Re-Packing Your Brain

Bo Mackison is a photographer, and a busy one. She has an art festival coming up in Milwaukee this weekend, and we were talking about her preparations. Bo was describing her organization habits; she mentioned her one special container that has the electronics to make sales, change, and keep track of sales. She calls this box “the brain.” In a rushed voice she said, “And after all that sorting, I have to re-pack The Brain.”

We both laughed at the image of re-packing your brain, and then we saw the deep wisdom in that simple phrase.

Every time we start a new project, change our business, choose a new perception, we have to “re-pack our brain.” It means opening your head to new ideas, taking out old thoughts, habits and assumptions and taking a good look at them. Maybe you shake those assumptions up, get the wrinkles out, maybe you toss it into a pile to re-use as a dust cloth.

In re-packing your brain, you allow yourself, new ideas, new paths. You make more room to add new thoughts and new perspectives.

And then, when your brain is re-packed, you head out into a new day with a new-found eagerness.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She re-packs her brain at least one a season.

27 thoughts on “Re-Packing Your Brain

  1. By the way…the idea that your mind can get full or overburdened? I’m not buying it. The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. Not to mention the reason there is such a concept as “the known universe”. Limits? Says who?

    • I speak (and write) a lot in metaphor, Pete. So when you feel anxious, there are no real butterflies in your stomach, and when you feel overburdened with information, I know your brain is not literally full, but metaphorically, it is dusty, itchy, crammed full of receipts and scribbles and needs a good re-packing.

      • I know it’s a metaphor for cryin’ out loud! 😀

        I’ve been thinking about a series of your recent posts and they’ve put me in mind of the halo effects glimmering off the edges of metaphors and thoughts refracting through words. What if instead of thinking about repacking your brain you mounted to a parapet of your memory palace and looked down at the flotsam and jetsam in some obsure room and just decided not to visit there again until the servants (your memory palace comes with staff, did I mention that?) neaten it up?

        Metaphor indeed — I’ll have you know that I am the one who coined the internationally popular saying “in the candy counter of life, she is the licorice” (no, really, I did and it was about my fourth grade teacher; all the kids thought it was funny except for Ellen Baker, who, it turned out, actually LIKED licorice. Who knew.)

        • You know, Pete, your mind works in such miraculous ways, and in ways so different than mine, that I just pull up a chair and watch. It’s like watching a grapefruit turn into fireworks. I just never know if you are serious, running along a tangent, seeing a movie in your head, or teaching physics. And all are fun to watch. But I am sometimes completely baffled. So I explain from my simple brain, which seems more like a marble in a test tube than a memory palace.

          Oh, and on the memory palace–it doesn’t work for me. I can’t find the safety pins I just bought for a binding project and they are in my studio someplace. A whole palace? I’d need an archivist and a team of servants, and they’d have a whole separate memory life, like “Upstairs, Downstairs”, and then wouldn’t retrieve my memories for me, and I’d be where I am now, but having to dust my own memory palace.

        • Cooking Man loves licorice. I hate it. I don’t even like fennel or anise, which are only vague cousin-tastes. And, she said primly, while I love your saying and will immediately use it to confuse Cooking Man, it’s a simile, not a metaphor. This may be the very first time I have been able to know something and be able to tell you about it.

          • Holy smokes you mean “a simile is a metaphor that uses ‘like’ or ‘as'” isn’t all there is to it?!? I’ll bet next you’re going to tell me it’s not as simple as “use ‘which’ right after a coma, otherwise use ‘that'”! Those are pretty much the only writing rules I know; for everything else I rely on “that looks about right”.

            P.S. I’m never quite sure either.

          • My most popular class used to be Writng for the Web, then big companies reduced writers to “content providers” (which I find insulting) and began mashing up information into cheap starchy filler, which they half-baked and cut into bite-size chunks on most blogs. So now my most popular course is Basic English and Grammar Review, which, I can’t explain it, I love teaching. It doesn’t involve the nightmares of grammar like parsing and diagramming, but it gives you really good information, and we build a reference book. So I’m polishing up those old-timey facts and passing them along.

    • Agreed on the no-limits storage capacity, but apparently mine isn’t well-indexed for retrieval. I’ll remember something obscure one day; the next, I’ll remember that I remembered it, but not what it was I remembered. Or I’ll be listening to someone talk about a shared experience and twenty minutes later it’ll finally start sounding familiar, with associated additional tidbits beginning to resurface. Walled-off sections of the memory palace perhaps?

  2. Hi, Quinn,
    I did get the Brain repacked for the show. And while I was at it, I repacked my brain, too. Ah, feels so good to have removed some of those old thoughts that have been hiding in the dark shadowy recesses, made room for fresh ideas! 🙂

  3. This is what I’d call “learning” — for me it’s not an event so much as a “stance”, and it’s constant. It’s kind of forced on everybody working in technical fields; you have to keep learning just to stay current in subject matter as well as methods and techniques.

    Speaking of space in your mind, by the way, I find it’s not so much a matter of volume as of “clutter”, so to speak. Memory capacity seems to be so vast it might as well be infinite, but you need a good retrieval system. The “memory palace” approach dates back couple thousand years and really works. You imagine a building (or any place you’re familiar with) and mentally place facts in specific rooms or locations. To remember them, you retrace your steps to that room. A side benefit is that over time you gain confidence in the system and don’t spend time or effort worrying about whether you’ll remember something. If you “filed” it, you’ll be able to find it again. If not, you already decided it wasn’t worth remembering, so there you are.

      • I think I first found it when reading about Leibniz (my heroes are all people who were smarter but got less press than the biggest names in history). It initially sounded like nonsense but it works astonishingly well. Google it; there’s tons of info.

  4. I was just writing about something similar to this. I’ve been doing Morning Pages, as I have a book group that has been reading The Artist’s Way (we just finished last night). One of the things I noticed about doing the Morning Pages was that it really cleared my head of odd things that were taking up space in there. By putting it down in writing I allowed my brain to let go of those bits and pieces and freed up space for other things, perhaps more important things. We can only keep track of so many things before we are on overload and not very functional.

  5. I love this idea. It reminds me of the Buddhist story about trying to fill a cup that is already full. I could also use something to defrag my brain. I may have to borrow both of these concepts.

  6. For many years I’ve half-joked about needing to defrag my brain but could never quite figure out how to do it, or even the reason why I felt the need. About 5 years ago I did gain information that helped answer some of the “why” when I was diagnosed with ADD (quite a shock for a woman in her 60’s!). But now I think you’ve provided some of the missing clues with your repacking concept. Thanks!

      • In my case, it was kind of like diagnosing Alzheimer’s – process of elimination. Plus an extensive Q & A on my history, going back as far as I could remember. Actually, having a short attention span is only a small part of it. Feel free to e-mail me, Quinn, if you have the time and inclination to learn more – about my own situation, that is. I’m certainly not qualified to speak about ADD in general.

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