Have you ever felt as though your brain is juggling too many competing tasks?  If so, you’re probably not alone! As society becomes more global, technology-based and instantaneous, we can easily become overwhelmed by too much information. In fact, having too much to do and battling too many distractions is becoming more and more common. This sensory overload can easily put us into a flight, fight or freeze response, which inhibits our ability to think critically, solve problems and make good decisions.

What does this mean for DecisionSim clients? For authors, feeling stressed and overwhelmed can diminish the creative thought process. For learners, stress can limit the ability to integrate new information into existing mental maps. What can we do? According to David Rock, we need to understand how the brain functions, and its limitations, in order to work more efficiently and effectively.

Rock defines conscious thought as consisting of the following primary functions:  understanding, deciding, recalling, memorizing and inhibiting. You might be surprised to learn that this thinking process takes a significant amount of our energy, and that we have limited resources to fuel this process. In fact, we can easily become fatigued or overwhelmed.

To work effectively, our brains need the right balance of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and norepinephrine (Rock, 2009). If we have too little of these chemicals, we become bored. However, if we have too much, we may go into that flight, fright or freeze response. In both situations, our ability to think critically will become diminished.

Rock uses a metaphor of actors on a stage to describe how we process concepts in our working memory: “To be effective… you need to get a minimum of actors on the stage, in the right order, a few at a time with the right level of arousal (and)…sometimes you have to get everyone off the stage, so that unconscious processes can solve the problem (p. 85).”

Given that we are all processing more and more information each day, it’s becoming increasingly important to reduce our cognitive load by limiting the number of concepts in our working memory—or reducing the numbers of actors on our stage. Here are a few of Rock’s strategies you can use to ease the cognitive load for both authors and learners:

  1. Create visuals. Pictures communicate information more efficiently than words alone.
  2. Reduce the number of variables when making decisions. We make better decisions when we choose between two options.
  3. Present only 1 to 4 concepts at a time. Our working memory can only hold up to four concepts at a time, depending upon complexity and familiarity.
  4. Use positive statements to encourage the right balance of brain chemistry. Avoid negative consequences since they can cause fear, induce stress and inhibit both thinking and learning.
To learn more, see: Your Brain at Work by David Rock