Beyond the Limitations of a Post-It Note™ Brain
Friday, November 11, 2016 31 Comments
TIME Perception is a factor of Awareness
The more conscious the process,
the longer it seems to take
According to Dr. David Eagleman, we humans are more than passive observers where time is concerned. And he should know. The author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, has studied Time perception for well over a decade.
According to his research, we are not merely watching the river of time flow by as if time happened TO us, or we happened IN time. Science is learning that our brains are actively constructing time.
Re-engineering Brain Resources
In Eagleman’s words, “It turns out that it has everything to do with novelty, and with how much energy your brain has to expend.
So, when you can predict something, not only does your consciousness not come online, but [the event] feels like it goes by very fast.
In other words, driving to work may seem relatively fast eventually. The first time you had to do it, however, it seemed to take longer because of the novelty, as well as the amount of brain-power you had to burn the first time you did it — before your brain was able to predict much of anything about the trip.
Essentially prediction means that if it’s something you’re doing repeatedly, you’re actually “rewiring” — reconfiguring the circuitry of the brain.
You’re actually moving things into your sub-conscious circuitry, which gives you speed and efficiency, albeit at the cost of conscious access.
So you have to pay a lot of conscious attention if you’re learning to do something new, like playing golf or driving a car.
After a while it’s not necessary, because you’ve changed the circuitry of your brain — no longer at the effect of the conscious awareness of what you’re doing.
Content above is excerpted from a Brain Science Podcast interview with Dr. brainsciencepodcast.com. host Ginger Campbell, MD [Episode #75, originally aired 7/8/2011]. You can find detailed show notes and transcripts for every episode at
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Predicting the Future
There are a number of directions I could go following the introduction. In THIS article, after a few quick points, let’s stay on the topic of time and tasks.
#1 – How much time you believe that something in the future might take impacts your likelihood of activation.
#2- If you never BEGIN, the likelihood of follow-through to completion is zero!
- Your brain’s ability to predict depends on pattern recognition,
which BEGINS as a conscious operation:
— What is the meaning of what is coming at me at this very moment?
— Do I need to do anything about it?
— If so, what?
- Then the situation, action and result are subsequently “filed” so that future decision-making can be simplified — because it is relegated to subconscious pattern-matching:
— Have I seen this before?
— Did I do anything about it at THAT time? If so, what?
— Did it work well enough? — Good! Do it NOW.
Don’t Squander Resources
Consciousness is a resource-intensive process – your brain REALLY doesn’t want to burn up those resources making the same decisions over and over again.
As I said in an earlier article, The Impulsivity Rundown™, DECISIONS are prefrontal cortex intensive – using the conscious pathways in our reaction/response mechanism – whether you are making a major decision or one as seemingly inconsequential as what to order from a menu.
So, whether it works for you or not, much of what you do has been relegated to the control of your subconscious mind – where you have very little input in the moment. That actually turns out to be good news for those of us in the neurodiverse camp.
Reinventing yourself for Success means planning
If you do what you’ve always done,
you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
~ Tony Robbins
If you want to rewire you have to change your strategies in advance – which necessitates a conscious understanding of your processing style(s).
- While we share a great many processing similarities, each of us has a UNIQUE processing style that we need to understand if we expect to succeed in our endeavors.
The more you understand about how you process, the better you are able to predict your “old tape” knee-jerk reactions, so that you can make NEW decisions to work around the old strategies that don’t really serve you today.
- Processing style is a function of the way in which our brain works with the information it has stored about the individual environments in which we operate.
- The more you understand about your own processing style, the easier it is for you to learn to drive the very brain you were born with™ — in the direction you want it to take you.
Your Brain’s Scratch-Pad
There is A LOT to understand about your brain’s memory process that will improve your functioning considerably, which will increase your level of success with everything you do. What I want you to understand right now is this:
The process of getting something into and out of your brain is a function of
- registration, and
— which implies some kind of effective filing system to be able to make use of all those random reminders jotted down on metaphorical Post-It Notes™ – your brain’s working memory, which tends to be more than a tad kludgy for a lot of us.
Similar to filing systems in the physical world, the amount of time and attention we must devote to filing and retrieving information depends upon how we have organized the filing system. In this case, it means developing new habits.
Mentally scanning the items we intend to file takes a few extra “up-front” minutes. Stuffing them anywhere is faster at the time, but it may mean we spend even more time at the back end. Every single time.
Or it may mean we can’t locate the information from those metaphorical Post-It Notes™ at all, so we are forced to “punt.” Oops!
The practice of Mindfulness – paying full attention to what’s going on around you NOW – is highly recommended to help those of us who are impulsive, charging off before thinking things through.
Have you ever thought about WHY it is helpful?
Because it directs our focus consciously, it it slows us down.
Subconscious patterns fire rapidly; consciousness is slower.
As with almost all of the recipes for success, it is not a black and white solution — there is an up side and a down side to each of the suggested tips and tricks, Mindfulness included.
With all due respect to the Mindfulness promoters, there are certain tasks and activities I prefer NOT to pay attention to at all. I simply want to get them over with, while my mind is focused on something more interesting or important.
- Almost every regular & recurring task– what I refer to as “treadmill tasks”
– like running the vacuum or scrubbing the bathroom
– all stages of laundry management
– or bagging trash, recycling and garbage and getting it to the curb for weekly pick-up
- Many of the “in-order-to” tasks, where I desire some result
beyond tasks on the path to achieving my larger objective –
– like putting things away when I am finished using them
– hanging up my clothes or putting them in the hamper when I take them off
– or cleaning up the kitchen after a successful dinner party
The tasks immediately above don’t deserve my full concentration. They simply must be done if I expect to have what I want in my life — for example, a clean and clutter-free environment that supports focus and concentration.
