Me: I can't think of anything to write my column about.
Him: Well. It has long perplexed me that we spent countless millennia evolving a cerebral cortex that is the envy of the animal kingdom and we seem so reluctant to use it.
Me: That is because we are cognitive misers. We will always use the least amount of brain power to accomplish anything.
Him: Maybe. Or we're just lazy bastards.
Me: No! It's actually efficient. Back on the savannah you had to make quick judgments or you would get eaten by a sabre tooth tiger.
Him: But that is not so much the case now.
Me: Quite. Oh cheers. I'll write about that.
So here goes. Psychologists have found we try to do stuff using the least amount of our mental processing resources.
That means we find mental shortcuts - called heuristics - to save time and effort when negotiating the world. Here is a challenge. Try walking while counting down from 1000 by sevens. (1000, 993, 986, 979 ...). Did you stop walking? That is because your brain is working so hard to do the maths it doesn't have enough resources left over to tell your legs to put one foot in front of the other.
Our brain is like a computer processor in that it has a finite amount of processing power - intellectual resources - we can use at any given moment. Any competing task (or importantly, any emotional state) that occupies too much of our intellectual firepower will therefore impact our ability to concentrate, focus, problem-solve, be creative, or use other cognitive abilities and thus, temporarily lower our functioning IQ.
Of course, most common competing tasks do not have a significant impact on our ability to work. I am writing this column, drinking coffee, running a bath, nagging my children, occasionally patting the cat and sitting in a weird yoga posture. But psychologists have identified some habits that consume such huge amounts of intellectual resources are likely to leave us with diminished cognitive capacities. These things include: over-analysing rejections, brooding, unresolved guilt, ineffective complaining and worrying. I do all these things to rock star excess. I'm the blimmin' Keith Richards of neuroticism. (Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a world where insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?) I've now realised if I wasn't continually wasting my brainpower doing all these useless things I would be a chess grandmaster and have a fabulous jazz and economics-filled life. I could have the kind of life I could have had if I only I hadn't been myself. The brain is formed in a use-dependent manner - neurons that fire together wire together. So getting rid of these surplus mental activities will leave more grey cells for useful things. So the following mental topics are going in the landfill to free up brainpower.
• Being offended. Listening to other people finding things offensive. Or inappropriate.
• Sonny Bill Williams and whatever he does and wherever he goes.
• "Resort-style houses. Actually anything to do with real estate or the housing market. Magazines with chilly perfectionists living in chic concrete bunkers. Property developer's drecky advertising campaigns with heteronormative Caucasian couples with white teeth and shiny hair walking on the beach with moppet children.
• Any downward social comparisons.
• Talking about traffic.
• Talking about the weather.
• Coffee pod machines.
• Book clubs.
• Ever having a "bite" to eat.
• Anything the press gallery says. All political commentary: biffed. (Except maybe for Patrick Gower.)
• Coconut oil. Coconut water. Coconut anything.
• Self-hatred. Suffering under an image of the perfect superior self you are supposed to be and cruelly attacking yourself for failing to live up to that ideal.
• Fitbits. Crossfit. Those bogus ballet classes for civilians.
• The Daily Mail.
• Loyalty cards.
• Anyone who drivels on about gratitude. Gratitude journals. Gratitude practices.
• Sham intellectual sophistication.
• Being a clothes snob. No more outfit shaming. I may even buy myself a puffer jacket.
• Feeling shame at all. Feeling shame about feeling shame.
There! That should do it. I've freed up so much brain power that I should be able to write a really good column next week.