If we go back a few thousand years, our ancient ancestors no doubt had a hard life. Living in a perpetual state of hunger, the hunt for food, warmth and shelter took up a large part of their daily lives. Disease and sickness were commonplace and sitting down without a comfy cushion must’ve been a hardship that none of us would like to experience. A world without goose down and fluffy feathers is too barbaric to think about. Life was tough!
However in one important aspect they did have it much easier than their modern day cousins. Their brains, focussed solely on survival and social relationships were relatively free from distraction. Their focus and attention was directly solely on the task at hand and the concept of multi-tasking was a few thousand years away.
In stark contrast, in todays society before we even start our day we can be found guilty of checking our emails, looking up the weather, deleting unwanted ads for Viagra, watching the news during our morning commute, respond to tweets and checking the latest updates form our favourite blogs. Before 9:00am we’ve already failed to focus our attention on one thing for more than 5 minutes! We are constantly bombarded with information that from an evolutionary perspective, our brains are struggling to catch up with.
During a Google Conference the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, stated that prior to 2003, mankind has generated the total sum of 5 exabytes of digital information. This is equivalent to approximately 12 million times the amount of information in all the books ever written.
In today’s society with our digital newpapers, blogs, videos, emails and social media, we now generate this figure in a couple of days. The sheer volume and scale of information we now receive on a daily basis has resulted in many people suffering from “Information Fatigue Syndrome”. It was a term coined by Dr David Lewis, a British psychologist working for Reuters Business in 1988.
The essential premise is that if we receive too much information, rather than helping our decision making process, our brains simply shut down. When the amount of information we receive exceeds our processing capability, it can drastically impair our cognitive abilities.
“Instantaneous devices” and the abundance of information people are exposed to through e-mail and other technology-based sources could be having an impact on the thought process, obstructing deep thinking, understanding, impedes the formation of memories and makes learning more difficult” – Eric Schmidt (Google).
The unfortunate result of all this information is that we experience stress, a direct result of trying to make sense of everything we’ve either read or heard. Stress disrupts our executive function, which isn’t so much about the storage and retrieval of information, which itself becomes majorly impaired by stress, it is more about what you do with this information. How you reason and organise the information strategically, how flexible you are with it and how it guides your decision making and problem solving capabilities.
This is where meditation can help. In a world where its often difficult to switch off from everything around us, meditation can provide a place of peace, calm and relaxation that ultimately, will help us make better decisions and promote corporate wellbeing. Decisions will no longer seem as if they’re “life or death”, but simply a problem to be solved. Perspective and clarity are important virtues when making any rational decision.
Research studied by the National Institute of Health has shown that meditators spend more time in alpha-brain wave states. The brain is alert, yet relaxed at the same time. A state of heightened awareness where decisions are made without stress or tension.
While it’s virtually impossible to rid your life of technology and information, finding some time every day where our minds can revert back to what nature intended will help us use the information we receive in the most effective way possible.
About the author: Will Williams is the owner of Will Williams Meditation in London and works with organisations to promote corporate wellbeing.