During recent months, we’ve heard from a lot of people who say they’re feeling overwhelmed, with constant news updates and new challenges to overcome. When your brain is at capacity, you are likely to fail to process some information. You might not even notice an important email come in because your child was speaking to you, or you might miss the oven timer go off because you received an unexpected work call. Our findings may explain these often-frustrating experiences of inattentional blindness or deafness.” says senior author Professor Nilli Lavie (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience)

Dr. Lavie’s quote on attention and focus struck a chord with me – not because it was a revelation, but because it resonated with my own experience. I’ve been accused of daydreaming more than once, especially when I’m gazing out the window during work hours. Yet, I’ve always believed that this “mental wandering” helps me stay on track by allowing me to tune out distractions and concentrate on what’s essential. And now, with the backing of this research study, I can confidently say that my instincts were spot on. 

In this article, we will uncover from the research how our brain manages its energy limit, actionable takeaways to apply in our daily life and learning. 

This study provides valuable insights into how our brains work and suggests that giving our minds space to roam can be a crucial aspect of staying attentive and productive. It’s a reminder that sometimes the most effective approach to improving our focus may not involve more effort, but rather more freedom to let our minds lead the way.

This research study highlights two vital findings about how our brain manages it energy limit:

  1. Brain has limited energy capacity: The brain’s energy capacity is limited, and how it allocates this energy can be affected by attention. When we focus on something, the brain expends more energy processing it, resulting in less energy being available for processing information outside of our attention focus.
  1. Brain borrows energy from other functions and prioritizes the task at hand: When faced with challenging tasks, the brain prioritizes the focus of our attention by diverting energy from other functions. As the task becomes more difficult, the brain may allocate less energy to the neurons responsible for processing information outside of our attention focus.

Let’s look at three actionable takeaways to help our brain manage its energy limit: 

  • Prioritize your attention: While we know that distractions are cognitively overloading, the research study proves that our brain has an upper limit and adding more tasks to the plate does not guarantee an increase in the limit. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize your attention and focus on the most critical tasks while minimizing distractions.
  • Take breaks: Since the brain has limited energy resources, taking breaks can help recharge your brain, prevent mental fatigue, allowing you to come back to your tasks with renewed energy and focus. Simple habits such as a short walk break, meditation, exercise are a foolproof way to rejuvenate. 
  • Simplify tasks: The study found that more complex tasks require more energy, leading to less energy for processing other information. Simplifying tasks can help reduce mental strain, conserve energy for other tasks and reduce the cognitive load on the brain.

How can we build better learning habits as we take care of our limited brain energy: 

  1. Learn actively: Learning expands our brain’s capacity. Instead of over-consumption, it’s important to engage actively with the material by writing about it, discussing it with a peer, or even teaching it to someone else.
  1. Respond to your brain’s energy and capacity: Treat your brain with kindness. When you feel overloaded, and lack reserves, take a break. Read your brain’s cues similar to your body.
  1. Minimize distractions: Discover a method to reduce interruptions. When concentrating becomes difficult, it’s a sign from your brain to stop and decide what’s essential.

Unlearning Thought

Mental wanderers were right all along, we just needed research to back them up!