Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mindful Multi-tasking...Am I Brilliant or Kidding Myself?

I'm eating chocolate, doing laundry, facebooking, editing a paper, blogging, and watching the Olympics.

What does Positive Psychology say about multi-tasking?

Hmmm...I don't know. But let me talk about mindfulness.

If I am eating chocolate mindlessly yet am mindful that I am eating the chocolate in such a way, where am I? Let's see...

Mindfulness creates a space, a distance, between the “self” and the contents of one’s consciousness which includes thoughts, emotions, motives, one’s behavior, and the world (Maddux, 2009).

In this space, a flexibility imbues the individual, opening one up to novelty, sensitivity to context, and engagement with the present (Langer, 2009). Because we're open, mindfulness enables us to best deal with the inevitable uncertainties of life.

Still with me?

According to Barbara Fredrickson (2009), mindfulness is the gateway to optimism and positive emotion: “once you deliberately cultivate openness [via mindfulness], positivity follows automatically, along with its broaden-and-build entourage.”

Well, that's a plus! (pun intended).

Fredrickson further discusses how mindfulness is linked with resilience; because it is more grounded in the present, when mindful, an individual is less concerned or worried about the future. They don’t overgeneralize or overreact.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the first Western scientist to teach and apply Eastern mindfulness practices to his medical patients using a methodology called, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), discusses mindfulness as a non-judgmental attending to one’s inner experience with full awareness (Fredrickson, 2009).

For example, if one has a negative thought, in a mindful state, one can step back, accept the thought as just a thought, and not give into it.

AHA! This means I AM being mindful of my behavior right now and without slapping myself on the wrist, can step back and say, "enough, Stella, hide the chocolate!"

Here's where it gets interesting...

Over 25 years of studies reveal that mindfulness contributes to greater competence, health and longevity, positive affect, creativity, charisma, and reduced burnout (Langer, 1989, 1997).

In fact, mindfulness helps you experience less stress, less pain, reduced anxiety, clearer skin, and better immune functioning.

It's like vitamins, birth control pills, exercise, and pro-biotics all rolled into one!

Furthermore, it’s been proven that mindfulness training affects your brain; it reduces activity in circuits linked with negativity and increases activity in circuits linked with positivity (Fredrickson, 2009).

The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, going on automatic pilot. Most of the time we are mindless (Langer, 2009). Langer describes that mindlessness occurs in two forms: 1)through repetition such as driving the same route home and 2) Through single exposure of information such as when we blindly accept information without questioning it when presented by “authority” figures. So beware!

What can you do to be more mindful?

1. Meditate! Not sure how? Listen to Gabrielle Bernstein's guided meditations on iTunes.

2. When in conversation with someone, LISTEN to what they're saying instead of thinking about you're going to say or planning your grocery list.

3. Doing "mindless" tasks? NEVER! Even simple things like LAUNDRY can be done mindfully. Pay attention to the task at hand. For example, consider how amazing it is that you just have to press a button and presto, your clothing gets washed. Pay attention to how deliciously warm your clothing feels when it comes out of the dryer. Be HERE.

And yes, it's probably best to not do your laundry, blog, watch the Olympics, eat chocolate, facebook, and write a paper at the same time.

More mindfully now, with love,


Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown Publisher.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003), "Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future," Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10:144-56.

Langer, E. (2009). Mindfulness Versus Positive Evaluation. In Lopez, J. & Snyder, C. R. (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 279-293). New York: Oxford University Press.

Maddux, J. E. (2009). Self-efficacy: The power of believing you can. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 2nd ed. (pp. 335-343). New York: Oxford University Press.


  1. Think of being "mentally absent" because you've transported yourself into another space or time.

    The easiest way to bring oneself back is a) to sort out the things bothering you in the other time and place (Paolo Coelho - he actively blogs btw)
    b)do simple things like feel the carpet beneath your feet.

    You might like to look up British poet David Whyte (don't live this drama as if you were alone) and philosopher Alan Watt. Both have a little on youtube.

  2. Thanks, Jo Jordan! Love the range of your tips and the resources on your own blog.