Process the Process

I gotta say, sometimes I’m annoyed with how my brain (and brains in general) work, but once I realize how some process works and accept that, I can give that old mass of glue (that’s what glial cells are and if that’s not true I don’t care) and neurons some credit. Because although I don’t always give it props, the computer in my head is pretty phenomenal.

The thing that fascinates me this week (other than my serotonin level and its relationship to my caffeine level) is the way that our brains secretly process problems and emotions, behind the scenes, while we’re desperately trying to distract ourselves with episodes of “Archer.”

There are articles on this “Eureka!” phenomenon, the reason you often have an epiphany when you relax in the shower, from “real” publications citing “studies” and using “science,” but I prefer to just use anecdotes, because in your face, science, people are wired for stories and will remember my experiences over your facts 9 times out of 10.

Let me see if I can drum up specific examples. It’s the way my collaborator Alex comes back from runs with the perfect lyric replacement for one of our songs. It’s how you wake up at 4am remembering the name of that song you and your friends spent an hour trying to figure out at dinner. Or, in a more meaningful example, it’s the way you go from being completely angry at someone to realizing the gap of information between the two of you and seeing that everything is a misunderstanding.

Part of this is something that drives me crazy, of course. Which is, and I’m going to brag: I usually know the right, reasonable thing to do in a given situation. I’ve read enough books, watched enough movies, listened to enough advice to be able to figure out what the best or at least a pretty good course of action is in a given scenario. What drives me nuts is when you know the right thing to do (let that person have space, ask for clarification, don’t let it get to you) but your emotions don’t get it yet.

The head/heart disconnect is so intensely frustrating. I don’t want to be all head, because that would be dull, and as far as I can tell I’m not a robot. But the heart, which should play nice and share with the head, will every so often completely sabotage operations, lock itself in the control pit, and start steering to Wrongsville. Meanwhile your poor head is in the background shouting, “Mayday! Mayday! Just pull the lever on the right! You fool, you’ll ruin everything for both of us!”

Which is why sometimes you need your friends to a) listen to what’s up with you, and b) order you to do something you don’t feel like doing. It’s hard to do this. When you’re in emotional sabotage, like when panic attacks are tiptoeing up on me, it feels like all that matters is what’s happening right now with you and that anything you could do with even the slightest potential to make it go away would be good, even if that means torpedoing your relationship with that coworker who takes your pens without asking. The last thing you want to hear is “acknowledge the feeling but let it be and ride it out.”

Listen to me: This is the moment you want to acknowledge the feeling but let it be and ride it out.

Soon you’ll be walking down the street and looking at window displays for barbecues and you’ll realize: Oh, it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to go to the supply closet, grab a box of pens, give it to Nancy and let her know where you got them if she needs more. That it’s not at all a big deal for you to say, “I’m kind of particular about my desk set-up, but you should be able to find anything you need in the closet.” And it’s like some kind of weight lifts off you, even though this is exactly what you intellectually knew to be the case. Your brain has been stealthily processing your emotions and thoughts until you can FEEL the thing you knew to be true.

Which is awesome. And annoying. And fascinating. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’, 3-pound block of gelatin in my head.



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