Stuck?

Years ago, my honour's thesis at Concordia Montreal was on Event-Related Slow Potentials of the Brain. That was partly because the title was cool, but mostly because the findings of the studies were so compelling.

In that pre fMRI era, we did surface EEG recordings of three 'diagnosed' groups and compared results with a 'normal' control group. The experimental paradigm was set up as follows: subjects listed for a warning tone that signaled that another tone was about to occur. On the second tone, the job was to push a button and task done. In all four groups, an expectancy wave arose in the brain while it was anticipating the tone. 

EEG recordings showed that the waves of the undiagnosed group returned to baseline within less than a second. Their brain was able to let go of the task and await the next. Not so in the diagnosed groups; all three groups showed a delayed return to baseline, with the group with the most severe diagnoses showing the greatest delay.

fMRI studies have repeated the findings; healthy brains release attachment to irrelevant stimuli better than unhealthy ones. If you're brain is stuck on something, it's reverberating on something that: 

a. does not make sense to your system. It's attached to an endless trying-to-figure-it-out loop. It never will figure it out. Because it doesn’t make sense. The person or thing it's attached to is not healthy and it got dragged in.

b.  is causing too much psychic pain. Survival instincts are forcing you to stick around until you fix it. If you drop it, it might attack you at a later time and devour you.

Getting stuck in the past is our #1 trap - both personally and professionally. It captures people in the workplace and holds them hostage, making it impossible for companies or careers to move ahead. It’s expensive, it’s rampant and it’s untreated. For a good philosophical chat go to "What's the Use of Regret" an November 12 Op Ed in the NYT. For concrete steps to move on, continue below.

What to Do

Yank yourself out of your lower reptilian, survival brain up to your cortex where you can handle this. That means learning to let go.

Do this as if your brain and mental health depended on it, because they do.

Work these five steps:

1. Do I have any control over this? Can I say or do anything to make it better/ solve it? Yes, do it. No, go to 2. 

2.  Move to a higher place. Don’t let yourself be stuck at their level. You’re better than that. Practice thought-stopping and replacement. It takes a while but keep at it and you’ll move past it  ... thanks to your higher self. When the resentment/obsessive thought/regret comes up, repeat a mantra or just say "STOP!" It’s hard to repeat the word ‘stop’ and continue to obsess. Try it, you can’t. “STOP. Thinking about that hurts me.”

3. Read numbers 1-5 on your card. Add your own statements that help.

5. Get busy doing something that absorbs you. If you don’t have anything that absorbs you, that’s another issue. Make a list of things that could absorb your attention, rank them, pick the top one and go do it. 

6. Repeat.

7. Read the familiar story of the two traveling monks* from Jon Muth’s 2005 Zen Shorts  cited in Carl Richards (Behavior Gap) NYT article “The Cost of Holding On."

* Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle. The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. 

The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk; she just shoved him out of the way and departed. As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then, she didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”