Managing a ‘Pre-paid’ Mind

It’s all in the title, a prepaid service works on a pre-fixed budget and you can avail it as much or as little as your budget allows. Should the usage be indiscreet, there is a risk of your running into a short balance, when it is needed the most. Experts say human brain, which too is keen to save energy, prefers to be ‘pre-paid’.  Hence, how much thinking one can do on a given day is pre-fixed. Beyond that the brain turns off. This calls upon the need to utilize the capacity prudently so that it doesn’t get wasted on frivolous thought process. That tells us what cognitive budgeting is.

Experts say human brain, which too is keen to save energy, prefers to be ‘pre-paid’. 

Cognitive Budgeting

Cognitive budgeting is about forecasting and creating a plan for the mind for future decision making. It tell us where your mental energy has a vital role (reflection) to play and where it is not so essential (rumination). But there is a catch. Our days are unpredictable, so too are our daily priorities. Hence the cognitive budget cannot be so rigid. It needs revisiting to rework the strategies.

Proactive and Reactive

Our thinking is both conscious (System 2)   and unconscious (System 1). The unconscious thinking is fast, intuitive and emotional whereas the conscious thinking is hard, slow, intentional, logical and limited.

This reiterates the need for a cognitive budget to focus on being proactive and reactive. We need to be Proactive in budgeting the limited currency of System 2 thinking, and reactive in responding to our unconscious minds (System 1) which too often leads us toward counterproductive thinking.

Reflection and Rumination:

Reflection and rumination are the actionable facets of the proactive and reactive halves of the cognitive budget:

  • Reflection: Reflection is the hero of our story. It is but hard work.  Undoubtedly it is the most valuable and has the greatest ROI (return on investment) of mental energy. Reflection is remarkable and meaningful. Reflection requires Humility. Thinking without an agenda or focusing on one’s self-image. Humility helps us accept our vulnerabilities, consider conflicting perspectives.
  • Rumination: Rumination is the antagonist of “cognitive budget.” It eats up mental energy. It involves meaningless and unproductive replay of events.  Rumination cannot be totally avoided.  However it has to be managed quickly by becoming aware when the thinking tends to be unproductive or even destructive.  The focus then needs to be shifted to other productive sides.

Personal and Official

An ideal cognitive budget separates personal and official concerns to make each more manageable:

  • Personal: Creating cognitive budget to handle personal lives throws open infinite possibilities as priorities differ and change. Reflection should be worthy of your focus. There is nothing right or wrong about how, why and what you reflect. It also requires practice.
  • Official: Cognitive budget for work involves detailed analysis of triggers for reflection and rumination:


Practicing cognitive budget becomes requires a methodical approach.  Here are few tips:-

  • Make a budget realistic- The budget that worked for others may not work for you.
  • Make the budget visible and ingrain it into your daily routine.
  • Visit the budget at the beginning of the day, every day.
  • Set reminders wherever required.
  • Refresh / update the budget whenever necessary.

Learners’ Opportunity     

Minding your mind is important to be resilient in work environment.  For more details check our program @

Discussion Question        

“Rumination is caused by the unconscious mind.  It is difficult to stop rumination from happening” Do you agree? Why?

Key Words

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Source Article Jordan Birnbaum-“Building the Cognitive Budget….” MIT Sloan Management Review-February 03, 2022                                                                                 

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