The Wandering Mind Series

The Cascade Begins

  • Why is it so difficult to explain why you procrastinate?
  • Why do you depend on deadlines, as painful as they might be?
  • Why do you forget to do that one thing that you swear is important to you?
  • Why do you tell yourself, “I’ll do it later”, and even believing it despite it failing repeatedly?

Being able to explain any of these to others or yourself might at least relieve some of the feelings of shame and guilt that surround them. And, you might even find a path forward if you can have a sense of the mechanisms behind them.

So far, I have posed a perspective:

A wandering mind can stem from a myopia of time-attention.

… and then described the two concepts of myopia and time-attention.

So, what would it mean if our sense of time-attention, our working memory, was myopic? Just like with eyesight, some might have more myopia than others.
Recall, though, that myopia does not just limit our view. It also has a sense of magnification.

That magnification is part of its power. A wandering mind sees the world differently. There is intensity, that brings creativity, where you can grok things at an experiential level that others don’t seem to.

There is a reality to things that feels intense, for good or ill. Things in the periphery don’t quite feel as real if they’re sensed at all.

That’s also the reason why learning things on your own seems to stick so much better than reading something dry in a book. It’s the sense that something is present, alive, and real that just works and gets you going.

However, lining things up so they work within the limits of that “sight” is difficult. The limits on periphery means that you can more readily lose that sight of something once it drifts away from our myopic world. In other words, it readily falls out of the limited space of working memory, that worktable of the mind. When something slips, it becomes hard to find not only what’s gone missing, but by the mind’s very nature, to even remember that something is missing. At best, you’re often left with a vague, perhaps haunting, sense of loss.

And this is where we find a cascade, where the complexity begins…

As a result of so easily losing sight, you bump into the world and all its edges, forgetting things, losing things, and more. Sometimes, it even gets worse in that frantic search to resolve that feeling of loss.

Often, the world around you views these collisions and misplacements as motivationally based, so the conclusion is that these troubles are a result of moral failings. It’s often some version of, “If you really cared, you wouldn’t forget”. And since so many, including very caring people, believe you’re just not trying hard enough, you might believe that yourself.

With each error, you might yell at yourself louder, not only through self-recrimination, but in the form of seas of sticky notes and reminders, demands like “Do homework!”, questions like, “Why can’t I just get this done?!”, and more.

Perhaps if you yelled at yourself enough, you’ll fix the problem?

So, at a gut level, you regularly receive the message that the world is dangerous. You now have not only feelings of guilt and shame, but the dangers of gathering more guilt and shame. If you lose sight of something, you may lose it for a long time. It is difficult to know where the danger is, but it is always there, having gotten into trouble many times throughout your life.

And the cascade continues…

So, you are always searching for danger, sometimes believing or finding yourself to be the source. Another name for this is ”fight or flight”.

Activated by the “sympathetic nervous system”, flight or flight is usually a state of mind and body that comes and goes, engaging you as need to survive.

But because you sense danger as ever present, it is chronically left in an on position.

In other words, if you don’t know where danger is, you’re looking for it. This view may even explain why we often see such strong ADHD symptoms in those dealing with trauma.

Meanwhile, you’re vision is still myopic. So when you find danger, you hold on to it, not just because it is dangerous, but because it is what feels real. You don’t want to lose it. For example, a deadline gives you the “excuse” you need to focus, so it becomes both dreaded and a relief. Because, “I finally know what’s dangerous!” you keep it in front of you as a buoy of reality, not daring to let it go…

Unfortunately, turning and leaving fight/flight on can be quite exhausting, if not painful. And because it is exhausting and painful, your body adapts defenses. You need relief somewhere.
So where do you turn?

In part 5, we’ll continue the cascade that started from this simple view of myopia, but afterwards, we’ll look at how this view might give us better handles to engage ourselves and perhaps even thrive.