The Butterfly Brain

Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

A few of my most frustrating moments are when I stumble upon an interesting thought worth pursuing, or a thought-provoking idea, and fail to hold that thought in my brain long enough for me to polish it and give it structure.

Every now and then an idea flies around and gently settles, only to flutter away like a butterfly the moment you try to catch it.

And the more I try to ‘catch it’, the more I try to think harder, the more cumbersome and vain the exercise becomes.

I would like to think that this is not an experience exclusive to me. We often find ourselves in moments where an idea creeps itself into our minds. Upon when we spend a few passing moments struggling to keep the chain of thought and then abandon it in order to go back to our more familiar thoughts.

The worst part of this seems to be that the more important the thought, the harder it is to sit on it.

But we should not beat ourselves up over this. Instead, we need to be kind and forgiving of ourselves and recognize that our brains were not built to think intensively for long periods of time without breaks.

Nevertheless, what we do need to be wary of is that perhaps there is a reason for this almost unfair correlation between the degree of importance of the thought and its fleeting nature. Perhaps it is because this idea or thought is something that requires a great deal of effort in order to manifest itself in the real world. It is perhaps something that could bring about massive change and potentially alter a significant part of who we are. And hence we are quick to shove it back into the deep dark recesses of our mind, fearing the consequences if we were to let it freely occupy our everyday thoughts.

Unsurprisingly, a brain that is always running eventually burns out quickly. Thinking ‘harder’ does not necessarily mean thinking better. Therefore, if we are to consistently grasp these fleeting moments, we need to give our minds some rest.

A runner does not run during her entire practice session. Instead, she sprints for a while, then rests. And then she sprints a little more. Rests again. The same can be applied to our thought processes.

In order to give our brains a rest, it helps to do mundane repetitive tasks. In doing so we unconsciously go about performing the activity — such as playing an instrument, gardening, going for a long walk — which allows the more deeper and meaningful thoughts to find their way to the surface. Albert Einstein was known to be very fond of his violin (even gave it a name — ‘Lina’) which he used to pick up every now and then when he felt stuck trying to solve the mysteries of the universe.

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