Read an Excerpt
YOU'RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINKTHE POWER TO DO WHAT YOU FEEL YOU CAN'T
By Les Parrott
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Les Parrott
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHINK SIMPLY THERE'S STRENGTH IN CLEARING YOUR HEAD
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. —Albert Einstein
Josh Waitzkin caught his first glimpses of chess sets when he was just six years old. One day, he was walking with his mother through a park in Manhattan, heading for the monkey bars. When Josh spotted an elderly man sitting at one of the park's chess tables, he impulsively ran over to the gentleman and asked, "Wanna play?"
Josh's mom apologized and explained that Josh didn't know how to play chess. But the man welcomed little Josh to the table and began to set up the pieces. That's when something strange happened. "As we moved the pieces," Josh recounted as an adult, "I felt like I had done this before." A crowd soon gathered around the board, as the young boy seemed to know instinctually what to do. Josh's mother was confused and a little concerned about her son. Without warning, he seemed to move into another dimension, where the complexities of chess came easily.
Josh, it turned out, was a prodigy—gifted beyond belief. He returned again and again to the park to play chess with the locals. He was a phenomenon, a natural. The park guys leveraged his raw talent and taught Josh their aggressive, intuitive style of competition. And it paid off.
At age seven, Josh began his classical study of the game with his first formal teacher. From age nine on, he dominated the U.S. scholastic chess scene. He won the National Primary Championship, the National Junior High Championship, and while in the fifth grade, the National Elementary Championship. At the age of eleven, he played a match with World Champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition. At thirteen, Josh earned the title of National Master.
Under the tutelage of a strict and demanding teacher, Josh learned complex formulas and endless combinations of moves. He could outthink nearly any opponent. But somewhere along the line, his thinking became too complex. His head was filled with so many strategies that his brain began locking up.
The film Searching for Bobby Fischer depicts a particularly tense match with another prodigy. The two are playing alone, with cameras making their game visible to parents and trainers in another room. As Josh's teacher watches, Josh struggles with his next, critical move. He sees the pieces on the board, but he can't see what to do next.
"It's there. See it, Josh," his teacher whispers to himself. Suddenly Josh's mind clears, and he sees the board empty of its pieces. He immediately knows his next move, and it's the winning one.
Seeing an empty board? How could that help him? As it turns out, Josh's teacher had to show his pupil the most important move he would make in becoming a champion: how to clear his head. As part of the training process, he literally had to help Josh think more simply. Josh had to unlearn the patterns and formulations he had devised and developed. He had to learn how to think beyond the pieces on the board.
"You're letting the pieces get in your way," his teacher would say. "You've got to clear your mind," he said on one occasion and then swept the pieces off the board with his arm. "Now make your next move."
It was his way of helping Josh uncover his true strength. It's what allowed Josh to recover his giftedness and power as a player. The clutter and complexity of too much information and too much thinking were holding Josh back. It was slowing him down. What Josh needed was to clear his head to regain his strength.
It may sound paradoxical, but it's true. And the same principle applies to all of us. We can make life more complicated than it needs to be. We can cloud our minds with too much thinking, too much analyzing. And when we do, we lose the strength and clarity we need to make the next move.
That's why I dedicate the first chapter of this book to helping you think more simply. I dedicate this chapter to the idea of clearing your head.
ARE YOU THINKING TOO MUCH?
"Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated." These are the words of the renowned Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, on the children's television program Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. He uttered the words shortly before he passed away. What an insightful sentence. Life is deep and simple. And yet we so often make it more complicated than it needs to be—because we think too much.
Just about anything can trigger overthinking: Your boss makes a sarcastic comment; your spouse doesn't call when you expect it; a colleague seems short with you in an e-mail; a friend makes a flippant comment about your weight; you're nervous about a doctor's appointment. The list is endless. You ruminate on these situations, postulating possible explanations for other people's actions, picking apart scenarios, replaying the events in your head, and coming up with alternate endings—basically creating a "thought fog" in your brain.
You may think you're gaining valuable insight by analyzing every detail, but you're not. Overthinking is not your friend. It makes your mind tense, keeps you stuck in your head, and immobilizes your motivations. So the question remains: Are you thinking too much?
If you're like most people, you probably are. We live in a self-analytical culture. Most of us complicate our existence on occasion because our minds are working overtime. What are we busy thinking about? Take your pick: relationships, health, money, work, the future—the normal stuff. The stuff life is made of. That's why overthinking is so endemic.
