Cognitive wellness refers to our overall ability to think, problem-solve, and create. We actually have the power to improve our brain’s ability to acquire, understand, and apply information. But sometimes our screen use can get in the way. As you read in the first two articles of this series – What is Digital Wellness? and Digital Wellness is Physical Wellness – I am exploring how our use of digital media, tools, and devices can impact our overall wellness in positive and potentially negative ways. In this post we will look at how our use of screens, apps, and other tech tools affects our cognitive wellness.
In another research study of work habits, those who tried to respond to emails as soon as they came in - such as in the middle of a meeting about a different matter - rather than intentionally setting aside separate time to respond to emails actually lost 10 IQ points due to task switching. So, taken together, the research reveals the scary truth that when we attempt to multitask, we are actually harming our cognitive wellness.
While this is discouraging, we can apply this research to our habits to actually improve our focus and processing speed. For instance, create a classroom or workspace with limited distractions to help avoid task switching:
Once you make these strategies a part of your daily routine, you will find the ability to focus for longer time periods becomes easier, bit by bit.
Flow and Languishing
Screens tend to be our go-to distraction. They provide on demand content that tempts us to procrastinate. Despite this, it is possible for us to maximize our creativity and efficiency while avoiding the urge to put off certain tasks. To learn how, first we need to understand the concepts of FLOW and LANGUISHING.
Flow is a term coined by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1988. Flow is an ideal cognitive state we experience when we are completely concentrated on a task that is intrinsically rewarding, we feel in control, and time passes quickly. Screens can be a barrier to experiencing flow. While time tends to get away from us while we are staring at our screens, we do not step away feeling fulfilled or that we were in control.
Languishing is a mental health term that has been around for a while, but has become more well known recently thanks to Adam Grant. He explains, “Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.” Often, we find ourselves on our screens when we are languishing. Avoiding work or other enjoyable cognitive tasks.
The solution is to start noticing these habits in ourselves.
Once we are able to recognize our own tendencies we can talk about it with our partners, coworkers, and the children we serve. Our own awareness and modeling will help them develop self-awareness too.
Use the research and strategies I’ve shared here both in your home and in your classroom to improve your Cognitive Wellness. Then share what you’ve learned with your young learners. Just as they can build muscles, they can build strength and stamina in their own thinking and concentration with your help.
I’m looking forward to seeing you back here soon. Our next Digital Wellness post will tackle our moods, feelings, and sense of self with Emotional Wellness.
Check out other articles in this series: What is Digital Wellness, Physical Wellness and Emotional Wellness.