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May 01 2017

Overthinking causes grey hair

“Turn your brain off.”
“Quit thinking so much!”
“I can hear you thinking, shush!”
“Your brain is trying to derail you, ignore it.”
“For the love of all things holy and green, shove a sweaty sock into your brain’s talk-hole to shut it up!”

I’ve said these phrases and variations on them to every one of my students…this week alone. Every year, for roughly twenty years. I swear, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said something along these lines to one of my flute students, I could afford to cover the grey hairs more often than once a year.

Overthinking.

It’s ironic, really, that I constantly harp on my flute students about thinking too much, for allowing the inner mental chatter to distract them. I am Queen and Empress For Life of The Land of Overthinking. It’s both a curse and a gift. On one hand, I can dissect an issue or idea, chew it up, swish it around, and spit out several outcomes or possibilities; my husband of 20 years is still impressed and spooked by this. On the other hand, I’m also fantastically awesome at spinning (getting wrapped up in thinking to the point of emotional incapacity); said aforementioned husband is less enamored of finding his wife hyperventilating while staring at her to-do list in horror. Our bodies interpret that kind of mental logjam as a threat, so we tend to react with fight/flight/freeze. I’m a freezer…I figure it matches my chronically cold, AAS physiology. My brain locks up and I struggle with moving forward. Strangely enough, I seldom struggle with this in my flute playing; I must have learned how to work through it while getting my degrees. The rest of my life? Not so much. I struggle with making the mental transfer. BUT! I do recognize when students are overthinking during lessons. I can practically hear their mental chatter shouting at them. It’s a strong feeling of tension and overwhelm and a measure of fear. I suspect I freak them out when I can point to a specific spot in their music and say, “this is where you lost the flow and started listening to your brain”….and I’m always right.

Most of my students are tightly wound. Whether that’s because that kind of intensity is drawn to music or because an inordinate number of gifted individuals pick up an instrument, it doesn’t really matter. I know this mental chatter, know the feeling of helplessness and self-directed anger when your brain shouts at you, standing between you and flow. It doesn’t matter what it says, positive or negative, the brain hates being ignored and so it shouts for your full attention. Irritating asshole, the brain is.

And so I advise my students to wrestle that irritating voice to the ground and shove a smelly sock into its mouth to shut it up. YES, I KNOW IT’S HARD, I STRUGGLE WITH IT TOO!

It’s hard work to train yourself away from overthinking and into flow. Mindfulness is the best way, at least for me. Sheer awareness that I’m spinning and listening to that harpy inner voice is the first step. That at least puts me back in control of my thoughts. Then, just like playing flute, breathing. Everything, and I do mean everything, improves with awareness of the breath.

From there, everyone’s path out of the overthinking labyrinth is different. I like the suggestions from a recent Savvy Psychologist podcast on feeling overwhelmed, and I’m working to implement them (back) into my life. This summer, part of my be a better flute teacher study will include learning how to help my students get into that blissful performance flow more easily and often. And then, you know, teacher heal thyself and all that.

Just wish I had all those nickels…my hair could really use fewer grey sparkles.

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This post is part of the Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page May blog hop on overthinking. Go read some of the other writers and share your overthinking with them too!

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