You know these people who always need to be doing something? That was me.
I saw myself as active, energetic, multidisciplinary, multi-faceted. And smart!
My Restless Saboteur, Speedy, was derailing me, and in this piece, I show you how I’m training my brain to minimize her influence.
Speedy convinced me that I was too smart to pay attention to just one thing at a time. “At least do two,” she urged, “otherwise you’ll be bored and/or waste your time.”
I trusted her. Sure, let me write this important business email while I watch this lesson of the nth online free course I’ve enrolled in during lockdown, and while I wait for my Facebook post to get likes and comments.
Result? The online lesson seemed insubstantial, the email took me so long that I ended up not sending it, and guess who got sucked into Facebook–or this fascinating new research about the microbiome, or these findings about how sugar acts in the brain, or the best platform to host a WordPress site…
I felt extremely busy. The hours seemed to disappear from my watch. Yet I was accomplishing nothing. I surely needed to do multiple things at once!
Alas, I was doing only the things that didn’t require my full attention. I’d shifted from the important, meaningful, purposeful things I wanted to do to what’s doable with only half a brain.
Writing that book I wanted to write seemed so daunting! If I put my full attention, I’d see all the clutter in my mind and the empty space on the page.
So, whenever Speedy came rescue me, I listened. “Hey, that broccoli sitting in your fridge? Prep it now!” “Hey, that TEDTalk you wanted to watch? Watch it now!”
I got used to doing everything on the surface. How many times did I forget an ingredient in a recipe? How often did I find myself reading a paragraph four times before I understood it? And how pervasive had anxious thoughts about my professional capabilities become?
My brain had developed the habit of entertaining multiple foci (or focuses?) simultaneously.
Research shows that the brain can only do one thing and one thing only at a time. But we like the idea that we, smart people, can do more. False, and the more we try, the dumber and more brain-fogged we become (not research, just my experience).
Every time Speedy convinced me to leave my mental options open, I failed to commit to what I’d decided to do in that moment. I left things unfinished because the deeper I went, the harder the journey became. And overwhelmed, I quit.
And Speedy would say, “You’ve lost interest,” “This isn’t worth your time and attention,” “You’re bored.” She was lying.
I’m training my brain to come to a full stop. To not to think.
When I feel overwhelmed by the blank page and notice Speedy wanting to rescue me, I stop her. Instead of listening to her, I focus on what’s in the now. For example, I look at my hands on the keyboard with such attention that I see every line, spot, and wrinkle. Or I close my eyes and touch the letters and numbers engraved on the mason jar on my desk, trying to identify every detail I sense.
And when I run slowly, I focus on sensing my feet, my breath, my posture.
Doing that, I disempower the part of my brain that doesn’t want me to go deeper and achieve greater meaning. That part that urges me to stay where I am because it’d be too risky to step outside.
And I grow my positive intelligence (my PQ muscle), the part of my brain that solves problems with ease and flow, instead of with fear and pain. I open my mind for ideas and solutions to come to me, instead of chasing them.
And you? Where are you quitting because your restless saboteur ‘rescues’ you?
Bonus: curious about your saboteurs?
Saboteurs are the survival mechanism in the human brain. A child’s most important job is to become an adult and reproduce (that’s what our selfish genes use us for, according to Richard Dawkins). To be able to do that, we form thinking patterns that help us to avoid danger. Those patterns become habitual neural pathways in our brain, our go-to reactions. So, whenever we feel in danger, those thoughts come to our rescue.