• Friedhelm Boschert

Your overloaded brain

Aktualisiert: 4. Feb 2019

- and how to get better concentrated again

Watch yourself: when reading these sentences how often did your attention switch to somewhat else? „I should call my colleague“, „I have to book my hotel“, „I must check my mails now“ and in between WhatsApp at your smartphone informs you about a new message … and so on. You start reading each sentence three times and each time a new-old thought, another distraction butts in. Not very efficient, isn’t it? And pretty annoying.

The Age of Information Overload

If it’s not distraction only but inner restlessness, impatience, even panic not to be able to overcome your workload as well then you are heading towards the „Attention Deficit Trait“, in short ADT. Some neurologists already are warning that this could become a mass phenomenon since huge workloads – sometimes combined with a 24/7 online availability – result in a permanent cognitive overload. Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin even talks about „the age of information overload“. Mental overload does not lead to ineffectiveness only but in the long run leads to sickness as well. And for managers it could provoke rather dangerous situations.

Who’s in control?

Why do I express this so drastically? Do you want to work with decission makers who take decissions unregulated impulsive and in an agressiv style, who are absolutely not able to cope with unforeseen situations, who lost the overview, don’t involve anybody in decission making and are acting in a highly emotional state? Exactly this occurs in case of overload combined with fears to fail when your prefrontal Cortex – which is responsible for Planning, Organising and decission making - surrenders control. Responsibility is transferred to the lower parts of your brain which usually step in when you are in a survival mode. Then they take over. And they know black and white only, they do not think twice, it’s only flight or fight they know, all passes off with a tunnel view and a high ejection of hormons and neurotransmitters. Thinking clearly – not at all! Bad for your business, bad for the team atmosphere and very bad for your health.

Old recipes barely work

And what are you doing about it? You are desperately trying to carve out any piece of time, ruminating which task you could get rid of. Even less sleep and less spare time at weekend you are considering. And? Won anything? I don’t think so – your chances to get less emails or that your ‚to do list‘ will get shorter are against you. Reducing workload does not work – you should see that realistically after 25 unsuccessful attempts you have done so far. Lack of sleep does not improve your situation either. But each day you are trying to catch up, simply by adding more of the same unsuitable stuff.


Rather try to tackle this problem beginning with your brain. Yes indeed, beginning with your brain. „Train your brain to focus“, postulates Paul Hammerness, professor at Harvard Medical School. And his colleague at University of California, Michael Merzenich, explains why it works: „The more you focus, the more your brain releases a chemical called noradrenaline, which helps you concentrate on the task at hand“.

Mindfulness – the concentration stuff

Therefore you should know some basics about the link between distraction and inattentiveness from a neurophysiological perspective. Your body produces noradrenalin, a neurotransmitter that stimulates attention, vigilance and focus. Permanent stress could to very low levels of noradrenalin. That’s why a fatal combination occurs: high stress level, fatigue and a strong lack of concentration.

Since neurotransmitters are produced „on demand“ only, you can provoke this demand by a regular training to focus. Mindful training is such a methode. With that we manage our attention by focussing on a certain object, your breath for example. If you focus and are distracted then you gently switch your attention back to your breath, serene without anger. TRY IT and stick closely to your breath for one minute. If you are distracted by thougths just let them go and switch back with your attention to your breath. Over and over. In this way you learn to manage your attention. And that is: Mindfulness.

So, what are we, are you going to do with that insights?

Regaining control

The noradrenalin lesson tells us that we have tot rain regularly. Otherwise our body does not get used to.

The lesson on the brain tells us that we carefully and sensitively have to notice impulses coming from our brain. Very early noticing signs of overload and recognise them. Also noticing impulses that lead to automatic action. E.g. to check your smartphone every 2 minutes in order to check mails or news. Impulse control is what helps to get out of the automatism that corners you unproductive. Regain air sovereignty on your thoughts and emotions.

But what could I do practically, specially for prevention?

I won’t speak about reorganising your workday by installing „pauses for thinking“ or to have fixed time for checking your mails. That’s as evident as having sufficient sleep. By the way: you can improve the quality of your sleep with a mindful exercise called „body scan“.

„Mindful moments“ will change your day

But you should not treat mindfulness as a collection of tools only. View it as an attitude to master your life. For the beginning you could install 5 „mindful moments“ scattered all over your workday. And in that mindful moments you sit upright and focus on your breath. Not less and not more. It’s a rather small investment you have to make – 10 Minutes a day to improve your productivity and your health. And have another minute invested in the same way before having a meeting, having an important talk or even a telephone call. Sit upright on your chair and focus on your breath, on yourself.

And if you notice you’re approaching an overload situation of your brain than just get up and draw your attention to the opposite part of your body. To the sole of your feet. Feel the floor under your shoes, feel your soles carrying your weight, feel the small shifts in weight between your feet and between your toes and heels. Keep your attention there for some minutes. Your brain is relieved and your prefrontal cortex keeps control. Which enables you to set priorities again.

You see that mindfulness offers you to see things differently, to get another access to solve your problem. And who gets down to the root of the trouble.

MINDFUL.SOLUTIONS – there is an alternative solution.

Best regards

Friedhelm Boschert

Next blog deals with agile team and digital work :-)

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