The early part of this twenty-first century may eventually be described by historians as the “era of distraction.” It seems that life is speeded up today and we constantly find ourselves trying to do several things at the same time. This is called multitasking. Unfortunately, we often become distracted, lose focus, and sometimes struggle to complete tasks.
How many times have you found yourself speaking on the phone while sending e-mails on your BlackBerry, working on a crossword, and watching both the evening news flickering? How often do you speak on a cell phone while driving your car? These are all examples of multitasking, doing more than one thing at the same time. For some, it’s a way to try to get more accomplished in less time. But is it really?
Distractions can easily make a “basketball practice session” chaotic and ultimately unproductive. By having set goals and focusing solely on them for the “practice session”, you will make great progress.
The big question that neuroscientists have been asking is how efficient you are as you try to tackle multiple tasks simultaneously. While many people think that they are good at their jobs when they multitask, are they really? In addition, what is going on in the brain when someone takes on more than one task at a time? Let’s look a little closer at what the research has uncovered in this interesting area of neuroscience.
When you multitask, you may think you are getting a lot done, but there’s a cost when the tasks compete for the same (and limited) cognitive resources (e.g., attention, working memory) and draw on the same brain circuitry. This is true, no matter how good you think you are at multitasking. There’s just too much competition for the same neural circuits and what you end up with is a compromise. Neither task is performed as well as it is when performed alone. When you focus on one task, you necessarily divert attention from another. To get back up to speed when you come back to the original topic or task, you may have to go over much of the same thought processes that created the neural connections in the first place. This can take seconds, minutes, or even hours, depending on the topic, how many tasks are being juggled, and the complexity of the task.
Time-out: Which strategy do we use to overcome the mental fragmentation?
Multitasking is always counterproductive, whether in your daily activities or on the basketball court. It seems that e-mail, instant messaging, cell phones, and PDAs, which keep us all connected and allow many of us to do our jobs, can also diminish productivity. A 2007 study by Basex, Inc., a knowledge-management research firm in New York, reported that knowledge workers (people whose work output is mainly informational in nature, e.g. creating documents, reports, studies, inventions, or patents) waste an average of two hours a day in every 40-hour workweek. This is due to interruptions from e-mails, co-workers, and cell phones. Recovery time from each interruption can vary, but it comes with a stiff price tag for the American economy: $650 billion every year.
Think about your “basketball training sessions” and find -and eliminate- the distractions that keep you from achieving your daily goals.
Time-out: What is the winning strategy?
To improve concentration, you need to have a clear idea of the ultimate goal and the focus of your attention. Nothing should distract you as you carry out your daily tasks that are designed to help you achieve your goals.
A basketball rim has a diameter of 45 cm
In the game of basketball, the word “almost” does not exist. The goal of the game is to get the most balls through the rim, which has a diameter of 45 cm, by the end of the allotted time. Often, in daily life, people don't have such precise goals and that’s like having a basket with a changeable diameter that is set at a variable height. Therefore, their aspirations often sound something like this: “I want to lose weight for improving my speed and increasing my mobility.” While this seems like a goal, it’s not. To be a real goal, a person needs to answer these questions: How much weight do you want to lose? When will this goal be achieved? How often will you verify your progression? In short, in order to be real, a goal needs to be measurable, verifiable, and you need to have a timetable. Goal setting will help you end up where you want to be.
When it comes to setting goals, start with what's important to you in life. Take out a sheet of paper. Sit quietly, and on that sheet of paper, brainstorm what you want to accomplish. On another sheet of paper, write your personal goals for the next 12-month period. Now, as a third step, go back and compare the two goal lists you have made. Make sure that the items on your short-term list will, as you attain them, be helping you attain your long-term goals. It is important that what you are doing short term is taking you in the right direction toward your lifetime aspirations.
The only thing in life that is constant is the fact that everything is changing. It makes sense that our goals will change as we change. Recognize how focusing on what you do want, what you do intend to accomplish, also defines what you choose not to do. Dreams and wishes are not goals until they are written as specific results on paper.
Written specific goals provide direction and focus to your activities. They become a road map to follow.
Be sure the goals and activities that you are working for are yours and that you really want and desire to achieve them. The commitment is vital to your success in achieving them.
Targeted and constant practices
Having a precise goal is just the starting point to beat the mental fragmentation that permeates so much today. Through practice and experience, everyone of us will find his perfect kind of training. The most important thing is having the right mental approach. This approach can be condensed in two points:
- Every time we are doing something “on the court”, we must ask ourselves this question: Is what I am doing useful in helping me reach my goal?
- Every time we are doing something “on the court”, let's try to be really focused on what we are doing in that moment.
These are two simple concepts, as seemingly as easy as a dunk for LeBron James, the NBA superstar of the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, they are tremendously hard to put into practice. Granted, in the beginning, it will be a hard work for us to remain totally focused on what we are doing. However, don't be upset: “catch” your mind and bring it back to what you should be doing. The action of noticing that your mind is wandering is a great sign that your ability to concentrate is improving!
We can be great in the application of some tactic, but we will be often find ourselves in a hostile working environment: it's like always playing away games in front of wild and boisterous fans. We have to tune out this distraction. I know that it is not easy to do, but if you are able to totally focus on the task, you will eventually achieve your goals, no matter how loud the opponent’s fans are screaming.
Speaking of “team”, it's very important to underline the importance of your teammates. When your “teammates” are positive, when they believe in themselves, and when they have the same goal as you-to win-then half your battle is won. Stay with positive, mentally flexible, and stimulating people and you will achieve your goals, both in basketball, as well as in the real life.