Product Design is a hard-thinking business. ID personnel, engineers, program managers and software developers are all paid for their brain power, hence unplanned internal interruptions to the thought process are most unwelcome. The same holds true for workers across the entire information economy. We all laugh about brain cramps, but they are for real. They can be extremely dangerous and costly. Fortunately, they’re often completely avoidable.
BRAIN CRAMPS ARE FOR REAL
Wiktionary offers this definition: A temporary mental lapse, such as an inability to remember something, to focus one’s attention, to understand something, or to perform some other mental task of which one would ordinarily be capable.
We’ve all experienced this.
BRAIN CRAMPS CAN BE DANGEROUS
An article titled “The Great Forgetting” in the November Tech Issue of The Atlantic, recounts two frightening tales of pilot error resulting in fatal plane crashes and attributes the errors to the pilots’ inability to recall the “situational awareness” needed to compensate for faulty on-board computer readings,
“…too many pilots, thrust abruptly into what has become a rare role (flying manually sic), make mistakes. Rory Kay, a veteran United captain who has served as the top safety official of the Air Line Pilots Association, put the problem bluntly in a 2011 interview with the Associated Press: “We’re forgetting how to fly.”
BRAIN CRAMPS ARE AVOIDABLE
#1 – Give Up
My default solution for every difficult task is to “try harder!”. And in the cerebral world of tech marketing, 9 times out of 10 that means trying to think harder about stuff. But as it turns out, this approach can be counter-productive – especially if I’ve been on the same task for a while, or if I’m distracted. Who hasn’t struggled to remember the name of a movie or of someone we met at an event only to remember it once we stopped trying? The answer just pops into our heads, sometimes in the middle of the night or even the next day. Sometimes the key to remembering is to simply forget about what you’re trying to remember.
#2 – Daydream
Scientific American’s recent article discusses the benefits of mental ‘downtime’, including the internal ‘streaming’ that frees the mind to sort, unfettered, through recent and ongoing challenges. The author states,
“While mind-wandering we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future. We craft fictional dialogue to practice standing up to someone who intimidates us or to reap the satisfaction of an imaginary harangue against someone who wronged us. We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions.”
#3 – Unitask
Though many of us take great pride in our ability to multi-task (I used to say that if I wasn’t doing three things at once, I’d never get anything done.) a study done last year at Ohio State shows we still suffer poorer mental performance when we are multitasking. One thing at a time.
#4 – Keep Up Those Analog Skills
Play an instrument. Break something just so you can fix it again. Help your buddy replace that engine. Cook (from scratch!). Step away from the computer. Put that phone down. And the tablet. Here’s a reason why, also from “The Great Forgetting”,
“Psychologists have found that when we work with computers, we often fall victim to two cognitive ailments—complacency and bias—that can undercut our performance and lead to mistakes. Automation complacency occurs when a computer lulls us into a false sense of security. Confident that the machine will work flawlessly and handle any problem that crops up, we allow our attention to drift. We become disengaged from our work, and our awareness of what’s going on around us fades. Automation bias occurs when we place too much faith in the accuracy of the information coming through our monitors. Our trust in the software becomes so strong that we ignore or discount other information sources, including our own eyes and ears. When a computer provides incorrect or insufficient data, we remain oblivious to the error.”
#5 – Take a Nap. Or Get More Sleep.
Adequate sleep is crucial to mental acuity and our ability to remember how to perform tasks. So take that nap, or your brain might take one without you!