“Don’t… know… how to… information…”
I was sitting under the spring sun the other day, studying, and trying to get a good base tan for the impending skimpy-clothes weather (although I’m 200 years old now, so there’s an inverse relache between skimpiness and self respect at this point). And all I could think of was the above. Actually, that’s a lie. I was thinking plenty. But all I could manage to conclude while trying to comprehend any new info was that my brain was closed for bizz. Red rope up. All new concepts rejected at the door. And why? ‘cause the information party inside was full. And, as ever, that party was like the type that happens when you try to have a small gathering, then some douche posts your addy on facebook, and before you know it, there’s a rave going on in your family room and club rats are doing lines off your Disney princess mirror. Yeah. It’s that kinda unwelcome party happening in there. In keeping with the metaphor, then, how do you get the cops to come? So you can kick out these cat-in-the-hat level thought reprobates and invite back in a nicer caliber of folk (new information you desperately need to learn lest you fail the TEAS test to get into PTA school)?
(Yes, you are. Just wait here while we figure out how to expel these useless factoid soiree crashers)
Also: why’s it so goddamned hard to do?
Because: being dumber can make you ultimately… smarter. Says science.
Or in lab language: decreased neural activity can make learning new tasks easier. As counterintuitive as it seems, it actually makes a lotta sense in application. And if you’ve ever tried to teach your mom or pops something new on their internet machine, you’ve probably already seen this happen in action. I talked my dad through saving a PDF to his desktop one day. It was an excellent test of my patience and spiritual practice. Spoiler alert: I thereafter went home, made some tea, and chucked a vase at the ceiling while waiting for the water to boil. And why? Because: I counted six and a half times of talking him through what was maybe two or three steps of instructions. And he’s a smart man – but he does the same damned thing I do (which is probably why I was so frustrated; I identified) and kept jumping the gun, guessing what I was about to tell him, clicking the wrong thing, and making us have to start all over again. It’s not Alzheimer’s. It’s not stupidity. It’s overthinking. Instead of listening or (in my case, there in the park studying for my TEAS) reading or receiving anything into any’a our other info transmission organs, we’re already assuming what’s gonna happen (based off the set, closed loop of stuff we do know) and not waiting to find out if we’re wrong. Because then the cognitive dissonance that comes with newcomer info clashing against present info is brain-painful.
And just like that – Boom. Dumbing shiz down now makes you smarter in the long run. On a biological “this is your brain on think” level, the part of your brain that makes you go into those excess-analysis modes is the frontal cortex. All of that executive function stuff – from decision fatigue about which iToy to buy or overanalyzing whether that cruel comment you just uttered about fat folk was overheard by the Lisa Lampanelli lookalike standing in line behind you at Chipotle. Problem solving versus knowledge gobbling in as ongoing battle.
And this makes sense in worlds beyond test prepping.
Like, creativity for instance. When scientists did an experiment on “slow learners” they found that those whose “global brain activation” decreased (less over-thinking) picked up a musical note game much more quickly. On the contrary, the peeps who were sitting there judging their gag reel of melody fails and bashing their overused frontal cortex against the keyboard, did… less well. A beautiful personal comparison I can draw from that (and you too, mayhaps, if you happen to write creatively for a living) is that that’s why it’s so damned hard to go between the creative part of writing… and all that technical editing crap. (“That meme doesn’t work here. Why am I alive? Is anyone even reading this? What’s my unique mission on earth? What time does Louis CK come on tonight?”) The creativity bit is that part that’s still super active in kids, allowing them that early-human-experience bliss of never being burdened by a constant cognitive snowball comprised of caffeine cravings, images of your exes’ heads floating around like a cruel Ferris wheel, and a few misheard Taylor Swift lyrics on repeat like an auditory gif. Without that crap, you’ve got “creative flow” – the stuff you don’t have to work so hard for. Surprisingly, learning takes the same amount of non-effort.
But there was one problem with all’a this info. They didn’t offer a solution. That seems to be a theme. All of these things you see on this-just-in-from-the-lab news always offer some sorta quasi-info that piques your curiosity or makes you feel doomed. (“So, what? I’m just never gonna learn this info? Because I overthink? So, I should give up?”)
There’s never a fix: Aside from either A.) A drug, or B.) the same thing you hear in a support group: “Get outta your own way.” Mmm. Yes. That’s helpful advice if you know how to employ it. But most people don’t know what to do with this less than detailed explanache. That’s what I’m here for. Whether you’re a kid playing with macaroni or my dad playing with a Mac, I have at least three solutions you can try if you need to brain gorge data and dunno how to clear space for it:
1.) Magically detach shiz
Sit upright. Start breathing deeply. Pay attention to your deep breathing. When a thought comes, don’t try to un-think it – but also don’t hop on it koala hug style and ride it into anxiety-ville either. Just give it the snotty Downton Abbey style upturned nose nod and let it trot on by. Then, just keep doing this till the idea dust settles. (Why, yes, they do call this meditation. But if I’d said that first, would you’ve read on? No. ’cause your frontal cortex doesn’t want you to learn anything new.) Contrary to belief, you’re not always meant to come out of a meditation feeling ethereal. It’s more like a practice in non-panic and thought domination. Which is enough for my spastic ass.
2.) Give it ten minutes.
I’ve written about this as a personal from-experience theory before. And the more I try to see where it fits into my life, the more I see it fit into almost anything I do – running, yoga, writing, and yes – even studying. Those first ten minutes of transitioning to any new task is mindblowingly painful for me for some reason. But give me a good ten minutes, and I’m golden. You can do the same to enter your “mode” of learning new things.
3.) Employ your mental enemy.
That’s right. Use that overthinking to your advantage. You take up bits of info at a time, and then re-explain it out loud back into the ether like a professor to a phantom class. This is one I happened upon myself recently when I realized that the over-thinking was causing enough stress to make me jaw-clench (which becomes cyclical; you’re body hurts ‘cause you’re stressed and then you get more stressed about the ow-ness so you clench harder). Naturally, my fix was what any crazy person does when they spend too much time alone: talk to myself. This is actually very useful, because you end up coming up with stuff for 1 liter = 33.814 oz like “Jesus was one leader (which sounds like liter)… and when he was 33 he prolly said ‘ow’ (which sounds like ounce) during that whole cross debacle… and then at some point (decimal) he ate (eight) everyone because he came back to life as a zombie…”
That’s how it goes, right?
I may need to de-frontal cortex and relearn my historic fairy tales better…
Let’s all try my 3 point plan before we give up on life, move into a cardboard fort, and burn our books for warmth.
And just see if it doesn’t help.