The Attention Bottleneck

Overwhelmed? It could be because of the attention bottleneck. Martha Beck, one of my favorite coaches and writers, has an article in November’s Oprah magazine called, ‘Wait! Stop! It’s All Too Much!‘ She has been doing lots of research lately on how the brain works. She says our brain in programmed to focus on one search image at a time – in the long ago past we needed that for predator/prey hunting to zoom in on crucial survival information.

But, the brain still works this way. One of her examples is when we are looking for a friend in the crowd. The brain filters out the other people – too tall, blond, too short. Only certain information gets conscious attention – this is your attention bottleneck. To test this, try this demo.

The problem occurs when “your brain assigns equal importance to several things at once.” Your attention bottleneck gets jammed and you become blind to everything. You’ll notice this when you are feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed and fuzzy.

To reprogram yourself, Beck suggests practicing.

First step – Close your eyes and take some deep breaths and just concentrate on the breath. Next choose a search image like blue or small. Open your eyes and notice your attention going to things that are blue or small or whatever your search term. Try again with other search terms.

How does this help? Take something in your life that overwhelms you like decluttering your house. Instead of just starting and freezing, you can have a carefully defined mission – like I will get rid of 5 pieces of clothing that don’t fit. And keep repeating your mission as you declutter to keep your attention. Keep your missions small because most people are easily distracted. Use just one search image per attack.

If you are looking at an overwhelming to do list use search terms like must be done today, was due yesterday, oldest to do’s or to do’s that have to do with your goals to pick which to do’s to take action with first.

If you have an overwhelming schedule, use your mission statement of I will take off one commitment this week.

Do you have an overwhelming project? Try a mission statement like plan the first step or brainstorming possible actions. Just one mission at a time to prevent overwhelm.

How could you use this?