When I was young one my favourite TV shows was The Rocketeer. The re-run was shown in the morning during the school holidays and I would religiously tune in. Each episode always ended on a preposterous cliffhanger that was resolved in the first moments of the next episode, but still it kept me coming back every day to see what happened. The idea that leaving a story unfinished, or a loop open, compelled people to return for the next episode has been well used in Hollywood for years!
Our brains hate unfinished material. They keep the story or activity open in our minds and desperately try to close them off. This is why you will find people who have hectic lives tend to be stressed and seem overwhelmed. They constantly interrupt a process and so their mind is trying to sustain all these open and unfinished routines.
It is one of the many theories about why we dream – to help us to close all the loops that we have opened during the day. We understand the world through metaphor and a dream is an extended metaphor that we use to attempt to organise and “file away” all those incomplete tasks, half told stories and unfinished activities.
When Richard was asked to develop a stress management program for executives at a Fortune 500 company in America, the first process he introduced was to get them, at the end of the day, to open and close every drawer or cupboard in the room, close down their computer properly, lift up and put down the telephone, etc. This seemingly odd behaviour was designed to make sure that all the physical processes they had started through the day and which had maybe been interrupted would be closed off.
The key to reducing stress and feeling less overwhelmed is to make the effort to keep as few loops open (tasks unfinished) as possible. Do one thing at a time (multitasking is a myth) and remain mindful and present throughout the day. Be aware of anything that you have not finished and take some time at the end of the day to “close off” these tasks. Whether that is to finish them off or make some meaningful plan to continue at a later date.
Contains excerpts from “Nested Loops Demystified” available now at Amazon.