For thousands of years, great people of God have exemplified the concept, they have practised it, and have given warnings about it, and now the police are saying the same thing.
David the great king of Israel: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek.” Psalm 27:4 (NIV)
Paul the church planting apostle: “I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing.” Philippians 3:13 (TLB)
James the brother of Jesus: “A double minded man is unstable in all his thoughts and deeds. James 1:8 (GNV)
Police in North America: “Multitasking while driving a vehicle is a crime.” Distracted Driving Law (TSA 115)
The scientific community confirms and illustrates the truth of what they are all saying, “The human mind cannot focus effectively on more than one thing at a time.”
David Rock, in his book, Your Brain at Work, says that thousands of experiments and studies over the past forty years have proved the phenomenon called dual-task interference. In one experiment, a group had to decide and record whether a light flashed on the left or right side of a window. The accuracy of their responses was high, like that of a Harvard MBA. Then a simple extra task was added: to identify if the light was one of three colors. Instantly, their accuracy dropped to that of an eight-year old.
We can, of course, do many purely physical acts at once. Street musicians play a guitar, a harmonica, and a set of drums all at the same time. I used to hike while slashing a path through the jungle with my bush knife. We can even mix physical and mental activity like walking while discussing a topic with a friend. No dual task interference there. On the other hand, I have been guilty of driving right past my exit because I was in the midst of telling a story to my passengers.
I failed because of what Linda Stone, a former Vice-President at Microsoft, calls continuous partial attention. My focus was split. While I told my story, I also had to keep alert for signs of the exit I was to take. She says, “To pay continuous partial attention is to keep a top-level item (my story) in focus, and constantly scan the periphery in case something more important (my exit) emerges.”
By the way, this does not happen when my wife is with me, since as soon as I start a story, she takes over the scanning of highway signs to tell me where to turn.
Other studies show that constantly doing two mental tasks at the same time reduces efficiency on both of them by about 50%. So, yes, we can force our brains to do two things at once, but it takes twice as long, or the result is about half as good.
Furthermore, a study done in the University of London found that some tasks requiring short, intense focus, like emailing and text-messaging, when done constantly, reduce mental capability from five to fifteen points on an IQ test which is about the same effect as missing a whole night’s sleep, or smoking pot/cannabis.
God has designed our brains to excel when we concentrate or attention on one mental task at a time. Our culture, however, glorifies multitasking: from the mother in her minivan, juggling a tight schedule while planning what to make for dinner, to the CEO in his office, reading memos, emailing instructions, making decisions, scanning reports, solving problems, all the while keeping his board’s directives in mind.
No wonder so many of us live under a constant sense of threat. We are forcing our brains to be on constant alert increasing our level of stress hormones and reducing our effectiveness.
But we who are Christians do not need to suffer this stress. We can simply obey God’s command, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (KJV). He is in control. Our greatest personal problem, our relationship with Him, is already solved.
The current crisis facing us, our family, our business, our church, or even Christianity as a whole, is under His control.
We need to stop, ask Him to show us one single thing to do towards solving the crisis, then focus on doing it. Then do the next, and the next. One at a time.
That’s how He designed us to operate.
By the way, if you are reading this on your phone while stopped at a traffic light, and if you are the guy ahead of me . . .
The light is green! Drop your phone and drive!