Winifred Gallgher tells us in Rapt, a new book out at Amazon, that we can only focus on one task at a time, no matter what we think.

Multi-taskers aren't multi-tasking very well. Try to do two things at once and one of the two will get the short shrift. Psychologists have known this forever, that our brains can't parallel process. If we think we can read something, say a newspaper, and also listen to someone else talk, we're fooling ourselves.

So if your partner tells you that (s)he is listening, but the teev is on, don't buy it. The more enticing action is going to be on the screen.

Therapists, however, are always doing two things at once, diagnosing and treating. These two processes are so integrally woven within the art that we're barely conscious of either of them. On The Second Road (another place I write sometimes) I mentioned that within 70 seconds a person like me can generally tell if a patient is from an alcoholic family.

But we're not looking for it, not focusing on diagnosis, necessarily. It's just something that happens. It's unconscious yet ongoing, even if there's certainly a time, maybe during the first few visits, in which collecting data, getting a very well-rounded, multi-systems grasp of what is happening to the patient, is a very conscious process. And from there, a treatment plan is born.

Yet those of us who are client centered aren't clinging to a treatment plan going, We have to talk about THIS today. We go where you go. You're driving.

So there's always multi-tasking going on in my work, and I'm guessing it is characteristic of most jobs, indeed, most of our waking hours. We're always engaged, processing data in our brains in one way or another, and several processes are occurring at the same time.

This is another way to say, let's not over-interpret research findings.

You're strolling with a baby carriage, getting some fresh air. But you're also getting exercise, socializing, and stimulating your baby's brain development. Some of it's conscious, some of it isn't. But it's multi-tasking, and you, The Mom, are doing a good job at it, too.

Or you're parking your car at a hospital late in the evening, working the late shift, but at the same time making sure that when you lock it up, you won't be mugged by someone lurking nearby. Multi-tasking. Doing it well.

I'm guessing that if we tore apart most of our behavior we would find many more examples like these. RAPT is really about conscious processes, tasks that require thought and attention. And you have to admit, faking attention, like faking anything else, is surely second rate. There's something wrong here if we have to constantly be doing two things, both of them needing our undivided, at one time.

Thanks Dr. Gallagher. Anything to slow us down.



Leora said…
Food for thought. I definitely need to slow down this weekend.

I'm wondering how different diagnosing and treating are, I mean, compared to, say, listening to your partner and watching tv. I'm glad those tasks (the diagnosing and treating) are too less I need to worry about in my life. I'll work on relaxing (without tv) and listening to my spouse.
This is really interesting stuff. THanks! I definitely think of myself as a serious (and good?) multi-tasker, but this is making me rethink that and think more about how I can slow down.
Does this mean I can't watch the Daily Show while writing my thesis?
therapydoc said…
Sure you can, should. You've got time, right? Those are long programs. What's the rush?
Lisa Marie said…
This week has made me slow down and realize the things that I freak out about getting done are really not all that important in the grand scheme of things. I guess death has a habit of doing that...

As a teacher however, I am constantly doing things that I view similar to what you do on a daily basis. Analzying understanding, adapting to the situation, etc. And every class period is different. What worked with one may not even present itself in another.
Jew Wishes said…
What a great post, with much to ponder.
blognut said…
I was meant to read this post today - because I read it while on a conference call about... something... but I can't recall what.
Mark said…
This is a smart post. Yes there are things that require are full focus and as you clearly illustrated most of our day is spent multi-tasking in one way or another. Thanks for sharing this information.
Brandice said…
I'd really like to read your blog, but a truncated RSS feed (making me go to your site from Google Reader to read your posts) is basically like saying, "I will only let you read my content on MY terms rather than in a way that's convenient for you" and it's incredibly frustrating. Giving your feed about another week and then I'm just going to unsubscribe if you're dead set on keeping the truncated feed.
therapydoc said…
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