Why Your Brain Shuts Down
We all experience brain freeze at one time or another. But did you know you may be exacerbating the problem by overloading yourself with information, and that cognitive overload makes non-anxious people anxious, and anxious folks even more so? Not what any of us need, and certainly detrimental when making decisions about food.
Here’s an example. Ever sit down with a menu—a really large one with a dizzying array of items—and draw a blank on what you want to eat? How much easier when the menu has variety but not so many choices that your head begins to spin. According to a March 7, 2011 NEWSWEEK article entitled “I Can’t Think” by one of my very favorite writers, Sharon Begley, “The booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret.” The problem is that the brain’s working memory is limited to about seven items at a time. Anything more gets shunted into long-term memory. Think about the layout of a manageable menu: it has items grouped by category, with about seven choices in each grouping. More than that and your brain can’t cope.
This issue is important beyond making food choices. Many disregulated eaters don’t know when enough is enough when it comes to making many kinds of decisions and drive themselves crazy gathering more and more information until they’re overwhelmed. Maybe they’re trying to settle on a pre-school for their child, choosing a new car, or planning a vacation. The more information they gather, the more anxious they become. Why? Because the brain isn’t made to hold that much data at once.
Think about how you make decisions—food and otherwise. Is the sky the limit in terms of collecting information? Do you believe that more is better rather than working to ferret out specific information and narrow it down to what’s essential? Are you afraid that not uncovering every possible option will lead you to making a poor choice? If so, consider this: science says that focusing on a few select criteria will steer you in the right direction, whereas an overload will just bog down decision making.
Next time you have a decision to make, whether you’re creating a menu for a dinner party, buying an ice cream cone, purchasing a house, or choosing a wedding venue, be wary of considering too many options. Better to think about what’s important to you and what’s vital to decision-making. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, trust your intuition to take you the rest of the way and guide you to the best solution.