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Walking Away from the Puzzle

Sometimes I think that people expect their brains to work like computers.  Like you can just plug in new information, your brain will instantly understand it and once it's in there it's in there forever.  I wish.  Unfortunately, our brains are not computers.  There's no Matrix plug where we can just suddenly learn Kung Fu.

No, our brains are more like dirt.  Note that I said dirt and not "sponge."  I feel like sponge is not a great simile for brains.  Sponges dry out but when you get them wet they instantly absorb liquid again.  Dirt doesn't work like that.  It gets dry and it gets hard.  This means that it won't actually absorb anything if too much water is introduced right away.  It repels the water.  Water must be introduced gradually and consistently.  If dirt is already moist it has an increased capacity for absorbing even more.

On a very simple level, our brains are the same.  Too much time with a certain mindset and it actually repels new information.  But, more importantly, we need to give our brains the opportunity to absorb new information.  Sometimes it's just as important to know when to stop as it is to know when to keep going.

I often give the puzzle example to my students.  It can sometimes take days to put together those crazy puzzles with hundreds of pieces.  And you inevitably get to that point where you just need that ONE piece and no matter how hard you look it's NOT THERE.  This is the point where your brain has been overloaded with too much information.

So what happens?  You go to sleep, look at the puzzle the next day with fresh eyes and voila!  You find the piece you needed in just a few seconds.  You allowed your brain time to absorb the information.  It couldn't process the shapes of all 800 pieces at once.  Even if you stared at the correct piece dozens of times your brain was too overstimulated to make the connection that it was the right shape.

The same goes for challenging passages of music.  Yes, it is good to tough it out for awhile.  But there will give to a point where your brain has processed too much and it stops absorbing new things.  So no matter how many times you try to drill the passage more and more mistakes keep popping up.

Walk away from the puzzle.

Let your brain process the information.  Do something different for a few hours or just work on a different piece.  Learning to cope with frustration is one thing but needless frustration becomes discouraging.

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