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Nine Brain Quirks You Didn’t Realize You Had

Nine Brain Quirks You Didn’t Realize You Had
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I think the brain is most interesting when it doesn’t work the way you expect it should. Psychology often confirms our intuitions about how our minds work, but it offers quite a few surprises as well. Although some psychology buff’s will have heard a few of these before, here’s a list of quirks in your brain you probably didn’t realize you had:

1) Your short-term memory has a max capacity of seven.

Humans have three forms of memory: sensory, long-term and short-term. Long-term memory is like hard-drive space, while short-term memory works like a very small RAM. This short-term memory can hold only about five to nine (average is seven) items at a time.

Remembering information longer than this requires you to either compress it down into seven units or store it in long-term memory. Most phone numbers are only seven digits.

2) Chartreuse is the most visible color.

Yellow-green, chartreuse, sits right in the middle of the frequencies of visible light. Your eyes have receptors for blue, green and red. Being in the middle, yellow-green triggers the most of these receptors to fire, making it easy to spot. In some cities, firetrucks have been changed from red to a yellow-green color to make them more visible.

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3) Your subconscious is smarter than you are.

Or at least more powerful. In one study, a square was assigned to a location on a computer screen through a complex pattern. After watching it, people began to get results better than chance of picking out where the square would pop up next. But when asked to consciously determine the pattern, even given a few hours, nobody could do it.

4) You have two nervous systems.

One set controls excitation and the other controls inhibition. If you hold out your hand, you might notice minor tremors. This is caused by slight, random differences in the amount each of the two systems are firing.

5) Your brain is awful at probability.

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Okay, so maybe your high-school math teacher could have told you this one. But, what’s interesting isn’t that your brain is bad at probability, but how. In one study recipients were asked:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Rank the following statements from most probable to least probable:Linda is a teacher in an elementary school.

  1. Linda works in a bookstore and takes Yoga classes.
  2. Linda is active in the feminist movement.
  3. Linda is a psychiatric social worker.
  4. Linda is a member of the League of Women Voters.
  5. Linda is a bank teller.
  6. Linda is an insurance salesperson.
  7. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Almost 90% of students responded that #7 was more probable than #5. This is despite the fact that to be a bank teller and in the feminist movement is completely contained within the set of #5 (just being a bank teller). It seems our minds like to think more details make events more probable, not less.

6) Your memory isn’t great either.

Studies have shown that people are highly likely to misremember past events. Even worse, it is incredibly easy to suggest a memory that never happened. This is why so-called “repressed” memories should be given a lot of thought. It is far easier to suggest a memory of an event never happened, then it is to recover one that actually did.

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7) You can perceive depth with one eye.

It’s a myth that depth perception is entirely the result of having two eyes. Binocular vision does assist in making a three-dimensional picture. However, most of your ability to perceive depth comes from inside your brain. It has been wired to look at angles and proportions to judge distance.

If you required two eyes to perceive depth then most optical illusions wouldn’t work and it would be incredibly difficult to gather information from flat photographs. Not to mention a lot more one-eyed pirates walking overboard.

8 ) Long-term memory shuts down during sleep.

The parts of the brain that transfer information to long-term memory shut down while sleeping. This is why dreams quickly fade away after you wake up. Although you may have several dreams in a night, they aren’t being recorded into long-term memory. Generally only the fragments of a dream left in short-term memory have a chance to be encoded after you wake up.

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9) You have an instant playback feature.

At the beginning I mentioned that humans have three forms of memory, short-term, long-term and sensory. Sensory memory is your brain’s equivalent to an instant playback feature. Working for both your vision and hearing, your thalamus can resend signals a few seconds after they were originally sent.

Imagine being at a party and overhearing someone say your name. Often you can recall what they said even though you were focused on another conversation. This is because your sensory memory re-sends the signals when it finds something important, such as your name. If you lacked this form of memory, activities such as multitasking or taking notes from a speaker would be impossible.

If you’re asked to repeat something you just said because the other person wasn’t listening, just wait a few seconds. Often they can replay the message in their head and give a response.

More by this author

Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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