The comparison of the human brain to a computer processor has been done, time and time again. In fact, it might be one of the easiest-to-understand comparisons out there: Information goes in, it goes through certain processes, and it comes out the other side (occasionally encrypted beyond recollection).
You might not know that your brain has a limited amount of processing power, too – and at any given moment, your intellectual resources can be drained by a number of competing tasks or moods.
These competing tasks or emotional states are just a normal part of everyday life, and short of a whole-life makeover, there’s not always too much you can do to control them.
When these tasks and moods take up too much of our intellectual resources, we don’t have enough juice left to do other things, such as express our creativity, solve problems, or concentrate on a single thing.
While this temporary reduction doesn’t really affect our long-term intelligence, it does limit our functioning IQ – making us less effective at that exact moment. It’s completely normal to get frazzled every now and then, but if you find it’s happening all the time, you might be doing one of the 5 things that psychologists say lower your functioning IQ. How many habits can you break?
Dwelling on past events and hardships.
It’s good to think about the past. Whether the memories are good or bad, there’s most likely a lesson you can learn from them, and this is important to the human experience. The problem comes when you can’t stop thinking about the past. When you replay upsetting, frustrating, or distressing events over and over again in your mind, your mind will automatically start to race. Emotions may get stirred up and start to affect your cognitive functioning. In extreme cases, brooding can even cause long-term damage to your physical and emotional health. (For more information, please read The Seven Hidden Dangers of Brooding from Psychology Today.)
While the article linked deals with the complications of dwelling on bad memories, there is a risk associated with certain good memories, too. If the sense of nostalgia over the past causes frustration and distress, it may give similar effects to your cognitive functioning. Remember, it’s good to think about the past, as long as you remember you don’t live there anymore.
Avoiding forgiveness – from others, and from ourselves.
It’s human nature to dislike the feeling of guilt. Yet despite our best efforts, we all experience guilt from time to time. Some actions may result in a stronger sense of guilt than others, and if we’re unable to resolve the source of our guilt, it can distract us from the rest of our day-to-day lives. Whenever possible, we should seek to resolve these feelings of guilt – either by seeking forgiveness from the person we’ve wronged, and making up for it in an appropriate way, or from releasing ourselves from our own blame.
One of the best ways to find forgiveness is to deliver an effective apology. Most adults apologize in much the same way that children do, and as a result the apologies sound just as insincere and unconvincing as a child’s apology does. Learning how to apologize properly can help resolve guilty feelings and express a true sense of remorse, as opposed to just adhering to social expectations.
Complaining, without doing anything to fix the situation.
Why is it easier to complain to ten friends who’ll listen instead of telling one person who knows how to fix the problems? The short answer is: Humans are lazy. Every time we complain about something that’s taxing us, we don’t have to physically do anything about it. It’s going to frustrate us every time, though – and that’s where the biggest problem lies. Anger and frustration use up a lot of our cognitive capacity – which is why some people talk about “seeing red” or “blacking out” when they’re angry. Their processing power is all taken up by their anger, and there’s nothing left to process their surroundings.
Ineffectual complaining might seem like the easier option, but the stress-relieving powers of actually solving your problems takes a lot of strain off your mind, which frees up some of that precious processing power so you can tackle other things. The sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goals will motivate you to achieve more goals. This snowball effect has the potential to make you smarter, in the long run, as you’ll be more motivated to improve yourself.
Taking rejection and criticism too personally.
We all know that we shouldn’t let someone else’s rejection of us define us, but that’s really a lot easier said than done. When we perceive that someone has rejected us, even if we haven’t actually put ourselves out there to be rejected, it creates a significant emotional pain, which has a negative impact on our mood – which affects our cognitive functioning capacity. Over time, this rejection and criticism can be reflected in how we feel about ourselves.
When we fall into the habit of being self-critical, we are actively lowering our self-esteem through the words we use to think about ourselves. This process means that the rejection we feel from other people causes prolonged pain, because it carries new emotional distress every time we repeat these things to ourselves. Thankfully, there are ways to modify your thinking and embrace a more positive lifestyle, but they do take some time to really start working. (I promise, it’s worth the time.)
Worrying about a problem, instead of finding a solution.
This is very closely related to habit #3, complaining ineffectively, but it relies on a different emotion. When you’re worried about a problem, such as not knowing whether you have a ride home from work or not, you’re distracting yourself from the other things going on in your life. In situations where a problem is causing you significant stress, it’s much easier to focus on solving the problem quickly, rather than try to get to it later (while still thinking about it the entire time). Worrying takes a significant toll on your cognitive functioning, while not actively helping anything.
However, worrying often sparks an urge to solve the problem anyway – and if you feel this urge, you should definitely go with it. In most cases, something that worries you isn’t going to stop worrying you until you sit down and find a solution. Of course, you’ll have to explore what’s most urgent to you and handle the most taxing things first, but this helps create a positive long-term habit of worry-free courage.