Your Brain Needs To Solve A Puzzle. Give It A Good One.
Otherwise it will choose problems that can't be solved.
I was trying hard not to lose my sh*t this morning.
It takes a lot for me to lose my cool at this stage of my life. I have a lot of good mental tools that I use to shift perspective when the unexpected happens. And most of the time, I know that flying off the handle never gets me the results that I want.
But this morning, my team made an error related an important work project for the fourth time. For the fourth time we had to reschedule a meeting because someone missed a few key details.
At this point, I had used every tool in my toolbox to manage my own mind. I was all out. The anger and frustration were creeping higher and higher. I spent the morning fixated on what went wrong. My mind working feverishly on the Rubik’s Cube of all that had happened on this project in the past. Looking for some way to undo what had already been done.
Because I was working from home, in the middle of the day I took a break to drive my kids over to a friends’ house. They were going to spend the afternoon at a water park. They were bubbling over with enthusiasm, but I was silent and distracted. My mind was still working on the puzzle from this morning.
My kids asked me why I was being so quiet. (Another reminder that your kids see everything). I told them I was still thinking about a “work thing” from the morning.
And then my 8 year old asked, with genuine curiosity: Why are you still thinking about that?
In his mind, hours had passed since the event had taken place. How on earth could it still be in my head?
And I had to admit, he had a great point.
Why was I still thinking about it?
My brain had latched onto a puzzle. My brain, like most people, loves a puzzle. And often, working on mental puzzles leads to great, unusual, or unexpected solutions.
But this time, I let my brain pick the wrong puzzle. Instead of telling myself to focus on what to do next, or even to focus on all the current projects and tasks and activities on my plate. I let my brain obsess over something that went wrong in the past.
Something that can’t be undone.
A puzzle that will never be solved.
My son reminded me of the one tool I hadn’t thought to use.
We can’t control outcomes and we can’t change the past.
But we can tell our minds where to focus and how to respond.
There was no reason to spend hours thinking about what happened. It would do nothing but continue to fuel my frustration. Which would likely keep me from getting other important things done today. Which could then lead me to making other mistakes.
My brain got stuck in an unproductive groove. And it was up to me to dig it out.
Almost immediately after my 8 year old asked that question, I felt lighter and the weight lifted off of my chest.
I could let that puzzle go.
We pulled up to the house. My kids tumbled out of the car and into a group of their friends. The chaos of young boys and dogs and anticipation of summer fun surrounding them.
I drove home with a smile on my face. I turned my mind to a much more productive puzzle. How to write about this experience? What could I say, how could I express my thoughts in a way that might help someone else? Another human that is also stuck working on a puzzle that will never be solved.
The thought of how to write about it made me feel lighter. To determine how to use this experience to connect and contribute to others. I knew it was the right puzzle to give my brain.
And so I’ll end with this. If you’re fixated on working through something that you can’t change. If your brain has chosen an unproductive puzzle, ask it the same question. Without malice or sarcasm. A simple question. Why are you still thinking about that?
If you don’t have a good answer, one that will move you forward and make your life better, let it go. Move on to something else.
You need to be intentional about the fodder you provide for your mind. We all make mistakes and that will never change. It’s easy for your mind to go to that place and stay there.
Instead, choose the puzzles that will lift your heart. Not sit heavy on your chest.