Archive | November, 2013

Your Brain is Like a Battery

25 Nov

Your brain uses energy much like a big rechargeable battery.  Most days you drain your brain battery pretty much dry – sometimes long before you’re done working!

Conscious mental activities use up battery power (the fuel in your blood) significantly faster than automatic brain functions such as keeping your heart beating or your lungs breathing. So, as you might imagine, we have a limited amount of resources for activities like decision-making and impulse control.  When we’ve used up fuel by making one difficult decision there is less for the next one.

Have you ever said “I feel brain dead today?”  You probably are.  Your battery is too low for the level of brain activity you’re trying to do.

Your brain is designed to conserve energy wherever possible.  As soon as you repeat an activity even a few times, that activity is moved from the energy-hungry part of your brain (prefrontal cortex) to the energy efficient basal ganglia. The basal ganglia handles routine activities that don’t require a lot of mental attention – these actives function beneath conscious awareness (why you can drive a car and think about other things at the same time.)

Think of it like this:

  • The prefrontal cortex, where you do all of your tough brainwork like decision-making, problem solving, analyzing and prioritizing, consumes energy like a big old air conditioner on full speed.
  • The basil ganglia, where you processes repetitive patterns, is like running a fan.

From an energy perspective, your brain prefers patterns so it is designed to put things into the unconscious pattern process as quickly as possible.  For example, toddlers have to concentrate on picking up a cup without spilling the contents.  Learning to do that takes the air conditioner part of their brain.  Once the activity is mastered it moves to the fan part.  We continuously move things from one part of our brain to the other throughout our lives.

On the positive side:  when you have to learn something new to keep up with technology, road construction or TSA rules at the airport, after a few repetitions you begin to do it the new way without much thought or brain energy.

On the not so good side:  after the 2nd or 3rd consistent encounter with a person you find challenging, you might put them into a ‘category’ and start responding to them the same way every time, even if their behavior changes.  If you’re asked to make small modification to something you’re currently doing, the fan part of your brain might want you to skip the small nuance and just do it the way you know.  Because the fan part of your brain runs at an unconscious level, you may not be aware that you are stuck in your behavior.

So, what are your points of choice today?

  • Start to recognize how much battery power various activities take for you.
  • Do your most important brainwork early in the day (making big family/personal life decisions after dinner may not be optimum!)
  • Restore your battery: eat well, get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Read “Your Brain at Work” book report for more details.