Fold together a few of the mental tensions bombarding your brain—say a dozen or more of them in a single week—and you have a surefire recipe for a fuzzy head. What's the result? You literally become weaker. People sometimes joke about how it hurts to think, and there's actually an element of truth to that. Scientists from the University of Illinois have proof that overthinking makes us tired. It has to do with the fact that our brains need glucose to function, and when our thoughts are running in high gear, we use up glucose faster than we do when our brains aren't running at high speed. The result is mental fatigue and exhaustion.
Overthinking really does strain your brain. And that's not all. Overthinking dulls your focus. Your physical energy ebbs. You lose perspective, and little problems can seem to be disasters. You feel overwhelmed or sometimes even out of control. These tensions paralyze your brain and cloud your mind. Worries, obsessions, and concerns overload your thinking, complicate your life, and weaken your efforts to take healthy strides forward.
Imagine this scenario: You're a young mother with a toddler and a baby who's teething. The washing machine quit working yesterday just as you got the first load in, but that's okay because the repairman is coming, and the piles of laundry on the floor will be gone by tonight. You're thinking you'll order carryout for dinner. That will save time and allow you to work on the laundry while the kids nap. This will work, you decide. I just need to be flexible.
Then the phone rings. It's your husband, who says he really needs you to work some magic on dinner tonight because he's bringing home a client from out of town (the client who made demeaning remarks to you the last time he visited, and you still haven't managed to put that behind you). At this point, your brain is shifting into high gear. Okay, forget the laundry. I'll push the piles into the bedroom, close the door until tomorrow, and concentrate on dinner. Although it won't matter what I make. Having to play host to that guy again is going to ruin what's left of my day!
You've no sooner pulled out your recipe file than you hear, "Mommy, something's wrong!" You drop the recipes and arrive in the living room to see the goldfish lying on their sides at the top of the water and your toddler struggling to put the lid back on the Elmer's glue bottle.
Any one of these "irritations" by itself would be just that—an irritation. But all together ... How focused are you on dinner or the fish or the laundry now? Maybe all you can focus on is putting the kids to sleep as soon as possible and crawling under the covers yourself.
Be honest. Do you ever catch your mind working overtime?
Do you find yourself dwelling on past events and situations and overanalyzing them, replaying them, worrying about how you handled them? If so, you're not alone, and this chapter is going to help you regain the strength and clarity your cluttered mind has been stealing from you. First, we're going to take a closer look at the idea of mind fog.
HOW MIND FOG DEVELOPS
Legendary golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez has long lamented his poor putting ability. "If I could putt, you would've never heard of Arnold Palmer," he has been known to say. But Rodriguez wasn't always a poor putter. Early in his career he was a great putter. What happened?
"I never knew what I did putting," Rodriguez said. "I just knew that there was a hole, there was a ball, there was a putter, I was supposed to knock the ball in the hole.... A magazine paid me $50 to figure out what I did putting, and I haven't putted good since."
So what happened to Chi Chi's putting? Overthinking happened. Actually, it happened to his mind, and that's what threw his putting out of whack. We know this because a group of scientists studying the "paralysis of analysis" have shown that thinking too much has an impact on a person's performance. Golfers provide a good example. Too much analysis makes their game worse. Neuroscientist Michael Anderson, of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says that the loss of performance in nearly any area is the result of an effect called verbal overshadowing. This occurs when we activate the language centers of our brains and, in a sense, overload them when we need to be accessing other areas of our brains that give us new perspectives.
That's the point of thinking simply. Clearing our minds puts an end to our stuckness. It loosens up our paralysis analysis and relaxes the tension in our heads. When you clear your head—when you still your rational mind enough to make room for your intuitive mind—you're creating space for wisdom. You're not letting go of rational thoughts; you're just making sure that your intuition and personal perceptions aren't being pushed aside by excessive reasoning and overthinking. Thinking simply opens the way for us to regain the strength and clarity that are lost through making life more complicated than it needs to be.
Now before you dismiss that last statement—and maybe the rest of the book—let me be clear: Life is hard, and challenges are complex. Your plate may be so full right now that there's no room for a fork. Maybe you're dealing with a rebellious teen, a parent's terminal illness, the foreclosure of your home, or even all three. Under no circumstances are we minimizing or dismissing the difficulties you face on a daily basis. My point isn't that life is easy but rather that when you analyze and re-analyze your problems in an attempt to solve them, you actually lose clarity instead of gain it and are unable to appropriate the resources you need in order to deal with life as you know it.
So if too much thinking gets in the way of finding solutions, where do we find the clarity we need? When Josh Waitzkin was stuck in a chess game, he found the solution when he imagined the chessboard cleared of its pieces. In the same way, a clear head makes it easier to see wisely.
