Over-thinking causes brain farts

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The world’s most elite athletes experience it. The most powerful businessmen aren’t strangers to it. Supremely talented musicians know a thing or two about it. Renowned intellectuals are well accustomed to it. As are you and I.

Some call it choking, others express it as over-thinking, some explain it as a loss of attention. I tend to take the technical route – a brain fart. Like it or not we all do it. Brain farts occur to many of us on such a regular basis we’ve likely become so accustomed to the smell we usually fail to notice the off-color whiffs. Think about that time you were searching for your house keys…

You were sure you put them in your purse the previous night, yet this morning they’re nowhere to be found. You’ve searched all your purse pockets, surely they couldn’t have somehow fallen out, could they? Or maybe your husband took them, but why would he take them when he has his own? Perhaps by mistake, or maybe to get back at you, after last night’s argument! No, no, no, he wouldn’t do such a thing…

You’ve checked the jeans you were wearing, the kitchen counter, the living room…You never leave your keys around, surely they must be here, somewhere. Or maybe they were stolen! Should you call the police? Haiya, someone could enter the house anytime! Wait, what was that sound? Now you’re officially scared. But you had your purse on you the whole night, so how could it have been taken?

Forty-two minutes later you finally find your keys. In your purse!

So this may not be a very stinky brain fart in the grand scheme of things but it certainly isn’t odorless. What’s happening here, as with most neurological farts, is a scientific process known as ‘thinking’.

According to scientists who have, and continue to study this so called ‘thinking’ process, us humans are hardwired to think. Go figure it out. Some go so far as to say that our ability to think is what differentiates us from other species in the animal kingdom. One, rather over-the top, philosopher (a guy called Rene Descartes, referred to in some circles as the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’) had the audacity to proclaim: “I think, therefore, I am”. So apparently thinking is fundamental to our being, or something along those lines.

These very smart guys have even figured out that we use different parts of our brains when thinking about different things. Which is all well and good. But the best part about all of this, in the midst of decades, indeed centuries, of intense, strenuously labored thinking, these scientists have discovered that all of this thinking stuff we do may in fact not be very helpful for us.

Basically we would be, and often are, better off not thinking.

Let’s go back to those keys of yours. Turns out they were right under your nose, as they always are. Yet next week you’ll probably go through the same process of search, anxiety, panic and discovery. Because once your thought wheels start turning they tend not to stop, leading you in circles, down alleys, in and out of valleys, and right back to where you started. So while these wheels are earnestly turning, they’re not really getting you anywhere. Pretty much a long, drawn out fart.

As we’re merely talking about misplaced keys, which really doesn’t say much about the benefits of not thinking, let’s take a more illustrative example, such as professional athletes. With all their years of physical and mental training, these guys are developed to operate like beautiful machinery; built-in automated physical reactions, super fast mental process skills during game time, and not much else going on in the thinking brain part. Which makes it all the more interesting when these machines malfunction spectacularly.

Yes, they are human and we’re all prone to malfunctioning. But watching a world-class athlete on top of their game suddenly crumble under pressure, a.k.a. ‘choke, and perform like an untrained teenager is pretty phenomenal. You know which group of athletes are particularly great at this choking stuff? Golfers. (Sorry Dad!) Having studied the brain activity of both professional and novice golfers, some hard-thinking researchers in Chicago revealed some very interesting facts:

One, the novice players had more activity in different regions of their brains, conveying that they were using various types of thinking to perform a golf shot and two, the professional players used less areas of their brain to perform the shot. In other words the pros don’t have to think as much about their basic golf shots as their training and skills have ‘automated’ most of the basic techniques that novices have to think about in order to execute.

However, put these pros under stress and suddenly the brain activity increases in the previously non-active areas of their brains. And they start making bad shots. The reason? Under duress they start to think; when they start to think they over-analyze the basics; when they over-analyze the basics they stop playing like a pro; and when they stop playing like a pro as a result of thinking too much, well that’s when a big, foul smelling brain fart goes off. Unfortunately for these over-thinking athletes their farts are often heard, and smelt, around the globe (we’re looking at you Mr. Tiger Woods).

But that’s ok, because as you read this you’re probably thinking ‘well, I’m not a pro-athlete and I never forget where my house keys are, so who cares?’ True. But do you know where your car keys are? Have you figured out the solution to that big problem that causes you so much anxiety? Have you managed to analyze what went wrong at that past event that you really wish you could go back and change? Do you know why he or she doesn’t like you? Are you reading all of this and trying very, very hard to understand if anything I’m saying makes sense?

If you answered yes to any of these, simply Stop Thinking. If you answered no, yet have still read this far into the article then definitely Stop Thinking. Or at the very least, try to think about not thinking. And once you’ve thought long and hard I’m sure you’ll be more than convinced that it’s time to put an end to all this thinking.

So why not start not thinking now?

njeri@parents.co.ke

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