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Your mind is getting in the way

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Problem Solving

Whoosh, Bang, Miss!

The same cycle kept repeating itself.

At the time, I was in Dublin to give a keynote. There was a farm that offered skeet shooting near the countryside hotel where I was staying.

I had never tried skeet shooting before, so I decided to give it a shot (pun intended). The clay target would launch with a whoosh, I’d mentally calculate velocity and distance, and pull the trigger at what I thought was the perfect moment.

And I would miss. Every. Single. Time.

After about 10 misses in a row, the instructor took pity on me and came over. He leaned in and gave me some advice that I’ve been mulling over ever since.

“You’re overthinking it,” he said.

“I have no other type of thinking available,” I responded.

“Follow your body,” he said. “Your mind is getting in the way.”

“I see,” I said, not seeing at all.

“Your body knows what to do,” he reiterated. “Pull the trigger when you feel it’s the right moment—not when you think it is.”

I decided to give it a try. For once, I shut down the incessant chatter of my overcalculating mind. When the clay target launched, I sank into my core and pulled the trigger when my body signaled it was the right moment.

And I nailed it dead center.

This was a new way of operating for me. For decades, I prided myself on my ability to think. My brain was by far my most important organ. My body had no purpose other than transporting my head around and creating fuel for my mind  to do what it does best—think.

The instructor’s advice jolted me out of this traditional mode of operating. After I left the farm that day, I thought about how many times in my life my body knew the right action to take, but my mind had gotten in the way and led me astray.

I remembered that time when my body screamed, “There’s something fishy about this guy. Don’t do business with him,” and my brain overrode it with pro-and-con calculations. It ended up being a terrible deal.

I remembered that time when I knew deep down this wasn’t the right person to hire, but I hired them anyway because they looked great on paper. It ended up being a terrible relationship.

I remembered that time when I knew I should break up with an ex-girlfriend, but I continued the relationship because I thought I could fix things. It prolonged what should have ended.

Here’s the thing about your body: It’s ancient. From an evolutionary perspective, it dates back hundreds of millions of years. Your brain is much younger. It’s a magnificent machine, but its experience is more limited. Your body houses all of that ancient wisdom that you can access on a moment’s notice.

But we obscure that wisdom by constantly directing our attention away from our bodies—to our spreadsheets, smartphones, and the hundred-decibel sirens sounding their alarms in the form of notifications and emails. We’re so disconnected from our body that we don’t hear its signals even when it’s screaming. There’s now a condition called email apnea that refers to the prevalent habit of holding your breath while emailing or texting.

This doesn’t mean you ignore your mind. Instead it means you align your mind with your body. It also means you treat thinking as a whole-body activity—not just something narrowly limited to your prefrontal cortex.

If you keep missing the proverbial targets in your life, your mind might be getting in the way.

Stop calculating, planning, and resisting. Let your body lead the way.

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