Brain overload. We all experience it, and now here I am contributing to it. By putting one more blog post out there. By posting on my Facebook profile. By sending a Twitter message into the Twittersphere.
A recent Newsweek article by one of my favorite writers, Sharon Begley, claims all the information swirling inside and outside our brains is affecting the way we make decisions. And not in a good way.
Apparently, when we reach “information overload,” we make “stupid mistakes and bad choices. … Trying to drink from a firehose of information has harmful cognitive effects,” Begley reports. “And nowhere are those effects clearer, and more worrying, than in our ability to make smart, creative, successful decisions.”
Sometimes well-informed decisions are helpful, she writes, like when we’re looking up used-car reports or researching physicians. But often, say when we’re deciding where to vacation, Begley tells us that all those travel Web sites can be daunting, so much so that we often just opt to stay home.
I often use the travel review site tripadvisor to help me decide which hotel I should choose. And it can be overwhelming. Once I decide how much I can spend, I read others’ reviews on the hotels I can afford. Here’s what I got on a hotel I was looking at in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (a very pricey area): “Cozy and rustic.” And “Not worth consideration unless you are desperate.” And “Great place to stay!”
So which of the 61 wildly disparate reviews should I use to make my decision? “I’ll just sleep on it,” I thought. And, lo and behold, that was the right decision.
Decision science has shown that when people are faced with a lot of choices, they likely make no decision at all, Begley writes. However, she adds, it also finds that “creative decisions are more likely to bubble up from a brain that applies unconscious thought to a problem, rather than going at it in a full-frontal, analytical assault.”
What does all this mean for you and me? Maybe we should turn off our computers and smart phones for a few hours every few days and go silently into our sacred spaces where we can try to free our minds from information onslaught. Maybe the occasional electronic information fast would be good for our spirits, too.
Let me know how you do with that and whether you find yourself making better decisions and feeling less anxious.