to focus relentlessly on one task until it is completed. This is terrible news because our brains are basically hardwired to do just one thing at a time. We are very good at one thing at a time, bad at two as the aforementioned links articulate so well. If we lose that “one thing at a time” ability we are really in a bad spot. Screwed basically. And many of us are getting screwed.

Enter mindfulness meditation.

If mindfulness does nothing else (though it does(!)), it teaches you how to focus. Focus better than you ever have or at least get back whatever focus you’ve lost to whatever personal “Facebook, Twitter, work email, Tinder, text message, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram hell” you’ve created for yourself.

Mindfulness is the complete opposite of multitasking. Mindfulness is a calm, deliberate focus on one thing - maintained for ten minutes. Every day. It is simplicity itself.

Ten minutes of mental "non-exercise" that will make you more productive, calmer and focused - ready to knock off those all those after the other!

Thanks for reading.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Stress? Go for a Run but Meditate Too

Recently, a colleague with whom I was discussing mindfulness mediation made the statement that he thought he could get the same benefits from his exercise program as he might get from a mindfulness practice. 

This is not true. Mindfulness and exercise are not the same.

Exercise is a great thing. It does relieve that physical stress we hold in our bodies. It does improve your health. It’s good for you on a host of levels. It may even be better at alleviating depression than pills according to some studies, although that truism is beginning to be challenged. A recent study by the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry published in the British Medical Journal found that, contrary to the “new” conventional wisdom, “exercise doesn’t help alleviate depression”.  

In any case, exercise does nothing for the true source of your stress – your thinking, your thoughts, your incessant storytelling.  You might get lost in your exercise and even get into the Zone but when you finish, those thoughts that muddle your life will still be there, still nagging at you and still stressing you out. Exercise does not fundamentally change the way we perceive ourselves or the world. Mindfulness meditation does.

We are not our thoughts - a key insight for each of us practicing meditation (whether mindfulness based or otherwise) does not arise in the Zone or after the Zone. Exercise teaches us nothing about ourselves, our mind, does not make it more emotionally resilient, less distractible, improve memory, improve relationship satisfaction or overall life satisfaction. Nor does it help us see ourselves more clearly.

Mindfulness meditation results in four areas of improvement: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of attention and regulation of emotions.  Of those four, only body awareness is arguably helped by exercise.  So, exercise leaves ¾ of the benefits of mindfulness on the table.

Even the U.S. Marines, a bunch of exercisers if ever there was, are trying out mindfulness in a variety of studies to determine if and how it might benefit troops.

No doubt exercise and mindfulness complement each other, but neither can replace the other.

So go for a run but meditate after!

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ricky Nelson, A Garden Party and the Tao of Law

When you are content to simply be yourself, and don’t compete or compare, everyone will respect you.” So says the Tao te Ching.

And, in my view, if you “are content to simply be yourself," you will be a much better lawyer. Because, if you are content, comfortable in your own skin, you will give advice based on the facts and the law – not tailoring your advice to get someone’s approval. Not telling the client what she wants to hear. Not doing whatever it takes to win even when you know damn well your case stinks and so does your client.

This same section of the Tao te Ching says:

In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous.”

Neither of those is possible if you are trying to please others. And how often are lawyers “fair and generous” for that matter.

One path to becoming “content to simply be yourself” is mindfulness about which I’ve written other blog posts so I won’t belabor it here; it's a quick read though.

Finally, as that great Taoist Ricky Nelson sang so long ago in "Garden Party" (lyrics):

But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well.
 You see, ya can't please everyone so ya got to please yourself.” 

Thanks for reading.