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Giving Yourself The Freedom To Be Who You Want To Be

Our brains are incredible. But if we don’t understand and accept how our own brain works, we often end up sabotaging our freedom and making it impossible to do what we want.

One way we do this is by expecting more from our conscious brain than it’s capable of. According to Bob Nease, author of’ The Power of Fifty Bits, ‘ of every 10 million bits of information our brains process, only 50 bits of that is considered conscious thought.

That means the prefrontal cortex, the highest functioning part of the brain and the part responsible for decision-making, focus, and willpower, only gets 50 bits out of every 10 million. And most of us are expecting way too much from that 50 bits.

Another way we sabotage our freedom is by thinking our brains should be different than they are. If we struggle to get out of bed in the morning, we think we should be able to just get up. If we struggle to exercise, we think we should be able to just willpower through it.

We think we should be able to multi-task. We think we should be able to remember. We think we should be able to do it perfectly. We think we should be able to do it the “best” way.

Thinking our brain should be different than it is and arguing with reality doesn’t usually get us any closer to what we want. And often, it gets us further and further away.

Luckily, we can strategically design our lives in a way that respects our brain’s constraints. When we intentionally reduce the burden on our prefrontal cortex, it grants us the freedom to show up consistently, follow through on goals, and live the life we desire.

When we intentionally accept our brain just as it is, we give ourselves the freedom to design ways to work with our brain rather than against it.

The Power of 50 Bits

Just for fun, think of your prefrontal cortex as a small cup that can only hold about 50 marbles’ worth of focus, decision-making, and restraint at once. Those 50 bits are precious resources. When demands exceed your brain’s capacity, performance starts to slip. You may experience:

– Forgetfulness and absent-mindedness

– Impaired ability to control impulses

– Lack of motivation and procrastination

– Difficulty regulating emotions and reactions

– Poor decision-making and lack of concentration

Essentially, you lose access to your highest mental capabilities. Trying to force your brain past its limits results in frustration and often backfires. The key is respecting your 50 bits and purposefully organizing your life to make the most of them.

Examples

I don’t know how your brain works. I don’t know what your brain struggles with or how it impacts your life. What I do know is that your brain is perfect, just as it is. There is nothing wrong with you. I can only share different areas that I have found to be useful for my brain. Use these examples as jumping-off points as you consider where your own brain struggles, where you are expecting too much from your 50 bits, and where you aren’t accepting your brain exactly as it is.

Complete Tasks in Advance

When I have a deadline coming up quickly, my brain loves to freak out about it. Let’s use this newsletter as an example. I am writing this a full month before you will see it. Why? Because completing tasks far in advance of when I need them done completely eliminates the stress, pressure, and overwhelm my brain loves to create, giving me the freedom from these emotions and the freedom to be present in my life.

These emotions are optional. And I could just think different thoughts about writing the newsletter right before it goes out.

But I’d rather spend my 50 bits on something else.

We must manage our mind about some circumstances because it’s our only option.

But this isn’t one of them. If I’m constantly using my 50 bits to think intentionally about all the various “deadlines” in my life, those 50 bits aren’t available for other important things.

Another option is to accept that my brain doesn’t love deadlines and possibly never will and just do things far in advance.

Giving myself breathing room eases the burden that my brain would otherwise create. With the pressure diffused, my 50 bits can be devoted to more meaningful pursuits.

Schedule Important Appointments First Thing

Ever notice how hard it can be to get going on your priorities for the day? But if you’ve made an appointment with a client, coworker, or trainer for early morning, you somehow manage to be there on time.

Most people find it easier to keep commitments to others than themselves. Use this psychology to your advantage. Book appointments related to high-priority goals as your first task of the day. This effectively forces your brain to allocate focus where you want it.

I have a coach friend who books a single coaching session at the beginning of each work day, even on days she isn’t coaching, because it makes it so easy to get up, get ready, and be in her office to start her day, rather than dinking around for half the day before she gets started.

Rather than telling herself she should be able to get up and get going, accepting that this is how her brain works means she can create a solution that works amazingly for her.

There was a time when I did the same thing as a way to get out of bed. Before I was diagnosed with Lyme and had no idea why I was suddenly so exhausted all the time, I really struggled to get up in the morning. My alarm went off, and I immediately felt like I’d been hit by a train. If I was only accountable to myself, the chance of me getting up was really low because it was really hard to use my prefrontal cortex when I was that tired. But it wasn’t even a question if I had a coaching session in 20 minutes. I got up.

I could’ve told myself I should be able to just get up and then continued to fight this battle every day. But having a coaching session scheduled made it easy. It gave me the freedom to get up when I wanted to and skip the battle with myself.

Batch Similar Tasks

Every time we transition from one task to another, we ask a lot of our 50 bits. Research shows that it takes about 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction – even if that distraction is as small as noticing a notification on your phone. Jumping between different tasks saps mental resources. Each transition forces your prefrontal cortex to reload with new information. This slow switching cost drains your 50 bits.

According to Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, “That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.”

Streamline things by batching together similar activities. Devote a block of time just to phone calls, for instance, and then another chunk for creative work without task switching in between. Assembly line your responsibilities to preserve brainpower.

