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10 Ways Your Brain Makes you Dumb

10 Ways Your Brain Makes you Dumb

The human brain is an impressive yet bewildering thing. Although it only weighs about three pounds, this organ processes information amazingly fast. The slowest speed is 260 mph. That’s the same speed as the fastest car on Earth! Our highly evolved brains are what differentiate us from other animals. However, as much as our brains help us function, we’re still susceptible to being tricked.

Here are 10 ways our brains make us surprisingly “dumb.”

1. You Filter Out More Information Than You Realize

We all want to think that we are aware of everything, all the time. However, the truth of the matter is that we are not. Our brains use about 20-25% of our body’s energy, so it’s important that our brains act as efficiently as possible. In order to do this, the brain filters out a lot of “noise” in our environment, focusing our attention on the things we deem important by using the reticular activating system (RAS).

Have you ever considered buying a particular car and then noticed it everywhere? It’s not that everyone bought that same exact car the same day, your RAS was in action and was focusing your attention on that specific car. Since your brain was focused on the new car purchase, your RAS took note of it, making you even more aware of that car in your environment.

The RAS is an essential network in the brain that helps us parse through the massive amount of information we are exposed to everyday. Since it’s such a great tool, it’s surprising to realize that you’re filtering out a lot of information.

2. Your Brain Can Be Primed

Do you ever go shopping, flip over a tag, and find a great deal you can’t resist? The shirt you’re considering buying used to be $200, now it’s only $20 — it’s a no brainer! Is it really a good deal, or is your mind primed to think so because you saw the giant “x” over the original price? This shows how an initial stimuli can have huge affects on our subsequent decisions or behaviors.

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In an interesting study, subjects were primed with words related to elderly people. After hearing those words, the subjects were found to walk slower when leaving the experiment compared to the control group who wasn’t primed. The same study showed that when subjects were primed with words related to rudeness, they were more likely to interrupt the experimenter.

3. Too Many Options Lead To Indecision

You may think that having a variety of options is a great thing — it’s not. Although it may seem advantageous to have a variety of options to make the best decision, your mind actually gets overwhelmed, thus decreasing your odds of actually making a choice.

Have you ever been browsing Netflix at night and just felt totally paralyzed? We’ve all been there, flipping through the endless choices presented to you. That’s the paradox of choice in action.

A fascinating experiment in a grocery store examined a stand with 24 different varieties of jams for shoppers to test and buy. Those who sampled got a $1 coupon towards any purchase. The 24 jam display got a lot of interest as people wanted to taste-test different flavors. A similar table was set up the next day, but this time it only had six jams to try. Although the smaller table wasn’t as popular, when it came to buying the jam, people who saw the smaller display were ten times more likely to purchase.

Why is that? Having too many options can lead to indecision or inaction. Even worse, when we face too many options we feel even less satisfied with the choice we made.

4.  You View Your “Future Self” As A Stranger

Do you ever pig out on a Friday, then justify eating your way through your weekend because on Monday you’re going to start that new diet? We tend to think of our future selves as totally different people, causing us to weaken the connection of the pain or sacrifice that our “future self” will have to go through just to burn off those weekend calories.

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Numerous studies have shown that our brain thinks of our future selves as entirely different people. So much so, we may as well be thinking of a celebrity! In a study conducted by Hershfield and his colleagues, when imagining their future selves a subject’s neural activity was similar to when they described celebrities like Matt Damon! The experimenters took this a step further, asking their subjects to either look at themselves in the mirror or look at a photo of their future selves (by way of digitally making their face look older). Afterwards, they were asked how they’d spend $1,000, those exposed to their “older self” said they’d put twice as much money into a retirement account compared to those who saw their current self in the mirror.

5. You Grow Attached To Objects You Touch More Often

Every try spring cleaning but get stuck holding onto things with sentimental value because you just can’t fathom throwing them away? Research has shown that the more often you touch something or spend time with it, the more value you place on it.

