How Many Thinks Does it Take to Get to the End of a Pandemic?

How Many Thinks Does It Take?

1. Bandwidth is extremely limited and extremely important.

What is “mental bandwidth”? Well, it’s the incredibly tiny amount of brain resources that we have conscious control over. Our brains process a ton of information, but only about 0.1% is within our control, meaning that our brains do about 99.9% of things automatically.¹ If that sounds high, try to remember the last time that you thought about inflating and deflating your lungs to breathe, or bending your knees to walk. Have you ever headed somewhere and ended up somewhere else, because that’s where “your car” decided to go? That’s your automatic processing kicking in.

2. Many things steal our bandwidth that are largely out of our control.

Annoyance can eat up bandwidth? Yep. Our bandwidth is supposedly the part of our brain we have “control” over, but actually it’s more like the part we could have control over. In reality, a whole bunch of things steal our bandwidth that are largely out of our control — worry, fear, illness, self-criticism, being excluded, and a million other things.² All humans have about the same amount of bandwidth to start with, but depending on our circumstances, we can have very different amounts available to actually use.³

Bandwidth exhaustion can trigger the brain’s threat response.

3. The loss of routines during the pandemic has led to huge, unexpected bandwidth demands.

The pandemic has led to shut-downs and stay-at-home orders that disrupted a LOT of our routines. I don’t know about you, but “getting ready for work” is a much different experience for me now than it was in February. And during those first few weeks of stay-at-home?

4. Our bandwidth is exhausted from all of the pandemic uncertainty.

The second thing the pandemic did was to create uncertainty. A LOT of uncertainty. And our brains really, really hate uncertainty.⁴ When our brains can’t get a grasp on what’s going to happen next, they start trying to fit pieces into places that aren’t there — and wasting extraordinary amounts of bandwidth. Have you ever been waiting to hear about something really important, and when you hear — even if it’s bad news — you feel relieved because at least now you know? When we “know,” we free up bandwidth. When we don’t know? More bandwidth exhaustion.

When will it end? Our brains want to know!

5. Bandwidth exhaustion can trigger a threat response that can make us act more controlling, angry, or avoidant.

It’s true. Bandwidth exhaustion can trigger us to be judgmental and controlling. Or alternatively to turn to avoidance or denial. This is because when we have ongoing bandwidth exhaustion, we also have ongoing “failures” as we try to do things that need bandwidth, but don’t have enough to do them² (Um… Anyone else ruin their healthy meal planning during the pandemic? No? I don’t believe you…).

Many of us avoid by “checking out” with food, alcohol, or technology.

6. Bandwidth exhaustion can push us towards right-or-wrong thinking, which makes us more likely to be judgmental.

Bandwidth exhaustion also leads to judgment — of others and of ourselves. Bandwidth-deprived brains want everything to be yes or no, right or wrong, because then it feels much easier to make a decision. Out of desperation, we begin to decide what’s “right” and “wrong” so we can make it through the daily bandwidth demands. Wearing a mask? Right. Having other people over to our house? Wrong.

Over-reactive brains are quick to judge.

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Tina D Bhargava

Tina D Bhargava

Dr. Tina D Bhargava is a professor at Kent State University & a bandwidth scholar, teacher & liberator. She is also the founder of EverydayBandwidth.com.