Multitasking Is a Myth — Here’s What You Should Do Instead

Multitasking Is a Myth — Here’s What You Should Do Instead

Why you should focus on one thing at a time, according to a psychologist.

Guest blog written for

In today’s technical and media saturated environments, many people take pride in their ability to juggle several things at once. They believe that they can focus effectively on a number of tasks at the same time. However, whatever job they may be attempting to do, their full attention will be disrupted by a wide variety of competing distractions. These include electronic devices, cell phones, computer screens, TV, emails, Facebook, text messages, Instagram, and face-to-face conversations.

Numerous scientific studies have proven that trying to concentrate on more than one thing at a time causes real problems. Drivers using cell phones were involved in more rear end collisions than intoxicated drivers. One study of American businesses determined that $650 billion was wasted yearly due to inefficiency, lower productivity, and errors caused by multitasking. Recent research at Stanford proved that even college students are no better performing simultaneous multiple tasks than the rest of us.

The prefrontal cortex is the most advanced part of the human brain, responsible for focusing and shifting attention. The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for executive functioning, which involves complex planning and decision-making. However, the prefrontal cortex can only attend to one thing at a time. Attempting to focus on several things at once will overload your prefrontal cortex, causing divided attention, inattention, or no attention at all. No matter what you are attempting to accomplish, this will cause problems most of the time.

The one exception involves certain physical activities that can be performed automatically without conscious thought. This is why Olympic athletes, professional musicians, and real jugglers repeat their specific physical motions over and over. They practice for at least 10,000 hours so they can perform their skills without engaging their prefrontal cortex.

If you need to consciously think and plan complex activities that do not involve “muscle memory,” there are several things you can do.

First of all, unless you are an Olympic athlete, experienced musician, or real juggler, you can accept that you can only focus on one project at a time, and only for a limited amount of time. Prioritize your current list of things that need to be done. Think about the demands of the various tasks, taking all the relevant details into account.

Then identify what is the most urgent and important thing that needs to be done at the present time.

After choosing the task that makes the most sense and feels right to work on, decide on how long you will focus on the task. Then close your eyes for a moment. Take a few deep breaths to quiet your executive functioning brain and momentarily detach from your otherwise distracting environment.

Try to vividly imagine yourself accomplishing every step of the task from beginning to its successful completion.

After working through everything in your mind, open your eyes and direct your full attention to the job in front of you. Continue doing what you have already mentally rehearsed until it is done, or until you need to stop or shift to focus your full attention on the next important task. As you do so, remember the Zen maxim, “When walking, walk; when eating, eat.”

These steps will help you learn the most effective way to handle complex activities, whether you’re working on two projects simultaneously for work or switching between reading several different books. You won’t be able to truly multitask, but you’ll master the skills you need to tackle complex projects involving multiple steps and types of focus.

How to Make Effective Decisions Every Day

How to Make Effective Decisions Every Day

We all face an endless series of decisions throughout the day that need to be made.

Guest blog written for

We all face an endless series of decisions throughout the day that need to be made. Most of those are easy since they involve relatively inconsequential events, and happen primarily on a subconscious level. However, when it comes to deciding important financial matters, serious personal interests, and family issues, making the right choice is not easy, especially without a functional strategy. If you do not have one, or would like to try a different one, here is a process that I’ve taught on Wall Street to senior equity traders for Merrill Lynch that significantly raised their profits  over a three-month period.

The decision-making strategy involves using different parts of the brain and mind in a precise sequence.

The left half (or hemisphere of the cerebral cortex) thinks sequentially in words and numbers.

The left-brain analyzes and computes in binary terms, like zeros and ones, using black-and-white thinking. This side of the brain is capable of processing verbal and mathematical information at high rates of speed known as Beta. Beta is like a committee meeting taking place inside your head, with many people talking at once. The more voices you hear, and the faster they speak, the higher the Beta frequency. The high Beta can cause confusion, lack of focus, and prevents access to your right-brain.

The right-brain perceives through images, sounds, and feelings.

This verbally quiet side of the cerebral cortex is the source of our artistic abilities, imagination, and intuition. The creative right-brain perceives simultaneously in multiple dimensions of sight, sound, and sensation. It can see beyond the black-and-white thinking of the left-brain to the colors of the visible spectrum. The right-brain can hear the opposite positions or points that the left-brain can argue, as well as comprehend the important nuances in the space between.

Optimal decision making begins in the left-brain.  

It starts with the processing of all the problem and relevant facts, data, and figures, identifying and weighing all the pros and cons, and making verbal arguments on behalf of the opposite positions. You also need to thoughtfully consider the dilemma and the real consequences of reaching a conclusion that turns out to be wrong or against your best interests, or those of your customers, clients, or employer.  

In deciding what you will have to eat for dinner, your left-brain needs to consider all the relevant details. These include possible recipes or items on the menu, as well as where, when, how, and with whom you dine, not to mention the costs or who’s picking up the check.

After reaching a rational understanding of the problem and evaluating all the relevant details, you need to switch to your right-brain in order to gain a different perspective.

You can do this by first closing your eyes, or at least softening your gaze to a general area in front of you. Then take several slow, deep breaths until you are focused only on the sensation of your breath going in and out. After you are in your right-brain, allow your creative mind to freely explore all the possibilities. Give yourself the time to look beyond the black-and-white facts and figures to see possibilities and solutions between and beyond the different positions. These must be taken into account.

