Your rational brain can process about six bits of data at once.

For example, let's say you're in a meeting with someone. You could be processing:

1. what happened in your last meeting with her;
2. the concerns that are now surfacing;
4. the rewards if this meeting goes well;
5. the person's pupils dilating; and

Your brain takes these six bits of data, sequencing them in different ways--with each sequence creating a possibility for action.

Guess how many possibilities you can generate with six bits of intel to sequence in any way you wish: 6? 36? 120?

It's actually 720. (The math is 6 factorial--that is, 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 720.)

That makes for 720 different ways of approaching this situation: a rich set of options, courtesy of the rational brain.

Rational brain, interrupted

But what happens if your emotional brain perceives a threat during that conversation?

Let's say that the other person rolls her eyes and begins looking at her watch. Feeling your sense of worth threatened, your emotional brain will release stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine) that have one simple task: to remove complexity from the situation, so you can make a lightning-fast decision guaranteeing your "safety."

These stress chemicals immediately flush out bits of data they deem extraneous: bits of data that would otherwise lead to future-based, complex thoughts.

Think it's no big deal if just one bit of data is flushed out of your rational brain?

Think again: You will be left with 5 factorial (5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120). You just lost 600 possibilities!

Then, without a strategy to return your higher-order thinking quickly, another bit of data is flushed out--and you're left with 24 possibilities (4 factorial).

Higher-order thinking disappears

When your creative, nuanced, higher-order thinking disappears, binary thinking is all you're capable of: now-or-never, all-or-nothing, right-or-wrong, you're-either-with-me-or-against-me thinking!

In this state, it's impossible to be innovative or socially skillful, or to engage in any form of value creation.

Get back to 720

Good news: You can return to 720 possibilities by restoring your higher-order thinking, in a matter of seconds.

Here are three tips to practice immediately.

1. Tap into gratitude.
Remember those stress chemicals that constrict your intelligence? Psychologists say  focusing on your "gratitude anchor" releases a cascade of potent feel-good hormones that flush out stress chemicals, giving you back your smarts.

What is a gratitude anchor? Several years ago, I received a phone call that my son had survived a brutal car accident. I was filled with gratitude and appreciation. Now, when I begin to lose my marbles, I tap into my gratitude anchor by dialing up the sights, sounds, and emotions that I experienced when I received that phone call.

Within five to seven seconds, dopamine floods my brain and I'm back--able to respond intelligently and make good decisions.