March 7, 2011

This May Help Explain Things

Over the weekend I read an article in @newsweek on the science of decision-making. Sharon Begley's article begins with this lead off: "The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionized our lives, but with an unintended consequence—our overloaded brains freeze when we have to make decisions."

Begley explains the science behind what Alvin Toffler coined as "information overload." I don't know about you, but I'm someone who always tries to research things. When it came time to buy a Blu-Ray player a few months ago, I made myself crazy in the process while trying to decide on precisely which one. At the time I wished for only three or four know, the number I would have by going to a non-superstore that sold electronics.

I just came back from a trip to @ulta_beauty in an effort to buy some new skin care products. It took me an hour and a half to choose between the fifteen to twenty high-end lines. Honestly, had I done a similar shopping spree a decade ago, I know I would have been able to choose within a half hour.

What's going on in my brain that makes me dither? It's not just stress or being depressed...both well-known causes of dithering/mind-fucking. Begley explains that as we begin the process of selection on something, our brain activity increases. That's fine, but there's a mental circuit-breaker that shuts off when the line is crossed between enough information to make a well-informed decision and information overload. Before that point the part of the brain governing decision-making and controlling emotions is in charge, so to speak, but after we cross the line, activity in that part of the brain essentially shuts off, and our emotions "run as wild as toddlers on a sugar high." The result of too much information, therefore is that "people's decisions make less and less sense."

Which reminded me of Malcom Gladwell and the theory he posited in Blink: Successful decisions lie in between instinctive thinking and deliberate thinking. If, like me, you spend too much time researching prior to making a decision, you're not allowing your instincts enough input into the process. Over the years I've tried to "listen to my gut" when it speaks to me. At this point unless something is dreadfully, dreadfully wrong, I believe my gut isn't as "loud" as it used to be. Has it been muted by too much deliberate thought?

I discovered, for instance, way back when, when I worked in municipal management, that when a problem remained unsolvable for any period of time, that I needed to step away from it. I can't tell you how many nights I'd get into my car and drive home after too much thinking, when violĂ , the answer "came" to me. Even now, I often do my best thinking after going to bed, when I've given my brain a chance to relax. It's one of the main reasons I suffer from insomnia.

Reading Begley's article was like a kick in the pants for me to try and engage my instincts more and limit my deliberate thinking less.


No comments: