Troubles concentrating and the collapse of work productivity are a direct result of excess of stimuli. But how to fight against it?
The phenomenon is not new even though we might think that it is. Even before e-mail and smartphones, Sting with his band the Police sang:
“too much information driving me insane,
too much information running through my brain.”
The year was 1981. Now for increasing numbers of people, the over-burdening of the brain is a reality.
Attention deficit disorder and elevator buttons
A few years ago an American psychiatrist told how his practice suddenly started filling with young adults with clear symptoms of attention deficit disorder. The weirdest thing was that they all belonged to the normal working adult population.
The author James Gleick has demonstrated the phenomenon with an everyday observation: the door closing buttons are nowadays the most worn-out buttons in elevators. In his book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, Gleick presents a society where everything needs to be done faster even if it is no longer possible.
This phenomenon has been called ADT (Attention deficit trait). Unlike the congenital ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ADT has become more common due to cognitive burdening of the environment. ADT is typically born in a hectic environment, which is so chaotic that even time management consultants are unable to help.
Signs in the brain
The most recent research results have also found a correlate of ADT on the neural level. In a chaotic environment, the natural activity of the nervous system and bloodstream changes. A 'fight or flee' reaction is created in a normally analytic or sensible person.
At the brain level, this is evident in that the deeper parts take control, which increases emotion-based stress and fear reactions. This renders the cognitive thinking of people narrower and negatively affects their performance. The world and other people turn black and white.
Slowly, the brain's capacity to go deep and concentrate on new things will disappear.
Fear and coercion replace joy of work. At the same time, the employee becomes less productive.
If ADT spreads from individuals to workplaces and beyond, what will happen to society? Is there danger that an entire society might slowly drift towards a collective state of attention deficit disorder?
Where to get help against the flood of information?
Better time and document management methods will only get you so far, if the problem has become bad enough. In order for the change to reach neural level, much more robust means are needed.
The essential thing would be to find a way to dull the flood of stimuli down and force the brain into a state of rest. Hobbies requiring concentration help, if they provide a cognitive break from work matters. The environment should also be sufficiently tranquil.
Just any hobby will not do the trick, but it has to be something that requires attention and concentration during its performance.
In several studies, meditation has also been found to be a functioning method. As little as few minutes of meditation a day starts gradually showing in the brain. Neural correlate of subjective well-being can be measured as early as eight weeks after meditation practice has commenced.
The activity of the frontal lobe increases and the size of the amygdalae in the limbic system located deep in the brain decreases. This helps to increase control in thinking and to restrain subjective stress reactions. Slowly the knot starts to come undone.
Could it be that meditation is the means to turn back the information clock? We cannot affect the flood of information but we can update our brains. As an added bonus, we will receive all the beneficial effects of meditation.