Tuesday, July 06, 2010

How My Brain Works

This weekend when Mark was here we had a conversation about how brains are structured. I was explaining my own thought process with the aid of the diagram above.

I'm thinking about hundreds of things at any given moment. Each thought branches off others, but each one continues to its natural conclusion. When something occurs to me that requires some action, I move it to the front part of my brain, in the part I've highlighted with yellow. It takes tremendous energy to keep something in that "top of mind" position, and it slows all the other thought processes. So, my solution is to write it down. Then my brain can be free to continue all its thoughts.

If something interrupts me I am physically jarred by all of these thoughts ending abruptly. I'm likely to lose some thoughts and it takes a lot of energy for me to restart what I was thinking about on at the time. This is why I hate unnecessary noise.

If someone yells, or uses a car horn, it signals danger and means there's something I need to pay attention to. But if there's no danger, and I've stopped all these thoughts for no reason I'm not a very happy camper.

The way my brain works allows me to be thinking about hundreds of things at a time. If something is requiring a lot of intense thought, and using a lot of that "top of mind" part of my brain, the other thoughts are slowed.

At some places I've worked other people have assumed I did not have my mind on "work" because I would always be making notes about other things at the same time - from calling for a dentist's appointment to an art project I want to make. By the same token, in my "off" hours I'm still devoting thought to my work place and making notes about things we could do there.

I've come to realize that this thought process is one of the reasons I really value intense conversation with people. When I'm involved in really good conversation, fewer of these thoughts are happening and it's "refreshing" for lack of a better term. It's why having lunch with someone in the middle of the work day makes me much fresher for the afternoon than I would be otherwise.

I'm a prime example of how if people are allowed to think/work in the way that's natural for them they produce more. I am far more productive for my workplace, and with my own projects, when allowed to have this natural blending. Obviously, some work days and some evenings at home don't allow for this sort of thought process, but when possible it's better for all concerned.


sigerson said...

About segregating work and leisure thoughts: Some of my best work ideas have come to me when I'm doing something else, but how can you charge a client for the time you spend taking a shower or mowing the lawn?

So would you consider yourself a multitasker (multitasking: the art of doing five things poorly)?

If I have something emotional on my mind, anything from a letter to the editor to a trip diary to the weighing of a major life decision, I find it best to just give in to the task at hand.

Write down my thoughts until the mental tank is empty. Otherwise, I'm jotting cryptic notes every couple of minutes, comments which might not make any sense later (or may not even be legible if I'm writing when I should be sleeping). This drip-drip-drip method clogs the brain and keeps other, perhaps more important thoughts from breaking through.

If I have the time to just give in to the task, this removes it from my mind entirely. Only rarely do I add anything later after such an exhaustive detailing.

Patsy Terrell said...

I am a devotee of pen and paper and find writing about something to be one of the best ways to figure it out. Not just the standard pro/con list, but writing at length about whatever it is. That may take more of my "top of mind" energy, but other thoughts are still continuing.

I'm not sure what you call my kind of thought process. It's pretty typical ADHD, but I don't consider that a negative. I don't know how people who think about only one thing at a time ever get anything done! :)