Feeling overwhelmed? You might be overloading your PFC

Do you often feel overwhelmed? Do you wonder why it happens? Understanding a bit of how our brain works might give you some idea.

The part of the brain behind our forehead is called the prefrontal cortex(PFC). PFC is a very small part compared to the rest of the brain (where permanent memory resides, in the form of patterns). PFC mainly performs the executive functions (processing, analysis, decision making etc.). PFC needs lots of energy to function, not only that, at a time it can handle only a few pieces of information, e.g. three numbers at a time. For example, think about a 10 digit phone number, when you have it like 4258234417 VS 425-821-4417, notice, which format is easier for you to grasp? If more information is needed to process the PFC needs to clear up the existing data before taking the new set. The phenomenon is very similar to paging inside the CPU (computer science professionals would be able to relate to this).

Now when we have too many things to think about we start overloading our PFC. The PFC continuously switches context and therefore needs to load data back and forth. Due to space constraint and high energy requirement of the PFC, we get tired and feel that nothing is getting done (overwhelmed)!

So what would be a better way of utilizing our smart PFC? Focus on one piece of a problem at a time. If the problem is too big, break it in such a way that you can effectively focus on one manageable part of it. How you break it down is totally up to you. It could be linear or it could be some other way depending on your style. Give it a try and let me know how it goes :).

Reference: Your Brain at Work by David Rock

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