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.


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.


Open Your Heart to Others Around You

We made it. Election night….uh…..week is over in the U.S. As so many people have noted, we have a lot of work ahead of us to rally around common goals. The U.S. is extremely divided and polarized. Bringing people together is of utmost importance for us to move forward.

Today, I want to share a concept that can help do just that. A concept that can help you spark compassion for others around you.

(Also, if you are a member of our community who lives outside U.S., this concept will still apply to you and your day-to-day life).


I want you to read the definition of this word.

The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness – an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

In all of the complexity and distraction of our lives, it can be easy to forget that every single person we encounter has their own back-story.

They have a complex web of experiences, fears, and psychological vulnerabilities that explain their behavior.

Common Goals

Dr. Ashley recently wrote a post that referenced some research that showed that our similarities as human beings far out-weigh our differences.

The same thing goes for our goals.

For example, most people want to:

Be safe.

Be happy.

Fall in love. 

Have a chance at success.

Ensure their kids are healthy and cared for.

These are just a few examples of so many common goals that we all share.

Putting it together

When you couple the fact that we all have similar goals, but we differ with respect to the intricacies of our lives, you can see where polarization and resentment begin to germinate.

We forget to consider the complex set of circumstances and experiences that might have led another person to approach the exact same goal that we have in a fundamentally different way.

Begin with Commonality

As we move forward and attempt to come together, begin on common ground. Shared goals. 

For just a moment, allow the smallest bit of empathy and understanding to take hold, get back to the fundamentals, and build from there. Open your heart to love. 

Our country and our world becomes more interconnected, empathetic, and compassionate when WE become more interconnected, empathetic, and compassionate.

It begins with each of us. If your heart is closed, you may not be open to all the good in front of you. Even in tough times, positive thought patterns, spending time with family members or loved ones makes all the difference. 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
– Dalai Lama

Tips to Survive and THRIVE through the Political Season

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Brace yourselves, friends. It’s election season. Politics and mental health issues have gone hand-in-hand in recent years as high levels of stress have created negative impacts amid the political climate in the United States.

We’re officially in the full swing of election season, and most of us are FEELING IT. The gluttony of information, constant negativity, divisive content, and the importance of the outcomes have us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even checked out. 

There are a lot of blog posts and podcast episodes focused on the different mental biases that come into play during the political season. This is all-important content, but it is not what we’ll be reviewing today. 

Instead, today’s episode is focused on ways you can lean on your psychological strength to thrive through this season. To avoid some of the anxiety and worry that can arise that increase mental illness, even on a temporary basis. To feel more balanced and centered during political stress that threatens to upend even the strongest of us with the impact of political engagement long-term. 

We’ll begin the episode by talking about some key reasons why you might be feeling out-of-sorts during this time. We’ll cover our mind’s tendency to focus on topics in a black and white fashion, our tendency to focus on negative information, our bias toward creating ingroups (us) and outgroups (them) and our illusion of control. 

All of these tendencies are very natural and normal occurrences, but they make our experience during election season particularly difficult. 

Toward the end of this episode, we’ll turn to things you can do to support yourself through the coming weeks. This information is particularly important for those of you who might find yourself in an advocate or activist position. If you are fighting for something important to you, you need to take care of yourself in the process. We’d love to arm you with some tips. 

Friends, take care of yourself in the coming weeks.  If the 2020 election cycle was any indication, social media-driven politics can be a significant source of stress and even mental health professionals have to prepare patients to avoid a mental health crisis.