I don’t choose to focus on the tasks themselves, because it would increase my perception of the time that goes by in the doing.
- That, in turn, would skew my prediction-meter and make it harder for me to plan my time to get things done.
- I would tend to avoid those tasks. Since they are not, in their own right, high priority tasks, I wouldn’t choose to dedicate what I remembered as a hefty chunk of priority time to do them very often.
- Suddenly – or so it would seem to me – I would be overwhelmed, up to my knees in clutter.
For those tasks that don’t deserve my full concentration, I have learned that it is worth the time it takes to make it a habit so that I can put them on auto-pilot. I take the “up-front” time to develop the habit, so I don’t need to spend the back-end time and attention it takes to focus and recall repeatedly.
Benefits of Auto-Pilot
With most of the activities we do repeatedly, most of us reach a point where we no longer need to focus on each individual step, each a distinct part of the whole. We also pass the point where we must focus on remembering the sequence of the steps. (We may not even conceptualize the task as having individual steps.)
- If we always do it the same way, it soon becomes a process –– a well-rehearsed, choreographed dance that flows effortlessly, from beginning to end, from the moment we take that first step.
- Once our brain is freed from the necessity of making those pesky prefrontal cortex intensive, moment by moment decisions, the brain power is available for something else – anything else.
- We only have to activate ONCE, at the beginning of the task, instead of hoping to somehow force ourselves to complete each individual step along the way. That alone smooths out any trouble with transitions.
How much focused concentration is involved in the process of going to the bathroom?
For those of us well past the diaper phase,
the answer is NOT MUCH!
You probably don’t recall your own potty-training, but any mother will tell you that there was a great deal of attention on the task when you were first learning. Few adults even think about it consciously anymore.
Excuse me, I’ll be right back.
Most of us conceive of “going to the bathroom” almost as if it were a singular action-step. Yet the entire operation is made up of a great many smaller activities, beginning with getting ourselves into the room with the plumbing and ending with returning to wherever we were before we initiated the approach to the activity.
How many of us focus on each of the steps of the process? How many of us focus on ANY of the steps of the process?
- As long as the facilities are even slightly familiar, the plumbing works, and toilet paper is on the roll, our minds are not generally on the task at hand at all.
- They are free to wander where they will — to replay an earlier event, to mentally tick off items on our to-do list, or to direct the process of checking our messages or texting a friend.
- So many of us read in that room where the toilet is housed, it is colloquially referred to as “the library” in more than a few circles.
Despite the fact that there is almost NO conscious focus on the task of “going to the bathroom,” few of us forget what we were doing or stumble over deciding what comes next.
In over 25 years as a coach, not one client, student or colleague has complained that s/he got so distracted s/he wandered off in the middle of that particular activity and forgot to complete the task (besides the “put the seat down” part, that is).
In MANY cases, our brains don’t even consider it important enough to process for storage in our memory banks. Have you ever searched “everywhere” for a missing item, only to find it in the bathroom — with no recollection of how it got there?
Systems Development Coaching
Systems Development Coaching focuses on helping clients discover the underlying concepts and action steps that will help them develop person-specific systems.
A system is a set or arrangement of things so related as to form an organic whole.
When you “activate a system,” you are freed from having to remember each individual step — less likely to get distracted in the middle of a task, or stopped cold by the need to make one of those pesky pre-frontal cortex intensive decisions in the moment.
I used the example above because, for most of us, the last systems development training we received was potty-training, despite the absolute effectiveness of the technique. Almost ALL of us learn to do it – effortlessly and flawlessly.
How many of us forget to do what-comes-next when we’re going to the bathroom? Or even give it a thought? My point exactly!
Systems vs Solutions
• When we focus on solutions, we generally aim them at solving particular problems.
• When we focus on systems, we develop templates for solving all sorts of problems.
While solutions tend to be more specific, templates are modular – we can port pieces of working systems to new situations to propagate new systems.
No TIME to read all this stuff?
Watch for the announcement of an upcoming Group Coaching opportunity based on the 12-week TeleClass on Modular Success Systems. As always, class size will be limited to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first group fills.
I can help you sort through the available success modules to design an action plan guaranteed to be more effective than how most of you are currently doing things – a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (the FIRST time I announce a new class or group is always your least expensive option).
If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, leave me a comment below and I’ll save you a seat (fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).
The importance of Systems Modules
Systems Development Coaching techniques help us Sherlock our struggles to locate the parts of those repeated tasks that force us to use our conscious mind, in turn decreasing our vulnerability to distraction, overwhelm and procrastination. When we spend the up-front time to think through each step of a task consciously, we can discover the sticking points and make some changes in how we do what we do before we “do what we always do.”
When we link the new-and-improved steps into a sequence, we are than able to focus on doing them the same way every time — on the way to developing an effective habit that can be filed subconsciously and put on auto-pilot.
At that point, we no longer debit the limited space on the “Post-It Note™” of working memory needlessly. We become more effective. We get more done. And life becomes easier.
It’s not rocket science – it’s BRAIN science – and brain-based coaching.
Excerpted from Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it
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Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
- The Link Between Attention and ACTION
- The Link Between Procrastination and Task Anxiety
- The Impulsivity Rundown™
- ADD and Time: 5 System Basics
- Expectations of Success shift
- How come the bad stuff sticks and the good stuff fades?
Related Articles round the ‘net
- David Eagleman (rwanderman.wordpress.com)
- Secret lives of our brains: A look into David Eagleman’s lab (momentumblog.bcm.edu)
- Does Time Accelerate?
- Myth of the Week: The brain performs better under pressure (funfactbioblog.wordpress.com)
- Working Memory in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is Characterized by a Lack of Specialization of Brain Function (plosone.org)
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