Most people may know intuitively that mental overload could result in experiencing more stress. But did you know that mental overload may also decrease innovation? This is the finding from a 2016 Psychological Science study on the effect of a high mental load on creative thinking.
The researchers, Shira Baror and Moshe Bar, of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, conducted three separate experiments involving between 20 and 50 university students. They gave participants a free-association exercise while at the same time overloading their mental capacity by requiring them, for example, to keep in mind a string of seven digits. The results showed that mental overload decreased the ability of the participants to come up with original and creative responses.
Are you experiencing mental overload? If so, this might decrease your ability to think creatively and to innovate. These seven simple strategies may help you avoid mental overload:
1. Roam around.
Consider carving out some time for creative brainstorming. But you may not want to do your creative brainstorming while sitting down. That's the finding from a 2014 Stanford University study involving 176 college students and other adults. They were asked to complete tasks commonly used to assess creative thinking. To complete these tasks, some participants walked indoors on a treadmill or sat indoors; others walked outdoors or sat outside while being pushed in a wheelchair. The sessions lasted between five and 16 minutes.
The study revealed that the majority of participants were more creative while walking than sitting. And it didn't matter whether walking was indoors on a treadmill or outdoors. In other words, the environment was not the main factor. What's more, the study found the boost in creativity continued even after the participants sat back down shortly after a walk.
If you want to clear your head of mental overload and get a fresh perspective on an issue, think about the potential benefits of walking around. It may help increase your ability to innovate. And, the next time you have an one-on-one meeting with a team member, consider walking and talking. It might help to get the creative juices flowing.
2. Encourage non-productive breaks in meetings.
In lengthy meetings, consider scheduling five-minute breaks between major items on the agenda. But rather than everyone using the break to check voicemail or answer emails, you may want to encourage your team to use the break to go for a brief walk outside or spend a moment of quiet, free of distractions.
Brief breaks may help manage mental overload experienced in meetings. You might find that everyone comes back more refreshed and ready to think more effectively.
3. Practice the right kind of meditation.
Meditation may help in managing mental overload and opening a path for creative thinking. But not all forms of meditation have the same effect on creativity. The most recent research available on the effects of various forms of meditation on creativity is a 2012 study by Leiden University in Netherlands. The study involved 19 meditation practitioners. Participants used two meditation techniques to assess which meditation technique had the biggest impact on creative activities:
- In open monitoring meditation, individuals are open to any thoughts, sensations or emotions they experience, without focusing attention on any particular object.
- In focused attention meditation, individuals focus on a particular object or part of the body.
The results revealed that those who used open monitoring meditation performed better in creative thinking and generated more new ideas than they had previously.
4. Watch out for present bias
Present bias refers to the tendency for people to give a stronger weight to immediate payoffs at the expense of future rewards. This could have an impact on whether we might do something now or later. Present bias can be the cause of much procrastination. The things we procrastinate may add to our mental overload. You may want to think of it as mental luggage we carry with us that could weigh us down and might affect our ability to think more creatively.
Try to avoid postponing the completion of tasks that can be done right away. If a task takes only takes three minutes or less, consider doing it right away. Hanging on to uncompleted tasks can be mentally fatiguing.
5. Press pause.
Try to make it a daily practice to take a few moments away from noise, haste and all distractions. You might find a deep place of silence in your office or home. Consider closing your door to shut out voices, turning off the dings from your devices and just closing your eyes and sitting in silence for three or four minutes. Quiet reflection may be your ally.
Daydreaming, self-reflection and mind-wandering are beneficial in temporarily ridding yourself of mental overload. As management expert Peter Drucker put it, “Follow effective actions with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action".
6. Clear mental overload by eliminating tolerations.
Tolerations include things that need fixing, but are not attended to. They can be simple things in our environment such as a squeaky door or a leaky faucet. Or it can be a ticking clock in a corner of the room that's annoying. We encounter these things day in and day out; they can distract us, but we may put off doing anything about it. Although such tolerations are small, they may add to our mental overload. Consider making a list of all your tolerations and resolve to do away with them once and for all.
7. Just jot it down.
One of the most effective ways to prevent mental overload may be to jot things down rather than holding them in your head. Consider getting into the habit of writing everything down: a daily to-do-list, a weekly or monthly priority list, a goals list and a stop doing list. As productivity expert David Allen says, "Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them." Writing things down may help you clear space in your mind so that you may be able to concentrate on creative or innovative ideas for your business. You may find it helpful to use one of the many to-do list apps.
In a world where most people may experience the overload of digital technology, it's not likely that we can completely eliminate mental overload. But we can try to control unnecessary distractions rather than letting them control us. The payoff may hopefully result in a clearer mind, which may allow us to see new and exciting possibilities.
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