Racetrack of the Mind

When I was young, I had an oval car race track. The little electric cars would go round and round, again and again until they crashed or we got tired of playing with them. Unlike NASCAR, there were no pit stops or way off the track.

Stewing, Grinding and Infinite Loops
Do you ever find yourself stewing over something someone said: a boss, parent or spouse? Do you ever find yourself grinding, unable to make a decision: about a meal, a purchase, or a project? I know I do. I think about what was said and how to respond over and over, again and again. Or I shuffle through the various alternatives, unable to decide. The only thing that seems to get my car off the race track is a good night's sleep.

In software, we call this an infinite loop. The code has no exit strategy. Left alone, the program will run forever until it's cancelled or the computer reboots.

The Cure
The simple cure for an infinite loop is a loop counter, a check and an exit. You count how many times a loop has executed and when it exceeds a certain threshold you exit the loop.

Given this insight, I created (changing sports metaphors) a "three strike" rule. Three strikes and you're out. If I catch myself looping around the same old thought at least three times, I exit and look for a new perspective on the issue, because looping has ceased to do me any good.

Sadly, my mind likes going around the track in a tight circle of thought. It mistakes movement for action. Circular logic, however, has no payoff. You're just going around and around, and there is no race to win; no one to beat; and little to gain.

So, if you're stuck in a loop, catch yourself and exit. Grinding over a decision? Decide and exit. Any decision beats no decision.

Stewing over the right course of action? Pick one and exit.

Thinking about doing something like:

  • Writing a book?
  • Remodeling a room?
  • Taking dance lessons?

If you think about it three times, either 1) start taking the first steps toward doing it right now or 2) abandon it (because you're not really that interested). Stop thinking about it and get on with it? Can't start right now? Abandon it.

Here's My Point
We all get stuck in looping patterns of thought. The trick is to get out of them. Install your own loop counter and build in an exit strategy. With a little practice your brain will realize that it's the right way to go about things and you'll start making more progress with less effort.

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