Tips For Managing Your Overloaded Brain
In 2008, a study from the University of California San Diego (called How Much Information?) reported that the average American consumed over 34 gigabytes and 100,000 words of information on a typical day. Two things should jump out at you from this data:
1) leaders are not the average person and thus are likely to be exposed to a much higher amount of information, and
2) in the decade since this study was done it is highly unlikely that the amount of information any of us is exposed to daily has decreased. So the corresponding figures for today are undoubtedly much higher.
All this information absorption and processing is taxing our finite short-term memory resources. This clutters our ability to focus on tasks and make decisions. Cramming too much information into short-term memory clogs the brain. It is like having too many tabs open on a web browser, which slows down the processing speed of your computer.
But the solution does not come from trying to process this incoming information overload faster. The solution is to reduce the amount of unnecessary information being stored in short-term memory.
Trying to use short-term memory for long-term memory storage can lead to chronic stress, fatigue, and numerous memory recall issues. The challenge is to stop forcing your short-term memory to store data, details, and information you won’t need until later. This would free up more short-term memory and information processing power to use for making higher quality decisions.
Memory overload often triggers a feeling of brain fog, a sensation of mental confusion combined with uncertainty, temporary memory recall issues, and a befuddlement wondering of why this is happening. It feels like a cloud has wrapped itself around your head, blocking your ability to think clearly and to process information as quickly as you normally do.
The important thing to remember is that brain fog is not the problem, unless it is experienced frequently over long periods (if so, contact your doctor). Rather, brain fog is usually a symptom of other underlying problems your body and brain are struggling with: insufficient sleep, enhanced stress, multitasking, minor dehydration, improper nutritional intake, and even allergies.
The cure: in addition to a momentary pause to collect yourself (purposeful breathing and a short walk outside are top tactics), the best course of action is to correct these underlying root causes through better sleep, better stress management, drinking more water, eating healthier, and focusing fully on one task at a time.
For more information on how to better manage the health of your brain, please see the earlier posts in this series on brain health and its impact on leadership and decision making:
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.” It also received a Distinguished Favorite Award in the 2019 Independent Press Awards leadership category.