Why Am I Having Such A Hard Time Planning Something Right Now?
Burnout has many ways of injecting itself into life and causing trouble. One of ways burnout interferes is by leading decision-making astray.
Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience explains how the anxiety symptoms associated with burnout works to disengage the part of the brain that is essential for making good decisions. The area is the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), at the front of the brain, and it is the area that brings flexibility into decision-making.
The PFC is the part of the brain that gets involved in weighing up consequences, planning, and processing thoughts in a logical, rational way. It helps to take the emotional steam out of a decision by calming the amygdala, the part of the brain that runs on instinct, impulse and raw emotion (such as fear).
What does this mean?
Our ability to make decisions is influenced by our brains ability to screen out and filter distractions. We need to be able to filter outside distractions – physical changes, environmental changes, work and personal conversations – or they start to interfere with our decision making ability. Burnout, and anxiety in general, interrupts the brains capacity to ignore these distractions by numbing a group of neurons in the pre-frontal cortex that are specifically involved in making choices.
How can we improve our decision making ability?
Spend the last 10 minutes of your work day making a list of the three most important priorities to accomplish the next morning. Then start your morning accomplishing those tasks before moving onto anything else (including checking emails)
Put your phone on silent, eliminate notifications and give yourself a chance to work in 45 minute intervals uninterrupted. You will accomplish more this way.
Mindfulness strengthens the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that can be sent offline by stressors. Without the full capacity of the pre-frontal cortex to weigh in on decision-making, decisions are more likely to become fixed and rigid and driven by intrusive emotions that don’t deserve the influence. Mindfulness strengthens the brain’s capacity to filter out distractions to make more grounded, relevant decisions. It limits the influence of the things that don’t matter, so you can focus on the things that do.
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