This study shows that the more time someone spends with an object the more “pre-ownership attachment” they will associate with it. They figured this out by allowing subjects to examine and touch basic coffee cups prior to being auctioned. When they were auctioned off, those who spent more time examining the cup were more likely to overbid on the coffee cup. That’s why retailers want you to try clothes on, take a test drive, and eat taste-testers.

6. Lack Of Willpower Leads To Bad Decisions

Willpower is like a gas tank. It starts off full but gets depleted throughout the day, by either making decisions or exercising self control. What happens when that gas tank is running low? Well, you probably guessed it, it’s way harder to exercise self-control and make good decisions.

In a remarkable study, researchers studied over 1,000 court rulings regarding whether or not the judge granted a criminal parole. They found that the number one factor in whether the criminal would get parole or not was based on the time of day… not their crime or their record — the time of day!

They figured out that the earlier in the day the trial took place, the better chances the criminal had at getting parole. It turns out that the judges suffered from “decision fatigue” towards the end of the day. The easy decision to make after being fatigued was to simply say “no.”

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7. You Don’t Panic When You Should

Have you ever felt a minor earthquake in the middle of the night? You may wake up alarmed for a few seconds, but then you roll over and fall back asleep. That’s the normalcy bias at play. This bias occurs when there’s a disaster going on and instead of getting into “fight or flight” mode you convince yourself that everything is totally normal, leading to inaction.

This bias leads to a lot of unnecessary deaths and injuries such as Hurricane Katrina where residents never thought the levees would break. When they actually did, they were stuck at home, faring the worst.

Scientific hypotheses suggest this occurs because it takes our brains 8-10 seconds to process information. Adding stress to the equation slows this down even more.

8. You Make Bad Assumptions

The “availability heuristic” is a mental shortcut we take. It’s when we believe something is common place if we have an example to reference or are already familiar with it. For example, if we have a lot of friends with iPhones, we assume that everyone has iPhones!

An experiment from the University of Zurich showed that people who had been affected by flooding (or knew someone who was) were more likely to perceive higher risk about flooding probabilities in their neighborhood compared to those who never had such experiences. Those affected by flooding had memories “available” to them to reference, causing them to perceive a much higher risk than those who never experienced it, even though the probabilities were exactly the same.

9. You Use Emotions In Making Decisions

Even though we’d all like to trick ourselves into thinking we make decisions based on black and white logic, research shows otherwise.

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Thomas Damasio, a University of Iowa neurologist, has shown that decision-making happens in more than one part of your brain. Prior to his research, most neuroscientists believed that decision-making only occurred in the rational and most highly evolved part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex.

Although that is the case, there’s another interesting part of the brain at work: the limbic system. This area is a much older part of our brain responsible for emotions. It’s the part of our brain where we make value judgments regarding experiences and memories. These various parts of the brain work together to make decisions.

10. Your Memories Are Wrong

Do you and a friend ever recall a memory you shared, but argue over the details? When you guys first heard about 9/11 it was at your house… or was it at school… or the gym?

You’re 100% sure he was at your house, but he’s saying it was at school, and you are both sure of it. It turns out that the more emotional a memory is, the more confident we are around recalling that story accurately.

In 1986, the Challenger space shuttle exploded. It was a memorable day for many Americans. The next day, Ulric Neisser, a Professor at Emory, handed out a questionnaire to his students asking them to reflect on where they were and who they were with, as well as other details at the time of hearing about the Challenger explosion.

Two and a half years later, Professor Neisser handed out the same questionnaire to the same group of students. The average accuracy of these memories was a measly three out of seven. However, what was even more fascinating is that when asked about how “confident” they were in recollecting their memory the average rating was a whopping 4.17 out of five!

We tend to be confident about an event and the details surrounding it even though we are actually way off. This is because we tend to have “tunnel vision” on the major event and the minor details associated with the memory tend to be forgotten.

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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