We live in a complex world, overflowing with information. This can be as simple as 1+1=2 or as confusing as the laws of quantum physics (let's not go there). In our digital age, we're constantly absorbing new information - just think about social media or how much job roles have evolved over the last few years. Our brains need to process more and more every day at high speed, just to keep up with the world.
So, we asked Martina Ratto, Beingwell's cognitive scientist, how we can navigate complexities when we have access to a shed-load of information, and here are her top tips:
Our brains are pretty nifty at filtering out what's not relevant in the moment. We can support our filtering mechanism by focusing on one thing at a time, rather than trying (and often failing) to multitask. Filtering out or ignoring what's not useful to us can make a complex situation suddenly simple.
Chunk and resize
Sadly, our working memory has limited space. We can hold and play around with about seven pieces of information at the same time. When we need to look at complex tasks or solve a problem, break it into chunks. This can be especially useful if we're feeling overwhelmed.
This is about mental clutter, like distracting thoughts, or physical clutter like our working environments. Some of the ways we might reduce clutter is by deleting old emails, popping actions on a 'to do list' or in a calendar (freeing up memory), and tidying up our workspaces.
Our time is limited and we can be forgiven for trying to cram too much into our days, especially at work. Our brains need a breather. It's important to take regular breaks, get some fresh air, change our environment, and step away from work. It's much better to do something imperfectly than to burn ourselves out.
As humans, our brains have unique superpowers when it comes to dealing with complexity. We're able to find associations between seemingly unrelated bits of information. This means we're rather good at finding creative, or unusual ways to solve problems. Try looking at complex situations from a new perspective, or ask for input from others to consider how they look at things.
Final thoughts: Complexity makes the world around us unique, interesting, and often rather wonderful. We don't need to become overwhelmed though. Life can be complex but with practice, we can keep it simple.