Thinking you “should” be able to multi-task or switch from one thing to another isn’t useful.

Develop Systems and Processes

Deciding how to approach each task from scratch overtaxes your prefrontal cortex. The solution is to implement systems so certain activities can run on autopilot.

For example, set up an automated bill pay system. Create templates for recurring projects. Maintain a routine for regularly scheduled chores. Rely on habits and checklists. The more you can convert repeated tasks into a standardized system, the less they’ll burden your brain.

When I sit down to write my newsletter and record my podcast, I open up an extremely detailed checklist. I start at the top and do all items in order. Not only does this ensure that I don’t miss any important steps, but it also means I can use all 50 bits to think about the content I’m creating for you rather than waste some of it on logistics. It gives me the freedom to use the best of my brain to create solutions to help people.

Stop Trying To Remember Everything – Use Technology

In today’s world, there’s no reason to expect your brain to hold everything for you. And all those things you’re trying to remember, use your 50 bits.

Anything you can put on auto will save your 50 bits for things that are most important to you.

Autobilling. Autopayments. Subscribe and Save for the things you are always running out of and have to remember to buy.

Set reminders on your phone. These could be daily reminders, one-time things way off in the future, or anything in between. Use the reminder app. Use the calendar. Use whatever app makes it easiest for you.

Thinking you should be able to remember it all isn’t useful.

Schedule Your To-Do List & Your Priorities

A running to-do list takes so much space in your brain and uses so much of your 50 bits because your brain keeps thinking about them until they are done.

Alternatively, scheduling a time to do each of those things means you no longer have to think about them. That does mean you will have to follow your calendar, though. Otherwise, your brain won’t believe they are taken care of and will continue to think about them until they are done.

Scheduling your priorities gives you the freedom to be who you want to be and live the life you want to live without having to think about what that looks like all the time (using more of your 50 bits).

For example, if your subconscious is in charge, your time will largely be spent doing things that aren’t your highest priority. Priorities require our 50 bits. Scheduling will minimize how much we use. If your marriage is one of your highest priorities, schedule time, dates, or activities with your spouse first before scheduling your to-do list. This means you won’t have to use your 50 bits as frequently (because it’s already scheduled – you only had to think about it once), AND you won’t turn over what’s important to you to your subconscious.

Choose Easy Over “Best”

Give yourself permission to do things the easy way rather than getting bogged down doing it the “right” way.

My first Qigong teacher had lots of ideas about what a proper Qigong routine should look like. And he had many thoughts about the people teaching it online (doing it with them was a subpar experience – you wouldn’t get as much out of it). He thought the “best” way was to create your own routines using a specific set of exercises.

The problem with this was I had to remember everything. And remembering felt exhausting. So, I was inconsistent with my Qigong. I dreaded doing it because I didn’t want to do something that felt exhausting when I was already exhausted.

So I decided that easy was better than best because it meant I would be doing Qigong every day. Consistent Qigong is better than inconsistent Qigong. I signed up for a membership with someone online. All I have to do is turn on the video and follow along.

Maybe it’s not the “best” way (this is still debatable since these were only his thoughts). But done is better than perfect. By not expecting more of my 50 bits than my brain was capable of, I gave myself the freedom to experience the benefits of qigong every day.

Do Things You Enjoy (Rather Than Things You Dread)

Let’s take exercise as an example. We all know exercise boosts mental performance, but forcing yourself through workouts you despise backfires. All your 50 bits focus on how much you hate burpees or running. You create a lot of dread. You battle with yourself and deplete your willpower. Not only do you waste your 50 bits, but you also start avoiding exercise altogether.

Instead, experiment to identify physical activities that energize you and don’t require any of your 50 bits. Maybe it’s a dance class, hiking, or pickleball. The exercise you’ll do consistently because it’s fun frees up your 50 bits for more meaningful priorities.

I love to exercise first thing in the morning. After I got Lyme and was bogged down with debilitating fatigue, I kept expecting myself to do things the same way I had always done them before. I “should” be able to. But when my alarm went off, it felt completely impossible to get up and exercise. I dreaded the alarm. I dreaded the exercise. I wasted so much brainpower.

Now, I get up and go into the sauna first thing. It’s so much easier to get up when I only have to change where I’m lying down. Removing the dread and the need for willpower gave me the freedom to get up when I want to, still take care of myself, and protect my brain so it can do what I most need it to do.

Questions to Consider

  1. Where are you consistently wasting your 50 bits?
  2. Where are you expecting more of your brain than it’s capable of?
  3. Where do you think your brain should be different? That you “should” be able to think or process differently?
  4. How can you make things easier on your brain so you have the freedom to show up the way you want to?

Respect Your 50 Bits

Most of what we do is run by our subconscious. Stop expecting your conscious brain to do more than it can with those precious 50 bits. Purposely put habits, behaviors, thoughts, and processes that you want into your subconscious system. Design your life to use your 50 bits wisely and set yourself up for success.

Try incorporating some of these tips above to give your prefrontal cortex the space it needs to perform at its highest capacity. The more you can automate, streamline and simplify, the more focus you’ll have available each day to direct towards your most important priorities and living the life you want.

Live Free. Love Life.

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