If we were to be asked, we would say that we should always think about what’s going on, what we are doing because it cuts down on mistakes. And then there is reality, often a far cry from what is best practice. Well, to err is human.
Ask a person how something went wrong – a car accident, a work mistake, hurt feelings after a callous comment – and the answer most likely boils down to ‘I didn’t think’. Too much was going on in that person’s mind at that moment and the most immediate task became the casualty of the overtaxed thinking process.
This is why we practice things, why we drill something over and over, so that the activity creates a sort of groove in our brain and that memory kicks in every time we take up that activity. (Think of the times that you have been tired and pulled into your driveway and realized you don’t remember the trip at all.) All that practice makes it more possible that we’ll do the right thing even if we might be fighting panic or illness or something else entirely. But it isn’t foolproof.
I have tacked up bits and scraps of paper near my writing desk (which I rarely use now that I have a laptop…), these scraps hold advice on writing from past well-known writers. One is apropos for today, because it can be applied to thinking as well as writing. It is Herman Melville who said it, but it comes to us through Sarah Paretsky; a writer must be in a ‘silent grass growing mood’ in order to write.
Think of all the times that you know a thing but it just won’t crystalize in that moment. Most likely because that moment isn’t an optimal time to think – there is noise, distraction, pressure coming from somewhere and clouding your thought process.
I equate this to my math difficulties. My brain shuts down on any math when I am in a group. This goes back to a horrid game that was suddenly introduced to me on a steel gray February morning in 2nd or 3rd grade. I had just moved to the school, so my classmates had been practicing this game for months. To this day my brain simply says no if I have to do math when there is any attention on me.
I needed a silent grass growing mood to get a firm grasp on math concepts and then practice to gain speed before I played that stupid game. Even understanding the root of my math anxiety, it is rarely an optimal time for me to think in mathematical concepts when I’m in public.
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