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How the Brain Works: The Brain's Search for Order


In a previous article, we highlighted that the mind is primarily wired to effect and manage movement. It is continually learning and adapting to make our movements more efficient due to its natural desire for optimal functioning. This article is about the second major objective of the brain, which is to create order in everything we do or think. 

Our brain is an incredibly complex processing unit with a number of programs to process the world and our experiences within that world. We have specific areas of the brain to deal with different modalities of our experiences. We have specific differing neuroanatomy, for example, to facilitate our attention, learning and memory, emotion, and motivation etc. Although communication and coherence between these systems is complex, if left to their own devices these areas execute the necessary interactions to enable optimal functioning with ease. 

The problem, for most of us, is that we get in our own way (knowingly or not), continually hindering our performance. 

To think of it another way, let’s look at one of the primary functions of the brain, order. Our brain is programmed to continually seek out and maintain order in order to function efficiently. This process of sustaining (a perceived) order is exceptionally complex, and would be made considerably easier if we were not constantly filtering mixed messages (or ‘noisy’ feedback), either from the world around us as a result of our misplaced attention or from our internal conflicting desires and beliefs. Since the brain is in a perpetual state of categorising, processing, and establishing order (so that we can think, or act towards our agendas), any perceived conflict—be that of someone’s disapproving body language or our senses being bombarded by an excess of heat in the air—distracts optimal processing and therefore our ability to function in an optimal manner. In fact, in any give moment, much of our energy and attention is diverted to filtering this noisy feedback making our actions feel somewhat effortful. 

The level of ‘noise’ or ambiguity in any given moment makes the processing of each moment relatively confusing, unnecessarily complicated and strained—all the time subtly disturbing the internal synchronisation and streamlined consciousness that is required for flow. 

Our mind is constantly working to make sense of what we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, believe, value, and think. When playing chess in the street, for example, our processing systems are flooded with distracting information—from the smell of a nearby bakery, the catching a look from a stranger, or the pain in our knee—often burying our intuitive action far from reach. 

To make sense of all this information, and move towards our agendas and goals, we create rules or programs to categorise and organise all of the chaotic input. This Is why we make assumptions, judgments and fix perspectives (even if heavily skewed or wrong), all because it helps to make a more efficient net result. Questioning our reasoning every time a new stimulus is encountered, would otherwise lead to analysis paralysis.

It is this predisposition for order that leads us to straightening the painting on the wall or putting our shoes in the closet. It is why random notes played on the piano can sound chaotic and horrible, but the same notes rearranged can sound so amazing. It is also why we inherit common beliefs, such as religious dogmas or political values, even if we haven’t evaluated them ourselves.

When life is in order we feel more relaxed and free. The greater the order, the less conflict exists. Our processing resources are then free to be adaptable and open-minded, or send resources to other cognitive tasks. 

The more chaotic things become, especially things important to us, our need for order becomes increasingly urgent. To help establish order amongst the stress and chaos, we can become narrow minded, fixating our thinking and pre-determining our actions—not the ideal approach for many situations, but the brain will continue to do it because it reduces the cognitive demands, whilst producing a sense of security from the state of order.

Once we become aware of the brain’s constant need for order (regardless of whether it's helpful or not), we can notice our mind often doing this without our consent. Just witness your mind continuously judging your experience as right or wrong or gravitating towards events and situations that result in greater order.

For example, we may avoid certain people when asking for feedback because we know they may not give us the response we want. We may feel frustrated or stressed in our relationships, as the other person has a different version of ‘order’ (what is right, wrong, or important or not) than our own—often leading to arguments or passive aggressive behaviour. 

We tend to project our personal psychological prejudices on to our experiences in the hope of gaining order.

This is how humans tend to distort reality. As we see experiences from this narrow lens of order, subsequently further differentiating our version of reality from another.

This predisposing desire for order is very helpful in many circumstances, and not necessarily bad for finding flow. However, when these desires are over-tuned, maybe because you are under pressure or you perceive some uncertainty that triggers an insecurity or fearful response, our feelings and perceptions can become skewed, narrowed, and our attentional capacity becomes constrained or (partly) blinded. At this point, you are certainly going to struggle finding flow. 

Understanding how our brain gears towards finding order, is the first step in reducing those instances.

If you’re interested in the steps following this and want to develop a tendency towards finding flow no matter the chaos before your, please get in touch. 

Bye for now,



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