Driving The Brain In Reverse

You likely don't typically drive your car down the road in reverse.

It's much slower. 

It hurts your neck after a while.

The steering is wonky. 

A car works best in a certain way that most people recognize, because you can see it. 

More difficult to acknowledge is how the brain works. Our daily experiences of tanking energy, flustered emotions, or a streak of focused productivity seem almost arbitrary. And what little skills we do have in effectively navigating our day are starting to seem to me like being really good at driving a car backwards.

Good for you, but there is an easier way. 

1) Stop Multitasking (The Organized Mind)

Multitasking is not a benefit. In fact it is not even real. A better name for it would be switching-attention-rapidly-between-two-things. Oh by the way, every time you switch your attention it takes up a good chunk of your brains daily limited energy. 

I don't care how good you think you are at this, the research does not back you up. Doing 15 minutes of one thing, then 15 minutes of another thing will always beat out doing 30 minutes of both at the same time. 

2) Memorize Images, Not Lists (Moonwalking With Einstein)

Imagine yourself walking through your childhood home. It is likely that you can easily make a long list of things hanging on the wall, or decorating the shelfs, even stuff tucked in cupboards that you had not thought about in a long time. This is because your spacial memory is by far superior to memorizing a list of facts.

It is difficult to communicate to you how comparatively effortless it is to memorize things like points for a talk, or a list of groceries, if you create imagery for them.

This is something the Greeks knew. They called it a Mind Palace. The Roman orator Seneca (and others) used the technique to memorize hours long speeches. Here's an example from Joshua Foer who studied memorization competitions and ended up winning the global competition.

There have a been a ton of studies on this that show this is not for some special group of people. If you have a hippocampus in your brain (everyone), and can close your eyes and visualize moving through a physical space (everyone I know), then this way of driving the car forward is available to you.

3) Cut The Input (The Organized Mind)

We receive five times the informational stimulation we received in 1985. And it's not as if the 80s were a quiet decade. Each piece of stimulation is a paper cut on the brain's limited amount of daily energy. And unfortunately most of that stimulation and gear switching (see Stop Multitasking) is pointless information like advertising, or celebrity gossip (also known as political commentary). 

The name of the game at this point in history is saying no. If you are not intentionally blocking out daily the barrage of inputs that come through those omnipresent screens, then you are sacrificing a great deal of your limited daily attention to pointless stimulation that would otherwise be dedicated to your important relationships and work.

4) Circadian Rhythm (The Power of When)

We've long know that people, and even plants, operate on a daily consistent circadian rhythm. You can push against these rhythms, but again, driving the car backwards.

The quick version is that 75% of people follow a pattern of a morning peak, an afternoon dip, and an evening recovery. Your afternoon doldrums are not random or entirely because your job is terrible. Your brain is following a daily pattern that is somewhat unique to you.

If you are a part of that 75%, do math in the morning when the brain is primed for linear thinking, do shallow work in the afternoon that is mindless, and in the evening write poetry when your brain is set up to find creative solutions. (The other 25% have the opposite schedule).

If you ignore this and do your important deep thinking and decision making in the afternoon, you will get perilous results.

Even starting school later has been getting great results.

5) Stop Trusting Your Confidence Level For Decision Making (Thinking Fast and Slow)

Feeling confident comes from the brain's ability to tell a story with the information it currently has. And frankly, it doesn't care about what it does not know. So if you have very little information its easier to feel confident because it is easier to tell a story with fewer pieces.

This doesn't mean that feeling confident about something means you are wrong. Confidence is just a horrible foundation for important decisions. 

I linked to Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow. The issue of confidence is just one of many cognitive pitfalls we are suckered into daily. Kahneman's book is a good dose of humility about how much control we actually have over most of our actions.




And there are gobs more ways than this to work in a way that lines up with the design of the brain. 

The point is, stop driving the car backwards just because that's the way everyone else does it.