The World Feels Heavy: Reduce Cognitive Load

The World Feels Heavy: Reduce Cognitive Load

There are times in our lives when the weight of the world feels too heavy to bear. 

Things seem to be going wrong…

The world’s problems seem so large…

Right now, in the U.S., we’re moving toward one of the most dramatic and volatile and tense elections in our nation’s recent history.

Across the globe, and in our own homes, we’re facing challenges like the ongoing pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, economic and educational disparity, and so many other big, important challenges.

It can all feel….HEAVY. 

I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I feel overwhelmed at times. The weight of all of these challenges, coupled with the complexity and responsibility of my normal, day-to-day life can feel so tough to bear.

Today, I want to share a little formula I used just the other day, to help myself re-focus and regain a bit of mental balance in this complicated time.

You can’t focus on it all

Let’s begin with the reason WHY all of this feels so heavy: we are incredible human beings who are constrained by their own biology.

Our minds only have so much capacity.

When we simultaneously try to focus on too many things, solve too many problems, make too many decisions, our minds feel cluttered and overwhelmed.

The scientific term for this is ‘mental or cognitive load.’

We experience cognitive load when we exhaust the amount of working memory our minds have available at any given time.

It’s especially likely to happen when we’re already in a time of stress, when we’re tired, when we’re emotional, or when we’re not biologically taking care of ourselves.

We recently did a podcast episode on this very topic and included some tips for combatting cognitive load in your day-to-day life. You might want to check it out. (Episode 0196 | “How to create a more spacious mind”)

2 Questions

Today, I want to offer you the formula I used in the form of 2 questions that can help you move through complex and heavy times. This really helped me the other day, and it might just help you too.

When things start to feel too heavy to bear, I want you to ask yourself 2 questions:

First, ask yourself, out of everything that’s going on right now, which of it truly matters to me? 

Don’t think about what should matter to you or what matters to other people. If you’re being 100% honest with yourself, which of the challenges truly matter to you?

Second, ask yourself, out of everything that’s going on right now, which of these things are inside of my direct control?

Don’t worry about what you wish you could control. Similarly, don’t worry about what you think you could control if you worked hard to convince someone else to change their behavior.

Focus on what is inside of your direct control.

You basically end up with 4 boxes:

Narrow your focus

Because you are an incredible human being who is constrained by biology (working memory, in this case), the biggest thing you can do to lessen the overwhelm you’re feeling is to narrow your focus to the things that:

  • Truly matter to you
  • That you can directly control

If you look at the 4 boxes that result from asking yourself those 2 questions, the bottom 2 boxes are truly wasted energy. If it doesn’t matter to you, regardless of whether it’s under your direct control or not, let’s not waste any more precious energy worrying about it.

Consider this your permission to just let it go.

However, if it’s something that does truly matter to you and is inside of your direct control, here’s where your attention, focus, and effort belongs.

Your limited cognitive and personal effort will go much further if you’re focusing it on the things that fall in that upper-right quadrant.

Acceptance

I’m also going to invite you to ‘let go’ of the things that fall in that upper-left quadrant….but it’s likely to be a challenge.

You see, many of us have that list of things that truly matter to us, but they just aren’t inside of our direct control. 

Outcomes and challenges that are governed by other people’s actions frequently fall into this category.

Sure, we might be able to argue, bargain, and debate with that other person in order to try to influence their behavior, but the ultimate outcome isn’t inside of our direct control.

That’s tough.

In this case, your best bet is to practice acceptance. 

Acceptance means acknowledging the situation for what it is, without trying to fight against it or change it.

It doesn’t mean you agree with it, endorse it, like it, etc. It simply means, you acknowledge it.

On the surface, this seems like the dumbest concept. I know. But, when you unpack it, it really is powerful.

Acceptance is the opposite of avoidance. Acknowledging a situation means staring it right in the eye. Seeing it for what it is. Turning toward it for a moment to face it head-on. 

Psychological research tells us we have better outcomes when we face a situation, rather than avoiding it.

Acceptance also removes our involvement from a situation we can’t control.

Remember that limited amount of capacity each of us has, practicing acceptance helps us save our precious, limited energy for the things we can directly control, rather than wasting it on things we can’t.

Take care of yourself

Do what you can to protect your energy and your capacity. The world needs you, but you can’t solve it all or do it all alone. Self-care, REAL, effective self-care, is needed now more than ever. Self-care [by Design] is designed to help you take care of yourself so that you can be the best, most effective form of YOU, each and every day.

Focus on the areas in that upper-right quadrant. Protect yourself and your capacity by narrowing your focus.

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