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Scarcity and Cognitive Bandwidth

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Really found intriguing this article from today's Globe on brain science and scarcity -- it has so many implications.

The research suggests that people experiencing scarcity (lack of money, lack of time, even lack of calories when trying to lose weight) will experience mental focus. But at a big price. The necessity of that mental focus distracts us from making good decisions in other areas of our lives. Because we only have so much "bandwidth". It's the same recognition that talking on the phone even hands-free in the car results in way more car accidents, since the distraction is comparable to driving when impaired. Texting?? Even more so.

This may not be a hot news flash: we "know" this already, right? That's why will power, actual confrontational resistance to temptation which is "present" (those potato chips) , gets exhausted. That's why it's better for me to avoid temptation (I don't buy potato chips). But it's the size of the scarcity effect on bandwidth that's surprising. When intense focus is required . . . we can do what needs to be done, and maybe even do it well. But we can't do much more.

Certainly this past week with its heavy job demands meant that there literally was no time for the gym. Got in a few walks but no substitute, really (heading to the gym right now . . . and looking forward to it). Did manage to keep within my calorie ranges . . . but didn't do much else this week beyond work and nutrition tracking! Sigh. That's OK. The body is forgiving, and I'm forgiving myself too of course. I know from past experience that I will get back to the exercise I need when work demands recede a bit: I always do. And I will.

Laundry done, soup made too: another R2R compromise, vegan black bean chili using up the pantry supplies of brown rice and black beans, neither of which are recommended in a pure "primarian" approach, but with a different balance: way more veggies (garlic, carrot, celery, tomatoes, green peppers, a bit of corn) and way less beans/rice. Lots of spice!! I'll pick up some fresh cilantro with my groceries . . . serve with a dollop of fat free Greek yogourt maybe??? Smells terrific!!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • KANOE10
    That was an interesting article. The comment that with scarcity you can focus on the immediate need...but you lose sight of the long term consequences is interesting.
    Good luck on your stressful week. I am glad you are able to get to the gym. You are right; you will eventually return to your normal exercise routine.

    I am feeling the same stress and scarcity of time. I missed a few days of exercise wtih travel and am swamped at work.

    Have a great day.
    1674 days ago
    That is an interesting article, THANKYOU for sharing it. I can really relate to that bandwidth theory and the loss of focus. It means that making weight loss a high priority doesn't let up, and I guess the same is true of maintenance. Really useful.

    Snap! I just blogged about my food prep day yesterday. A good feeling, isn't it!

    1676 days ago
    This is interesting to realize. Makes me wonder where I can save bandwith. Thanks for sharing.
    1676 days ago
    1677 days ago
  • NANCY-
    While this is true, at least we do get to choose what we wish to focus on and how we feel.
    Choose how you use your bandwidth wisely.
    1677 days ago
  • _LINDA
    I read about it in a Health News article too. So you can't burn the candle at both ends and multitask efficiently. Lack of sleep does not give you more time to get things done. You end up struggling to get done what you have to competently. Very familiar with it, but don't know how to get off the old hamster wheel.
    You are coping well with it. You are a rock star!
    Love the soup, anything spicy perks my interest right away :)
    1677 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    Moderation & Balance - a real challenge in our fast-paced life - but so necessary.
    1677 days ago
    1677 days ago
    I can relate to lack of bandwidth! I'm in the middle of losing some vacation up-pounds, worked hard today getting our sailboat out of the water for the winter and unloaded, etc, etc. All I can think about is sitting and eating! I'm going to eat appropriately, but I'm sitting now thinking about eating. No room for anything else at the moment.
    1677 days ago
    Hmmm, interesting. Limited bandwidth. Makes sense - think about visiting an art museum, or any museum, or a conference - after a while, after the intensity, my brain always feels full. Tired. Needs a break. Can only focus for so long, then it's gone.

    I'll have to remember this. And re-call that focus into play every time DH looks at a dessert menu. (My current solution is espresso with double sweetener - rich, sweet, enough.)
    1678 days ago
    I find it comforting when science backs up anecdotal observation. How many of us explain a regain after success as "life happened"? We lost focus!

    I think that's also why it's important to practice those decision making / triage skills I call "drawing a line in the sand" when work goes nuts or life hands me a gut-punch!

    Good for the "automatic" decisions (not putting temptation in front of you) that help keep you on the R2R track. emoticon
    1678 days ago
    Wow, I'm dealing with this right now but needed your blog to actually realize it. Thanks for bringing it into focus for me. Plot twist, time to make some adjustments. CJ
    1678 days ago
    Makes sense...we do what we can with what we have. Speaking of which that chili sounds most delish!

    1678 days ago
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