If you’ve ever experienced a “Presque-Vu”, and you probably have but without the fancy name, you’ll know the frustrating feeling you get when you’ve had a flash and found the response to a problem… you had it all the time, it’s there… on the tip of your tongue, the thought, idea or Seinfeld-like clap-back that’s been eluding you only for it to evaporate as quickly as it came. It’s so annoying when that happens but oh so gratifying when you manage to hold on to it long enough to exploit it.
But this isn’t about some miracle method for unlocking hitherto unused intellectual powers, I wish it was, I’d write a book or post a video on YouTube and make a fortune. No, it’s a five-minute read about how I try to access and engage an apparently rarely used cerebral function to counter a phenomenon commonly known as a brain freeze, a brain fart or if you prefer, a momentary lapse of reason, in an attempt to deliver a timely, ingenious rejoin, or crafty retort and save myself from a potentially awkward moment.
We’ve all been in a jam, trying desperately to stay focused and avoid the brain freezing at a time when you’re usual eloquence is needed most, haven’t we? Jams and freezes happen, the trick is to make sure they don’t happen at the same time, which generally means praying to the saints for a Geistesblitz and hoping you’re suitably prepped so as not to be seen as squirming by those in the team with less benevolent intentions.
Whether at home or at work, I’m an organized sort of person… a place for everything and everything in its place, even random chaos serves a purpose. I’m also a writer, which means I write things down, for inspiration, for later, or even for a smirk-delivered “Gotchaaa!” retort so, when I have an Alpha moment I make a note of it because the act of writing it down displaces the information from one part of the brain to another making it easier to recall on the spur, for example, when you need to ace during an important meeting.
(On a professional level, I also learnt a long time ago that writing things down is expedient. Apart from helping counter lapses, impress bosses and respond to curved-ball questions, recalling a choice piece of intelligence at the right moment can also be a deal clincher.)
But freezes will happen. I had a situation once, it was in a group conference call with a client. I had my “Stuff Happens” Runbook handy and was presenting my action plan when someone asked a “Yes but what if” question which caught me off guard. I could feel small beads forming on the back of my neck while my brain tried to formulate a response but instead of formulating it froze and the more I tried to articulate the deeper the hole I seemed to be digging for myself was getting before I finally managed to respond. Fortunately it was in a time before Zoom so no one could see my multiple face palms.
Putting the ‘Why’ and ‘What for’ questions to one side, part of the process of countering such momentary lapses consists of boosting your mental acuity. Personally, I find strengthening your mental acuity by creating associations is a good way to start. Being receptive to sensorial stimuli, exploiting Déjà Vus and interpreting cues, verbal or visual all help sharpen the mind as well.
You might think that training yourself to recall little bits of data in this way is a short term, albeit sweet victory and you might be right. You could also tell yourself that the steps taken today to sharpened your mind, for successful communications, are the first steps on the way to, if not neutralizing cognitive decline then at least delaying its onset.
To finish. Talking about Geistesblitzes and Presque-Vu (remember, a Geistesblitz is a flash of inspiration and a Presque-Vu, a frustration) might seem of little consequence in the greater combat for mental health but remember: Attending to both has the knock-on and not so incidental effect of keeping the memory intact and the brain active longer, small steps in the right direction towards remaining mentally healthy, don’t you think?