In January 2005, the Harvard Business Review published an article called “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform.” byEdward M. Hallowell that describes an executive being bombarded by emails, Blackberry beeps, voicemails, constant interruptions, back-to-back meetings and deadlines that never end is all too familiar to most of us.
Never before has our brain been asked to constantly multitask...
This executive is constantly in touch with her business – at least 8 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike attention deficit disorder (ADD)—a neurological disorder that has a genetic component and can be aggravated by environmental and physical factors—attention deficit trait (ADT) springs entirely from the environment.
When the mind is coping, it is being governed effectively by the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the cortex, which guides our decision making and planning, the organisation and prioritization of information and ideas, and, time management. When the mind is coping, the deep centres below the frontal lobes that govern basic functions like sleep, hunger, sexual desire, breathing and heart rate, are sending out messages of satisfaction and joy.
These centres are pumping up your attention and motivation and won’t interfere with your working memory, which is what you need - to track the many data points coming in.
When the brain suddenly has to deal with too much information at one time the brain begins to panic. It reacts as if it were responding to a sabre-toothed tiger attack. The deep centres now interpret the messages from the frontal lobes by sending alarm signals of fear, panic, anxiety and irritability. The frontal lobes are hijacked by these deep centres’ messages and fail to assert their calm, rational decision making.
Daniel Goleman has coined the term “amygdala hijack”, which is when our deep centres hijack our rational thought and we respond to challenging stimulation with anger, fear and anxiety.
We are robbed of our flexibility, our sense of humour and our ability to deal with the unknown. We forget the big picture and the goals and values for which we stand. We lose our creativity and our ability to change course.
We need to PAUSE for a minute to gather our thoughts when this kind of overload takes place and to build safety valves into our routines to avoid overloading ourselves with too many people and projects demanding our time all at once.