THE POWER OF A CLEAR HEAD
On a summer Saturday afternoon, Gary Klein, a cognitive psychologist, sat in a fire station in Cleveland, Ohio, waiting for the alarm to sound. Klein explores how people think, and he believes that people dismiss too readily the power of gut instinct. Here's how one writer described a scenario from Klein's research:
Klein and his research team are attempting to crack a mystery that has intrigued psychologists for decades: How do people who work in unpredictable situations make life-and-death decisions? And how do they do it so well? According to decision-making models, they should fail more often than they succeed. There is too much uncertainty and too little time for them to make good choices. Yet again and again, they do the right thing. Klein wants to know why.
At 3:21 PM, the alarm goes off. Klein, an assistant, and an emergency-rescue crew scramble aboard an EMS truck. Three minutes later, they pull up to a house in a suburban neighborhood. A man is lying facedown on the front lawn. Blood is pooling all around him. He slipped on a ladder and pushed his arm through a plate-glass window, slicing an artery. The head of the rescue team—Klein calls him "Lieutenant M"—quickly estimates that the man has already lost two units of blood. If he loses two more, he'll die.
Even as he leaps from the truck, the lieutenant knows by judging the amount of blood on the ground that the man has ripped an artery. In an instant, he applies pressure to the man's arm. Emergency-medical procedure dictates that the victim should be checked for other injuries before he is moved. But there isn't time. The lieutenant orders his crew members to get the man into the truck. As the vehicle races to the hospital, a crew member puts inflatable pants on the victim to stabilize his blood pressure. This marks another real-time judgment call: Had they put the pants on the victim before moving him, the crew would have lost precious seconds.
The ambulance pulls up to the hospital's ER. Klein looks at his watch: It's 3:31 PM. In a matter of minutes, the lieutenant made several critical decisions that ultimately saved the man's life. But he ignored the conventional rules of decision making. He didn't ponder the best course of action or weigh his options. He didn't rely on deductive thinking or on an analysis of probabilities. How did he know what to do? When Klein asked him, the lieutenant shrugged and said that he simply drew on his experience.
After more than two decades of studying cases like this, Klein had concluded that the lieutenant harnessed his inherent intuition. His instinctual perceptions allowed him to cut through the complexities of time pressure, high stakes, personal responsibilities, and shifting conditions. He wasn't thinking through procedures, and he certainly wasn't swayed by emotions; he was working with a clear head and going with his gut. In Klein's words, the lieutenant's intuition infused his work with power.
DO YOU HAVE THE SACRED GIFT?
Intuition—that effortless, immediate, unreasoned sense of truth—has a strange reputation. Skilled decision makers know that they can depend on their intuition, but at the same time they may feel uncomfortable trusting a source of power that seems so unintended or maybe even ethereal.
When Klein asked the fire-fighting lieutenant how he knew just what to do when he saw the man with a torn artery lying in his front yard, he shrugged and said he didn't know. Intuition is like that. It's often inexplicable. In fact, experts say that intuition is recognizing things without knowing how we do the recognizing. For curious reasons, we are drawn to certain cues and not others within our awareness. Although they seem to emerge from an obscure inner force, they actually begin with a perception of something outside—a facial expression, a tone of voice, a visual inconsistency so fleeting that we're not even aware we noticed. But as a result, we somehow know what goals to pursue, what to expect, and how to respond.
Consider a Formula 1 driver who braked sharply when nearing a hairpin turn without knowing why—and as a result avoided hitting a pileup of cars on the track ahead, undoubtedly saving his life.
"The driver couldn't explain why he felt he should stop, but the urge was much stronger than his desire to win the race," explains Professor G. P. Hodgkinson of Leeds University. "The driver underwent forensic analysis by psychologists afterwards, where he was shown a video to mentally relive the event. In hindsight he realized that the crowd, which would have normally been cheering him on, wasn't looking at him coming up to the bend but was looking the other way in a static, frozen way. That was the cue. He didn't consciously process this, but he knew something was wrong and stopped in time."
According to Hodgkinson, intuition is the result of the way our brains store, process, and retrieve information on a subconscious level. In other words, our intuition taps into information that is underneath our conscious awareness. When we overthink, we prevent our intuitive minds from doing their work.
By the way, you don't have to drive race cars to experience this phenomenon. Try asking a gourmet cook how she knows to do things that aren't in the recipe or how she can cook a fantastic dish without a recipe at all. She can't explain it. Try asking people who have an intuition about knowing they've met the person they are going to marry when it's been only a few days. They will tell you they "just know" and nothing more. It's what led philosopher Blaise Pascal to say, "The heart has reasons which reason does not know."
Excerpted from YOU'RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK by Les Parrott Copyright © 2012 by Les Parrott. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.