Overthinking is inevitable when we are unable to find a break from our own thoughts. The solution than is rather simple – take a break – weather it is taking a walk, making a cup of tea or taking a moment to looking out the window.
To explain why this is the simplest yet simultaneously the hardest things to do – let’s explore the classic tale of Archimedes. At the end of this post I’ll reveal how this tale applies to cognitive stacking that eliminates the compulsion to chronically think entirely.
Born in Sicily in 287 BC, Archimedes was a Greek mathematician and inventor who was summoned by King Hieron II to measure the weight of his crown as he suspected that the goldsmith who had been entrusted to created the crown had kept some of the gold for himself and replaced it with silver.
Without being able to alter the crown in anyway, Archimedes became overwhelmingly frustrated, he stopped eating, sleeping and spent reckless hours obsessed with mathematical formulas to find a solution. This was all he could think about. Eventually, his students became concerned about him and dragged him to a public bath to take a break.
As Archimedes descended into the bath, the water level began to rise and he famously discovered that the displacement of water is directly related to the density of the object. Gold is more dense than silver and in theory would displaced more water. Mind-blown by this discovery, he leaped out of the bath and ran naked all the way to the King screaming Eureka meaning, I found it in Greek.
The same thing happened to Sir Isaac Newton when he was sitting under an apple tree as he later recalled to a historian:
“After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden and drank thea, under the shade of some apple trees…at that moment, the notion of gravitation came into my mind. It was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as I sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought I to himself…”
~ Sir Isaac Newton
In both these occasions we can marvel at the genius yet fail to see where it come from. This is another case of a finger point to the moon, if you concentrate on the finger or glorify the person, you will miss what it is pointing towards.
It is not excessive thinking that leads to solutions but taking your mind off the problem. This is why your best ideas come to you when you least expect it, like when you are taking a shower – maybe you can relate? Share with me in the comments below – a recent shower thought that you had?
Consider, does your line of work require mental heavy lifting? Are you living life in a perpetual state of worry, catastrophising about doom and gloom?Are you constantly creating situations in your head about an ex-partner of what should or should not have happened, long after the relationship has come to pass? Are you trying to think your way out of overthinking?
Overthinking, regardless of what you might think, is diving head first into a brain fog!
Typically brain fog results in lack of clarity, the inability to focus and poor working memory. To clarify, working memory is not your ability to remember your autobiographical past, but your ability to hold information in your memory in real time. For example, if gave you 3 names, Tom, Jack and Harry – you’d be able to recall them back to me. However, if I gave you their phone numbers, you’d be unlikely to remember all three.
One thing is clear – overthinking compromises our ability to think clearly.
On this #buildyourbrain series, we go beyond the girt and grind of hustle culture that often results in burnout. Overthinking is extremely inefficient and thinking harder is not the answer. This series is not about temporary relief from your own thoughts, but rather to pause and ask – what are we building on the long-run, for lasting wellbeing and longevity.
A common handicap of great thinkers is that they are headlocked and disembodied as if decapitated from their own bodies, their intelligence seeks refuge in their head. The body is not considered to play a part in intelligent at all. It is not surprising that we survived successfully for the last 200 Million years yet as the most advanced civilisation we are crumbing under the weight of our own success?
What is widely misunderstood is that it is not what you think but the state from which it comes from that matters. It is not intelligence but the combination of sensitivity, honesty and vulnerability that allows us to come up with solutions that no amount of power or popularity ever can. This level of brain-body integration is achieved ironically, in states when we are momentarily free of thought. Yet this state is so unfamiliar that I often get asked, what exercises should I do? How often should I do it? What will these exercises help me achieve? This is like asking me – how often should i think!
You’d be shocked to learn what is on the other side of thought!!!
When it becomes impossible to take a break, we turn to a practice. It is not the ice bath, the meditation, pilates, long distance running or some overpriced wellness retreat but the simple the act of taking your mind off the problem. In fact, to teach how to “not” think is an oxymoron itself.
For this reason, in my Train your Nervous System Online Course, I teach non-cognitive ways of learning. One of which is called cognitive stacking where you use a secondary task to teach a primary task. The exercise itself is trivial, what you learn is the state from which it comes from. These exercises are designed to achieve the level of brain-body integration required to think – viscerally.
Let’s consider the example of Archimedes and Newton again in the context of cognitive stacking. The primary task in the case of Archimedes was to figure out how much gold was in the crown. The secondary task was to take a bath. By performing the secondary task, the mind was able to take a break from the problem and figured out a solution on it’s own accord. Similarly, the primary task in the case of Isaac Newton was to contemplate the notion of gravity. The secondary task was seeking shade under an apple tree. The mind operates differently if you simply step aside. It is not what you think, but rather the state from which it comes from that matters.
A word of caution that cognitive stacking is not multitasking or burning your head into a device to take your mind off a problem. Social media platforms are designed to trap your attention and exhaust your working memory and is the leading cause of brain-fog. This mind numbing activity removes the ability of people to deal with their own thoughts entirely.
The exercises in the Train you Nervous System Online Course are designed to induce a sense of safety, rather than a form of escape and the movements recover the visceral connection you have with your body. It is important to understand that these exercises are not a practice but a stepping stone to clear the brain fog and go beyond recursive thoughts. The exercises by themselves are not important, once the nervous system is trained, the exercises can simply be – discarded. Like the finger pointing to the moon, there is no need to linger on the finger once you see what it is pointing towards.
Join me in the next video in the series as we dive deeper under the hood and explore how the nuances of brain architecture shape our internal dialogue, actions and outcomes we see in our lives.
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