Your right-brain can help in your ultimate food selection in several ways. Take a moment to picture what looks most appealing or makes you feel your mouth water. Imagine what it would taste like, how it would satisfy your appetite, and what you would feel like after the meal.    

Once you can envision several options, you should check in with your gut or sixth sense using the right brain.

This will to help you determine which ones feel right at this point, even if they do not make rational sense. Your right-brain intuition is able to know things without you rationally understanding how you know or came to know the information. If you look back on your decision making history, you will likely realize that your intuitive sense has been right most if not all of the time, often in spite of legitimate, rational arguments to the contrary.

Besides picturing the various food presentations and different tastes, you can take a moment to sense what you really feel like eating. Allow for this, even if you cannot rationally explain why you want to eat such food or justify the expense of the meal.

After gaining a subjective right-brain perspective, it’s time for you to move back into your objective left-brain.

You need to do this before you reach your final conclusion, especially when other people or institutions are involved. After your decision, you will need to be able to justify your ultimate choice based not only on the available facts and figures, but also on your experience, knowledge, and intuitive sense. In the meantime, try this strategy as you make your next important decisions at work or home.      

What are you going to eat for dinner tonight? Before you decide, try this strategy. See if it helps you make the right decision—one that satisfies your appetite, at an acceptable cost or price, and make you feel good after the meal. 

3 Common Misconceptions About Public Speaking You Need To Unlearn

3 Common Misconceptions About Public Speaking You Need To Unlearn

Presenting to a group can be highly stressful, especially if you hold some common misconceptions about public speaking.

Guest blog written for

Making a speech can be one of the most stressful events in an adult’s life. It doesn’t matter whether it is a brief talk with your boss, a presentation at work, or offering a toast at a wedding. Just the thought of having to do this causes much stress for many people. Public speaking has been rated the number one fear among adults in the United States. It’s something that we are often called on to do, but our fear can prevent us from participating in this part of everyday life.

I can relate. I struggled with this fear for most of my life until I understood presentation stress and learned practical solutions to cope with my fear. Since then, I have enjoyed being the keynote speaker at several national and international conferences as well as on live television. I am excited to share some of my findings in hopes to help others that are in a similar place.

Presenting to a group, regardless of the size, can be highly stressful, especially if you hold some common misconceptions about public speaking. Note that these thoughts have no rational support; however, if you believe them, they will make you even more nervous and negatively affect your performance. Let’s start by clearing up these misconceptions.

Everyone will see that you are nervous.

This is a common concern for many presenters, known to researchers as the illusion of transparency. Scientific evidence has proven that audience members do not pick up readily on speakers’ anxieties. No matter what you may think, even the intense inner feelings you may experience are too subtle to be detected by others.

Everyone will judge what you say and how you look. 

Researchers refer to this as the spotlight effect. There is considerable evidence proving that presenters overestimate the extent to which others are judging them, or even paying close attention to their words, message, or appearance. In spite of what you may think, many of your audience members are going to be preoccupied with their own thoughts and appearances.

You are not going to present well because you are nervous.

Research conducted at Yale and Harvard has demonstrated that the effects of high stress are largely dependent on how the symptoms are interpreted. If you feel some of the normal physical effects of stress, like a racing heart or shaking hands, and think that it means that you will not do well, you will not. However, if you interpret the symptoms as positive excitement rather than anxiety, and learn how to use the extra energy, you can become a much more effective presenter.

Recent research at the University of Western Australia studied 230 college students who were all due to give group-based presentations. About half of the students were randomly assigned to the control group, which received no training. The remaining students received Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) in three phases.

The first phase of SIT was conceptual, advising the student presenters that it would be a stressful event. The second phase involved acquiring new skills, where the students learned a variety of relaxation techniques including: deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral strategies, and visualization. The third phase applied these skills in practice presentations. The entire goal of SIT was to clear up the three main misconceptions about public speaking.

In the results of the University of Western Australia study, the group of students that completed the SIT training, compared to the control group, reported significant improvements in three areas: lower levels of anxiety in the time leading up to their presentation, fewer physical manifestations of stress (such as dry mouth, trembling voice, and perspiring), and improved thought processes about their public speaking fear by interpreting their presentation-related anxiety in a positive way.

As a peak performance psychologist, I have worked with thousands of performers, athletes, and musicians to help with challenges ranging from managing performance energy, focusing, building confidence, strengthening courage and more. While the solutions are wide-ranging, I can offer some very actionable tools you can put to use right away.

Before your next presentation, I would recommend that you:

  • Clear up your own misconceptions about making presentations to groups. If needed, write down any worries you have and read them back to yourself to point out that these worries are not rational thoughts.

  • Learn a relaxation technique that works for you (Centering, meditation, deep breathing).

  • Take the time to practice your speech in your mind until it is right, and you see it going well.

  • Rehearse it in front of a mirror. Next, record yourself on video and watch it. Finally, give it in front of an audience of one, then three, and then five people until it flows comfortably. Now you will be ready to go! 

I am very excited for you to apply these skills to your next presentation. They have helped me tremendously. Good luck with conquering your next public speech!