How to Cope With All That Information?!

Let’s do a quick and simple math test:

Imagine, you have 6 dots. How many connections do you need to connect every dot with just one other dot?

The answer is 3 (if you don’t believe me, try it).

New information might overwhelm you, especially if you don't have the luxury to process it.

Now, let’s imagine you have the same 6 dots, but instead of connecting all of them with just 1 other dot, you connect with 2 other dots. I’ll save you the math – the number goes up to 6.

If you’d try to every dot with every other dot, you’d get… a jumble of lines. In fact, you’d have 15 of them (6 dots x 5 other dots = 30, divided by 2 because the connections go both ways).

Now, imagine you get an extra dot – you now have 7. You’d only need 1 extra line to connect this dot to something else. But you’d need 6 more lines to connect it to everything else.

In a nutshell, this is the difference between linear thinkers and hyperlinkers.

When a linear thinker gets new information, they’ll connect it to one or a few other ideas or concepts, usually the ones that are most tangible. For instance, a linear thinker that watches a romantic comedy will probably link it to other recently watched romantic comedies with a similar plot, or possibly to other movies with the same actors.

But when a hyperlinkers gets new information that’s not part of the existing mental model, they’ll attempt to connect it to tons of different ideas and concepts.

Right now, I’m reading a book on meetings and I find that apart from what I’m learning about meetings, it also inspires me to make changes in my business and marketing. The concepts presented in the book are instantly extrapolated in my mind and as a consequence connect to many other ideas. Every new bit of information carries far more links than it would for a linear thinker.

It’s great when you actually have the time to process all the new information you’re getting. Unfortunately, a lot of the time you don’t. You’re expected to instantly contribute to a work meeting. In a fight, your partner keeps bringing up new reasons they’re upset. At a conference, every new talk leaves you with more ideas than you can handle…

Two coping mechanisms

Depending on your style, I found hyperlinkers usually have 2 ways of coping with this type of overwhelm: pre-linking and post-linking.

I described pre-linking before in my blog about anxiety. To recap: you basically try to come up with possible scenarios upfront so that they are already part of your mental model and you can instantly extract them when the situation calls for it. For instance, you try to come up with every possible response you can get when you have to say ‘no’ to someone.

The second mechanism is post-linking. Once you get all the new information, you don’t respond in the moment. Instead, you start processing. When done consciously, this means you take some time off. Could be half an hour, to clear your mind in the middle of an argument. Could also be a day or longer, if you have a lot of things you need to process. I once found myself exhausted after a 4-day conference on psychedelics. I scheduled the day post-conference to sort through my notes and actually decide on what I wanted to do with all the new, shiny things I’d discovered. Once this was done, my brain could finally relax.

What if you’re not doing either?

If you’re unable (for whatever reason) to consciously choose post-linking, your mind subconscious the lead. Here’s a couple of possible scenarios I’ve witnessed:

  1. Intense stimulation. Instead of dealing with the overwhelm, you distract your mind with immediate salient input. This could be food, drugs, shopping, or even Netflix. As long as you can mindlessly engage – you don’t have to cope with what’s really going on in your mind for a while. The downside is that unless you keep numbing (not the healthiest of behaviors, as you might have guessed) your brain will eventually catch up with you.
  2. You zone out. You stop being receptive to things that happen around you. You don’t really process (or respond to) conversations. You withdraw. It’s like you’ve put up a wall – the information keeps coming but doesn’t really enter.
  3. If you’re an extrovert and you have people around you, you talk. A lot. With anyone. You might have a tendency to overshare (I know I do). You may say things that are uncomfortable to others. Saying things out loud helps you connect the dots and organize your own ideas.

3 tips for your overwhelm

Whether you tend to pre-link or to post-link, there are a few things you can do to make your life a bit easier.

  1. Hyperlink consciously. Unloading your mind can be hard because it’s an unconscious process. If you don’t allow yourself the space to do it, you’ll find it coming up in the few moments it can, such as when you lie in your bed. Instead, you can create a space for your mind to unload. In my experience, the most effective way to do this is to minimize any input that requires processing (instrumental music is okay, but ditch your phone and laptop), grab paper and a pen, and try to sketch out the information. You’ll find that the more you put on paper, the more connections will come up in your mind. Until the flood starts decreasing and eventually stops. Although great for post-linking, you can also use this method (it’s called sketchnoting and it’s pretty popular) in a situation (such as a meeting). Depending on the pace of the meeting you probably won’t be able to capture all of the connections, but you’ll have the most important ones and a clear base for the future.
  2. Talk to the people around you. If you’re able to explain how your mind works (at least to an extent), they can take it into account in conversations. It helps if your partner knows that you’re not stonewalling them on purpose, simply because you don’t care about their feelings. It helps if your manager knows you need some time to provide input so immediate decisions in meetings might be postponed a bit until you’ve had the time to sort out your thoughts.
  3. Schedule moments to offload. Your mind needs time to process. I once spent 11 days in a completely new situation with privacy limited to the bathroom and it drove me insane. Not something I’d attempt again. Try to give your mind some rest between (or after) events with a lot of new input. You can do it by yourself or in a group, whichever works best for you (in fact, post-linking as part of a (group) conversation can be very insightful), as long as new input is as limited as possible.

Most importantly, don’t forget that there’s nothing wrong with you. Hyperlinking is a superpower, but as with any superpower – you’ll need to be able to handle it. I hope that with these tips, you’re one step closer to wielding it masterfully.