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How Do You Use Your Limited Time & Brain Cycles?

How Do You Use Your Limited Time & Brain Cycles?There’s a meme that started way back in 2007 talking about a professor who fills up a jar full of golf balls, pebbles, and sand to demonstrate that you should fill your life with the important things first (the larger golf balls), so that the little things (the pebbles and sand) don’t take up all the room in your life (the jar).

There’s a reason memes become popular and get shared online — because there is some kind of universal truth connected to them that people recognize. This clever story of a jar and golf balls is just such a meme.

You have a very short time on this planet — much shorter than you realize when you take into account the tens of thousands of years of civilization before you were born, and the likely tens of thousands of years in the future. How are you going to spend that time? What kind of things will you spend most days focusing on — the little, useless things, or the bigger, meaningful stuff?

Many of us spend our time focused on the little — and ultimately unimportant — things in life. Whether we’re late for an appointment or not. That our home remains uncluttered and perfectly clean and organized. That we always get our way in an argument with a family member or friend. Whether we have the biggest, newest, or best toy/TV/gaming console/clothes/etc.

Same goes for your brain cycles. You don’t have unlimited brain cycles or brain energy. In fact, every day you start with pretty much the same brain capacity as you had yesterday (minus a little due to aging). Didn’t get a good night’s sleep or enough sleep? Now you’re down another 10 to 20 percent in capacity. And that’s at the start of the day! Don’t exercise regularly? Knock off another 10 percent.

What happens when you spend those limited brain cycles thinking about stuff that really doesn’t matter or is important only to your hurt pride or ego?

You have a lot fewer brain cycles to think about the actually important stuff in your life. People you love (and who love you back). The relationships in your life that need constant tending, or they will ultimately fail. Helping those less fortunate than yourself. Doing something meaningful in your life. Helping your child learn or support them in whatever they want to do (even if it means putting your own hopes for them on the back burner).

I know how easy it is to give into our emotions and let them rule our decisions — and our lives. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve done just that.

But doing so wastes those precious brain cycles if it doesn’t actually result in feeling better or changing anything. Getting upset over something once is human and natural. Getting upset over the same thing every time it happens is a waste of your time and energy. Especially if nothing changes.

This is a choice you have to make — it can’t be made for you. Every day you have to choose to let the little things go and not to take up your precious, limited brain cycles worrying about them. Every time you decide to waste your brain cycles on small things, you’re choosing the small things (that don’t matter) over the big things (that do).

How will you choose to use your limited time with others in the new year?

Being upset over and focusing on the small stuff? Or celebrating and tending most to the big, meaningful things?

How Do You Use Your Limited Time & Brain Cycles?


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). How Do You Use Your Limited Time & Brain Cycles?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-do-you-use-your-limited-time-brain-cycles/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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