Cognitive bottlenecks: the inherent limits of the thinking mind - Deepstash
Cognitive bottlenecks: the inherent limits of the thinking mind

Cognitive bottlenecks: the inherent limits of the thinking mind


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Cognitive bottlenecks: the inherent limits of the thinking mind

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The thinking mind

The thinking mind is the part of the mind that tries to make sense of the world by analysing situations, imagining scenarios, and telling stories.

But it is limited by several cognitive bottlenecks, such as how much information we can process at one time, how many tasks we can focus on simultaneously, and how many parameters we can consider when making decisions.


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Intrinsic limitations of the thinking mind

Our limited sensory capabilities mean that we tend to overestimate our cognitive ability. We try to simultaneously process multiple streams of information or work on several tasks at the same time.

So we respond by multitasking. We believe we will be quicker by combining two tasks. We also trust we can consider many different facts when making complex decisions. But our thinking mind is limited by two bottlenecks: attention and working memory.


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  • Attention: Research shows that we're bad at dividing our attention between different tasks.
  • Working memory allows us to hold multiple bits of information for the short term. This is important for activities such as reading, writing, having a conversation, and making decisions. But the working memory is a bottleneck as it is limited in capacity and duration.

Every person will have different levels of attention and working memory, which will vary throughout the day and years. Being aware of these cognitive bottlenecks can help you to avoid being overconfident and make better decisions.


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  • Offload some of your thinking. Instead of relying on your mind alone, use tools for thought that help you collect and connect ideas together.
  • Plan for focused chunks of work. Instead of multitasking, define your tasks and block time to complete them.
  • Practice mindful productivity. Instead of blaming yourself for getting distracted, gently bring back your attention to your tasks.


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