When You Can’t Get Something Out of Your Head — Do This


Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

“How do you release your mind from something you can’t address at this current moment?”

A few days ago, a friend approached me with this question. He expressed his desire to live in the present but was having difficulty doing so due to whatever was troubling him.

We happen to be sitting on a ski chairlift. Therefore, I only had a few minutes to provide a satisfying answer. Call it wisdom from the lift.

My immediate response was to address the problem as soon as possible. Don’t wait. Face your problems head-on. Once you’ve tackled the problem, you’re free to live in the moment.

If only it were that simple.

My friend expanded by explaining why he posed the question in the first place. He was debating how to communicate with a woman he recently went on a first date with.

Does he text the woman while on vacation? Perhaps it would seem too desperate. But if he waits to text her back after the trip, the momentum built from their first date might fizzle out.

To text now or to text later, that is the question.

We both agreed texting the woman at that moment was not the right decision. But if not now, then when? Tomorrow? The day after?

Simply telling my friend to text the woman later doesn’t alleviate his stress. As a consequence, my friend is unable to fully engage in the present moment. Ultimately, being present is my friend’s end goal.

But what if there’s another solution? What if there’s a way to postpone a decision while still alleviating our stress, which can allow us to fully immerse in the present moment.


Unresolved Matters

My friend was experiencing something called the Zeigarnik effect. Goodtherapy.org defines this concept as the following:

A tendency to remember interrupted or incomplete tasks or events more easily than tasks that have been completed.

If something is left undone, it weighs on our minds. It’s why we remember cliffhangers so well (think The Sopranos series finale).

In my friend’s case, the matter of texting the woman was weighing on his mind. To him, texting the lucky lady represented an incomplete task.

With this mindset, the tendency would be for my friend to send the woman a text now. At least my friend could stop worrying about texting the woman and focus on enjoying our vacation.

But my friend and I agreed to hold off on sending any texts until after the trip. The stress is still in effect. In order to alleviate the stress without resolving the matter now, there’s one more step.


Make a Decision on The Decision

It’s not the act of texting her that must be finalized, but rather the decision of when to text her. Instead of making a decision, make the decision when you will complete a task.

Let’s repeat that:

Instead of making a decision, make the decision when you will complete a task.

By allocating a specific time for resolving issues, you can lift the tense matter infiltrating your conscious and live more presently in the moment.

Due to the Zeigarnik effect, there’s pressure to make a decision now. At least that will alleviate the issue weighing on your mind.

We feel pressure to make a decision. Sometimes the mistake isn’t making the wrong decision but rather forcing a decision prematurely to alleviate the stress. Our inclination to address problems as soon as possible can be detrimental.

In my friend’s case, rushing to text the woman back to alleviate stress could hurt his chances at a second date. Is the sudden stress relief worth a missed opportunity at a second date?

My friend not only decided to postpone texting the woman but also decided when exactly he would text her.

The solution isn’t always to act immediately. Instead, decide how you’ll act and then decide when you follow through with that action. By allocating a specific time, you can put your best self forward to enjoy the present moment.


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