Practice spending time focusing and thinking deeply on a task. Meditation is a great way to do this, as well as brain-building, or learning something new by focusing deeply on the information you are trying to learn, whether this is from a book, article, podcast, or class. This deep, intellectual thinking activates the prefrontal cortex in a positive way.
This kind of thinking also trains the brain to build memory well. In 2012, a research group at the University of Washington completed an interesting study about the effects of meditation training on multitasking. They found the subjects of the study had fewer negative emotions, could stay on task longer, had improved concentration, switched between tasks more effectively in a focused and organized way (as opposed to haphazardly dashing back and forth between tasks), and spent their time more efficiently.
We saw something similar in my own research with patients who had traumatic brain injury (TBI) and students and adults who had learning and emotional disabilities. I trained them in a new technique I developed to promote a more deeply intellectual thinking pattern and showed them how to apply it to their life. The changes were almost immediate: better focus, understanding, efficiency in shifting between tasks, and overall effectiveness in producing quality work. There were even positive emotional changes, specifically in self-motivation and self-esteem. Over time, they continued to improve in cognitive and emotional functioning.
In my recent clinical trials, we observed that when people consciously and deliberately focus on managing their minds in the moment, they don’t multitask. As a result, they feel less anxious and depressed and are more empowered to deal with the challenges they face.
An additional benefit from deep thinking is increased gyrification, a lovely word that means more folds in the cortex of the brain. These extra folds allow the brain to process information faster, make decisions quicker, and improve memory. In sum, deep, mindful thinking means a healthy brain.
Of course, life can be distracting, and sometimes it is hard to resist the temptation to multitask. However, how and where you choose to direct your attention is a choice. Always remember, you can choose not to multitask. You control the distractions; the distractions don’t control you.