You know how when you’ve got a lot going on, you tend to forget simple things, like making sure you’ve removed all the styling pins from your hair before you leave the house? Or something… less specific to what I did yesterday… Anyway, it’s like your brain can’t take one more thing.
It’s actually just like that, you’ve reached your brain’s capacity, or maximum cognitive load. Everything you put your brain in charge of adds to it’s cognitive load, kind of like filling a bucket. Worrying about your promotion? Into the bucket. Planning your next get-together with the neighbors? Into the bucket. Studying a new language? Into the bucket. It all adds up and the bucket overflows, spilling out what it can’t hold.
The Bucket Overflows
Know what else, adds to cognitive load? Tests of willpower. That’s one of the reasons things tend to go sideways when you quit sugar or watching tv. You’re changing behaviors and that takes brain power that’s usually spent elsewhere. Not to negate the hormonal, social, and physical effects of making behavioral changes, those are quite real too.
The reverse is also true, when you’re cognitive load is already high you’re more likely to reach for the bag of candy or the remote.
Selfcare for the Win, Again
All the regular advices apply here, take the best care of yourself that you can, eat well, rest, meditate, exercise. In addition to nourishing your body and brain in the best way you can, you can start building your cognitive load capacity by stretching your current limits.
I got this one from an interview on NPR and I love it: use your non-dominant hand to do daily activities, like reaching for your coffee cup or peeling a banana. And only do so up to the point of frustration, never beyond it. It’s okay if you’re slower, but not if you’ve reached the point that you’re muttering under your breath.
Over time, your capacity will increase and so will your will power, even when you’re under stress. Which means reducing your cognitive load overall. so, not only are you more likely to be able to resist the impulse items at the grocery checkout, you can remember a longer list than you could otherwise.
What are your tips for keeping your willpower strong and your stress low? Tell us in the comments.