This is Your Brain on Overwhelm!

Your brain – and your audience’s brains – might not look like the fried egg in those old public service announcements (“This is your brain on drugs”) and you might not sound like the actors in those  “Search Overload Syndrome” TV commercials.  All the same, your brain is being overwhelmed every day.  Let me explain how.

Times Square, New York City

Sensory Overwhelm

For most people, vision is our primary sense.  Close to 90% of our learning and information processing comes in through our eyes.  So I’ll talk about vision here, although the other senses can be overwhelmed as well.

How much do we actually see?

Our brains are registering 40 million bits of sensory information per second and most of it is processed subconsciously or preconsciously. 

The conscious brain can only process 8,000 bits of that sensory input per second.  That’s about 2/100ths of 1% of what the subconscious can process in the same amount of time.

If the subconscious brain is estimated to process 5,000 times faster than the conscious brain, is it any wonder the subconscious insists on processing almost everything by itself!?!

Approximately 95% of human brain activity is subconscious and about 5% is conscious.

The subconscious parts of the brain transform sensory input into emotions that lead to actions in less than 1/10th of a second!  This is not one system but a jumble of varied processes, structures, and reflexes.  All these parts are very fast, automatic, and subconscious.

What is the subconscious processing that is so urgent? 

The subconscious is paying attention to everything happening around you and is constantly making decisions to keep you safe and aliveMost of those decisions are acted upon without your conscious awareness.

For example, you touch a hot stove or radiator and you instantly pull your hand away.  You don’t have to wait for your conscious mind to analyze the pain in your hand and come up with a solution!

Or you see a dog walking towards you on the sidewalk with foam around its mouth.  Your subconscious mind determines in a flash whether you can get inside a secure area before the dog gets to you and then you either flee or freeze.  If you had to wait for your conscious mind to analyze the situation, you would be going to the doctor for rabies shots – or worse!

Your subconscious is also processing everything around you in modern daily life, watching for signals about the behavior of the driver in the car next to you on the freeway and the attitude behind your boss’s facial expression.

Researchers tell us that our brains cannot tell the difference between events that are happening in reality and those that are happening inside our imagination.  So your subconscious is also responding to everything you see and hear on television and radio – both the shows and the commercials!  Your brain is preparing to keep you safe from the shooter on a TV show or a fire on the evening news, even though those dangers never actually materialize.

How do we process what we see?

While the processing of sensory stimuli is a function mainly handled by the subconscious parts of the brain, the conscious brain processes information internal to its own thoughts – planning, abstract thinking, reasoning, and analysis, which can be somewhat independent of external sensory stimuli.

Because our subconscious brain is bombarded with so much external sensory stimuli, it only processes what’s important. 

The subconscious brain has a clear set of guidelines it uses to determine which sensory input demands its attention and which can be ignored because it is not dangerous, it can’t be eaten, and it won’t help with mating and reproduction.  Those are the top priorities of your subconscious brain – your old brain – because those are the requirements for survival.

When you present a message to your prospects, in the form of a video or social media post or slide presentation or free report, you ultimately want your prospects’ conscious brain to carefully and logically evaluate your message.  But before your message can get to their conscious brain, it needs to get the attention of their subconscious brain.

How to capture that attention is one of the main points of this whole blog series and will be discussed in upcoming posts.




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