“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” —Terry Pratchett
Welcome back, class!
Joe here. In your first two lessons, Jordan taught you about the chaos of failure and how to right yourself when something goes awry. In this lesson, I will teach you how important it is to take a break following a failure. After you get some distance from your failure, you will be better prepared to treat it in an objective way.
Give Your Unconscious Mind Some Room to Work
If you insist on focusing on a failing situation, your continued effort could actually be making the situation worse. Sometimes the best course of action is to completely disengage from the problem. While you work on something else, your unconscious will diligently work through the failure and try to figure out how you can do better next time. You can help your unconscious consider the problem by priming it in advance.
Priming Your Mind
You can prime your mind by studying the topic or problem you want to think about, writing out a list of questions you want to answer, putting that list down, and doing some other activity that completely occupies your mind. The purpose of this activity is to distract your conscious mind with something that requires your complete attention in the moment.
When I was in college, I accidentally stumbled across this technique while doing my physics homework.
My class got one problem set each week and had until next week to turn it in. When I got home after class, I would take out the problems and read through every question. The easiest ones were so simple that I could see how to solve them immediately, so I would just write a quick note on what to do and then move on. The medium problems would take longer to solve, but I still had a good idea of how to do them, so again, I would write a quick note about how I thought the problem could be solved and move on.
Then I would get to the hardest questions. The hardest problems were completely baffling to me. I would read them over a few times with no idea of how to proceed. Then I would put the problem set away and forget about it for a few days. Miraculously, as I distracted my mind, ways to attack those hard problems would come to me at random—sometimes while I was about to fall asleep, sometimes while walking between classes, and sometimes while I was in the shower. I discovered that these hunches were correct more than half the time and that it was important to write them down immediately so I wouldn’t forget them. That’s hard to do when you’re in the shower!
When it came time to actually do the problem set, I would pull out all my notes on how to solve the easy and medium problems, along with my later notes on how to solve the hard problems. This was usually enough information to get through the whole set.
In a failure situation, you have already been thinking about the topic at length, so you probably won’t need to prepare much more. All you need to do is add a few questions.
Write down all your questions relating to your failure in your bounce back journal, read them over a few times, and then set everything aside to give your mind the time it needs to do its work. After your disengagement period, reconsider these questions. You might be surprised to find the answers coming to mind without you consciously commanding them to do so. If you make progress but don’t answer everything completely, then repeat the process and see if you make more headway.
1. Prime your mind by writing down questions you want your unconscious to work on while you disengage from your immediate situation.
2. Seek emotional distance from your situation by re-engaging with a different aspect of your life, such as family and friends, hobbies, exercise, vacation, other projects, or even just getting a full night’s rest.
3. When you have re-engaged, open up your bounce back journal to see if you have thought of any answers.
In our next lesson, we will cover how to see your failure through the eyes of your friends.
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