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The hunter who tries to chase two rabbits

at the same time, will catch neither.

                                                                              —Ancient Buddhist saying



When we try to handle difficult life problems, our brains must observe, remember, understand, analyze, and reason various parts of the problem so we can effectively and calmly decide what to do (or not do). This takes an enormous amount of brain power which is beyond the limits of our brain's ability. 

At any given time, our brain has to handle 11 million pieces (bits) of information per second! But the conscious brain can only deal with 50-60 bits per second! That's why it is difficult to do 2 things at the same time successfully! That's why we should not text on our smartphones while we are driving!


It is even worse when we are trying to manage difficult problems, as our emotions influence our ability to think logically. Even if we believe that we can multi-task successfully, years of scientific studies finds this to be wrong.


This toolkit provides three tools to help you deal with brain overload. These tools should be practiced and used habitually. The more you use these tools on a regular basis, the more they become second nature and increasingly effective.


The tools in this toolkit are:

  • Externalize

  • Simplify

  • Visualize



This involves displaying information that is in your head externally. In other words, you will be less overloaded if you “get stuff out of your head.” Simply put—  


  • Write thoughts or ideas down on paper or in a computer/smartphone

  • Draw diagrams

  • Make lists

This procedure relieves the human mind from “brain overload” by allowing you to concentrate on the problem or task itself. That’s why we use calendars, smartphones, “to do lists,” grocery lists, sticky note reminders, chalk boards, etc., etc.


You can also “externalize” the information in your head simply by talking aloud— talk to a friend, supervisor, family member, chaplain, or behavioral health counselor. Some people externalize through heartfelt prayer or by talking to a “higher power.”



Break down problems to make them more manageable. Focus only on the most important information, break down complex problems into smaller ones, and use simple and concrete language.


One way to practice using this tool involves starting with a major goal you have in mind, for example, getting a new job with higher pay. Using simplification, you can break this goal down into all the step-by-step, smaller goals that it would take to get there, for example, re-doing a resume, going to an employment agency, talking to friends, going on Google for information.

Visualization involves using your “mind’s eye” to create a scene in
your imagination in which you use all your senses and can feel as though you are actually there. This means that you use your senses to imagine seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing the experience that you have created in your mind. The reason for            using all of your senses is that when you have a vivid picture in your head, your brain actually believes it. Visualization is used in several important ways in this program to help people become better problem solvers.

These include using visualization to:

  • Help clarify the problem by "seeing" the situation more clearly

  • Rehearse actions in your mind, similar to how some athletes "see" the ball go into the basket or "see" themselves go down a ski slope 

  • Calm the body down by visualizing a relaxing and safe place, such as the beach or mountains


The following is an exercise to help you use visualization to practice an activity in your mind. Think about one thing you will do tomorrow that you want to go well. It could be a work-related task, such as setting up a computer, repairing a window, making an important phone call, talking to a co-worker about something important, or something social, like asking a friend for a small favor. Now take a few moments to close your eyes and imagine that you are carrying out this task. Really try to picture the scene-- what does it look like, who would be there, are there any sounds that you hear? Make it as "real" as possible! Now imagine yourself completing the task or conversation in an optimistic and competent manner. Visualize taking yourself through the task or the social interaction, in a slow, deliberate, step-by-step fashion.


Visualizing a "safe and relaxing place" is called “guided imagery”. This is a way to manage stress or negative arousal by taking a vacation in your mind. Essentially, when you use guided imagery, you vividly imagine a scene, using all of your senses, to take you to a safe place in your mind’s eye, such as a favorite vacation spot. This activity can be practiced as a general stress management strategy and also as a tool to calm the body and mind.

We have included a guided imagery audio clip here to help

you visualize your safe place 






Choose three times during the day when you will take a quick inventory of how you are feeling and the level of “brain overload” you are currently experiencing. A good time to do this would be when first waking up, during a mid-day meal/snack, or right before going to sleep. After taking notice of how much “brain overload you are experiencing,” indicate it as a number from 1 to 10. For example, a score of 9 or 10 would mean that you have a lot of brain overload, that is, you are having difficulty concentrating or thinking calmly. A score of 1 would mean that you are very calm and your mind is at rest.


Practice using one of the above multi-tasking tools once a day, even for a small problem that might contribute in a small way to “brain overload.” Use externalization, simplification, or a brief visualization to decrease your brain overload. It will make you feel better, mange difficult problems more effectively, and be more productive!

Visualization exercise
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