Given the constant bombardment of distractions competing for your brain’s attention, I’m going to start by simply saying “thank you” for taking the time to look at this post. I really do appreciate it, because:
We live and work in a world not wired for thinking space.
- A perplexing glut of information, data and choices
- Endless streams of emails and messages
- Exhausting meeting schedules
- Change and uncertainty at every turn
- The burning temptation and expectation to be “always on”
No wonder our brains are so-easily distracted and, at times, overwhelmed.
The natural limitations of the brain
But we can’t place the blame solely on the external world: our brain is playing its part too.
Our brains operate under a number of natural limitations, there by evolutionary design, but nevertheless hampering us at work. And it turns out, one of the best ways to overcome those limits is know what they are.
Brain Limitation #1: Energy Intensive
The brain is extremely energy-hungry. And so the brain resists new thinking.
Brain Limitation #2: Limited Capacity
The “thinking brain” has just a fraction of your brain’s full capacity.
Brain Limitation #3: Serial Processor
The conscious brain cannot perform more than one process at a time. And so relegates other thinking.
Brain Limitation #4: Extremely Fussy
The brain needs just the right neurochemistry to operate at its best. And rarely achieves that.
Brain Limitation #5: Easily Distracted
Your brain is constantly bombarded with distractions. And so easily moves off-task.
Brain Limitation #6: Easily Threatened
Our brain’s threat state is easily-aroused. And so our brain downgrades its own (thinking) function.
Brain Limitation #7: Hardwired Perception
The brain sees the world according to its own hardwiring. And so struggles for different perspectives.
Focusing your attention
The brain is an attention economy. Look again at those limitations above, and you might agree that if you could only guide your attention, those limitations would have less negative impact on your day.
So without wanting to overload your already-taxed brain; yet still wanting to help you better-manage the challenge: here’s a simple focusing technique to guide your attention to the task at hand.
Start by simply noticing what’s in the background. Any preoccupations or dominant thoughts. Keep it light: be the independent observer of your thinking.
Very simply and succinctly acknowledge those thoughts, either to yourself or to your coach. Keep it high-level and out of the detail. “I’m thinking about that big project I need to initiate.”
In literally a word or two, label the emotion attached to that thought. Again, keep it out of the detail and succinct: in a word or two only. “The feeling around that is: anxiety.”
In whatever way works for you, park the issue. Sweep it away, stick it in a drawer, put it on the shelf. Essentially, giving yourself permission to park it and think about something else.
Understanding the brain for peak performance
One delightful finding to come out of more recent brain research is that understanding a little about how the brain works leads to improved performance. Aside from the opportunity to take steps to counter the autopilot (like the focusing technique above), it’s also a natural reappraisal mechanism: “ah, that’s just my brain doing what it does”, you can say.
It doesn’t stop there. And I’m sure you’re already starting to think of things you can do (prioritise first, write lists, creativity first thing, email inbox later) to start adapting your working habits to your brain’s preferred ways of working.
There’s never been a better time to re-think how you value and use your brain.
If you’d like to know more about the brain’s limitations and how you can architect your most “brain-friendly” day, download my free eBook “Mastering Your Brain”.