Most engines have more than one moving part. Pretty much everything around you is an engine – heck, you’re an engine. The classic thing under the hood of your car is a kind of engine, one that converts liquid fuel into movement. But in a broad sense, an engine is any device or process that turns one resource into another. You’re an engine that converts food into action. Your mind is an engine that converts information into ideas. And so on.
When a valuable engine breaks down or malfunctions, we don’t generally throw the whole thing away. Because engines are made of a great many moving parts, it’s possible for the whole engine to work poorly (or stop altogether) because of one faulty component. Isolating that component and fixing or replacing it is a much better idea than scrapping the whole machine.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Even a trained auto mechanic might take a decent amount of time and effort, as well as a few mistakes, to figure out which part of an engine is faulty and repair it. I probably couldn’t do it at all. The same with the human body – a doctor might be able to figure out which of my internal organs is failing and causing me to be sick, but I sure can’t. But still, I’d rather that doctor try than just toss the whole body and start over (hahaha, no I wouldn’t – if it were possible I’d absolutely just replace my body, but this is the world we live in, sadly).
Your processes are like that. You have at least one engine that converts “time” into “successfully sent emails.” If that process breaks down, you don’t necessarily have to start over. Maybe you can figure out which step is the faulty component, or which aspect isn’t fulfilling its purpose as part of the whole.
In order to do that, we have to be aware of the components as discrete things – we can’t miss the trees for the forest. This can be especially difficult when it comes to processes in our own minds. Your mind has an engine for converting “time” into “relaxation,” but maybe (like mine) it doesn’t work so well. What components might exist in such an engine? There’s an “identify what relaxes me” component, an “ignore distractions” component, a “give yourself permission to not be working” component, and so on. Only one of those would have to be faulty for me to not be able to successfully relax.
Breaking things down like that has always been cathartic for me. Examining the pieces and seeing exactly which thing isn’t working right.
Tangent: recently I was reading about aphantasia – the inability to picture things in your mind. A decent number of people have this; you tell them to “picture an apple” and they just can’t. They know what an apple is, but it’s impossible for them to imagine one if they’re not looking at it. For a pretty in-depth look at one person’s very awesome account of this, check this out.
There’s apparently a reverse of this called “hyperphantasia,” where not only can you picture things in your mind, your ability to do so is incredibly acute and vivid. That’s what I have. My ability to imagine things is so vivid I can change the color of people’s hair while I’m looking at them. I can call up memories of rooms I’ve been in and walk around in them, viewing them from angles I never actually saw them in real life. I can summon Abraham Lincoln to my living room at a whim and have full conversations with him. I can imagine physical objects and actually feel them; I can wrap my hand around an imaginary baseball. If you’ve ever seen Star Trek and you’re familiar with the Holodeck – I just have one of those in my mind, on tap. Or the Matrix, if you prefer that analogy. Whatever.
Tangent-within-a-tangent: For a long time, I didn’t realize I was in the minority with this ability. I would be confused when other people couldn’t do what I could do. For instance – once as a sort of joke my 7th-grade math teacher asked me to multiply two 4-digit numbers in my head, like 2692 x 9663. I spaced out for a few minutes while she went on to continue teaching, and then I “came back” and gave her the answer. After confirming that I hadn’t secreted away a calculator or paper, she was flabbergasted, but I didn’t realize I’d done anything special – because here’s the thing, I did use paper. I just conjured up a piece of paper in front of me with an imaginary pencil and spent the several minutes doing the problem long-form style. I didn’t do the problem “in my head” the way I imagined that phrase meant, I just did it on paper that wasn’t technically there.
This happens with all sorts of stuff. Apparently I’m one of like 1% of the population that can flex my tympanic membrane (aka the eardrum) at will. You know the sound you hear when you put a seashell up to your ear? I can just make that sound happen without the seashell by flexing a muscle behind my ears a certain way. I thought everyone could do it. My daughter was talking about the seashell noise, and I commented “You know, you can actually just make that sound without the seashell if you tighten your neck muscles!” Except she couldn’t, and I thought I was just explaining it badly to a kid, but my wife overheard me and was shocked I could do this. A little research and it turned out I was in the vast minority.
Okay, let me de-inception us a little and back up through the tangent layers back to the original point. When I say I like to disassemble my engines and examine their component parts, I’m usually literally doing that – at least in terms of how I visualize it. I’m turning my “convert time into relaxation” engine into a physical object on the table in front of me, labeling each gear and piston with one of the component features I listed above, and then taking it apart and examining it. Creating physical manifestations of metaphysical concepts.
I know that’s weird, and I know that’s not how most people are going to do it. But I think the core concept is sound: give things solid form in order to repair them. That can mean writing things down on separate pieces of paper so you can isolate them. It can mean making voice recordings of yourself. It can even just mean talking to other people, making things “solid” by putting them in another mind separate from your own. However you do it, a diagnostic process is vital to successful repairs. Find one that works for you.
(A final note: This turned into a weird, weird post. But I’m here for it. Embrace your weirdness, people.)