Mind-clutter is one of the biggest obstacles that I encounter daily on the path to my goals. I imagine you know what I’m talking about, the constant chatterbox that is our human brain.
Brains are useful things, they help you do a lot of incredibly cool stuff. But sometimes they just won’t shut up. There’s a lot going on most of the time, so who can really blame our minds for wanting to over-analyze everything? Except a lot of brain-clutter can be a problem when you’re trying to accomplish anything.
A cluttered mind can keep you from achieving your potential in most situations.
Sometimes brains get stuck on problems. They get into a pattern where they’re constantly trying to imagine what’s going to happen to you next, or worse, they second guess all of your actions.
A healthy mind will help you accomplish goals when you need it to, an unhealthy mind will sabotage you before you even start working.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a minimalist, and in my opinion excessive thinking is just as problematic as having an excessive amount of things. This is one of the many reasons why I find it important to employ a number of de-cluttering activities with my mind. I try to engage in at least one of these activities a day.
If my mind clutter is too much at any one moment, I will acknowledge that my mind is overwhelmed. When this happens, I immediately turn off whatever I’m doing and begin one of these activities below.
Sometimes I will dedicate an entire day to clearing my mind. I will mark a day off my calendar and simply spend it meditating and rejuvenating my mind. I’ve done this many times, and it can increase my mind’s effectiveness two-fold when I return to normal activities.
A mind is most effective at zero.
The purpose of all of these exercises is to reset your mind to zero. This is a place where there is no conversation.
Part of the mind reset process is first acknowledging that you don’t need the thoughts floating around your head. For some people the constant background noise in their mind is comforting, but none of these exercises will help you of you enjoy the company of a mind that won’t shut up.
The best way to approach getting over the problem of being comforted by a chattering mind is to recognize that there is a huge difference between a conversation with yourself in your brain and actual thinking.
I’ve read a number of books on Buddhist and Yogic philosophy that teach of abolishing the inner conversation with yourself. I believe these authors have it right, the mind must be quiet for actions to come to their full potential.
The preconception that you can think through any activity before you do it is false. While there are important elements of planning, we waste untold hours second guessing ourselves with our own minds.
By training the mind to rest at zero, you will become a far more effective person. A person who deals with obstacles as they happen with a mind that is sharp and effective.
Here are 16 simple ways to clear your mind.
- Sit in silence. Place a pillow on the ground somewhere in a private place, turn off the lights, and just sit for 15 minutes. Listen to the chatter in your mind, but don’t try to interact with it. Just observe your thought patterns, eventually they will begin to subside. Try sitting for a longer time when you can.
- Take a walk. Meditation while walking is one of the best ways to calm a mind. There’s something about the repetition of moving one foot in front of the next that is so relaxing. Go for a 30-minute walk with no destination. You will return with a calmed mind.
- Write it down. Take your thought processes out of your pre-frontal cortex and onto the page. Open a notebook, take a pen, and begin engaging in writing flow until you find that the waves of thought have subsided.
- Laugh it off. Sometimes life is just silly, so have a sense of humor and embrace the insanity. Laugh at the thoughts in your head, with any luck you’ll recognize by laughing at the thoughts in your head, you’ll be able to realize just how silly they are and your mind will relax.
- Take deep breathes. This is one of my all time favorites, I do this regularly before and after any situation that may happen. Take 10 deep inhales and exhales. Make each breath slow and deliberate. Your mind will be quiet by the end of the tenth exhale.
- Move slower. Make every action deliberate. Like a zen master makes tea, you will do everything that you need to do slower. Notice every motion you make from start to finish, every action from beginning to end. This will focus your mind on the task at hand, and quiet the internal babbling.
- Talk to someone. Sometimes the best way to quiet a mind is to talk over your thinking with another person. Don’t vent your frustrations to them, because that’s just going to lead to another frustrated person. Simply tell them what is going on in your mind, and maybe both of you can come up with a solution.
- Throw away your to-do list. Once in awhile the lists get too long, they become overwhelming. There are so many steps or actions that you need to take in day-to-day life that you may never see the end. Why not just abandon whatever it is you’re doing? One of the best skills that anyone can master is the ability to learn how to quit, when the time is right to do so. Take this moment to quit, and your mind won’t have anything to worry about anymore.
- Lie on the floor. Nothing can beat a good lie on the floor. Wherever you are, just stop doing what you’re doing and fall backwards. Though, be sure to take look behind you to make sure there is nothing you will hit. Then stay on the floor for 15 minutes and just breathe.
- Make a sandwich. The action of deliberately preparing the bread, spreading hummus, cutting greens, and slicing meat can be a great way to clear your mind. Be sure to take as much time as possible making the sandwich, do not rush. By the time you take the first bite, your mind will be silent.
- Do the dishes. Buddhist teachers love doing their dishes, and with good reason. The act of slowly cleaning one dish, washing, and drying it, is a powerful way to focus and calm the mind. The advent of dish-washing machines really has robbed us of a ritual we all can use to our advantage.
- Take a shower. Step into a steaming hot shower and just bathe in the warmth. This can be a powerful mind-clearer. Don’t rush the shower, just let the water flow over your hair and down your body. A hot shower, particularly before going to bed, can calm even the most active mind.
- Light a candle. The flicker of candle light can be a powerful way to calm your thoughts. Set the candle in a place near where you can sit comfortably. Take a match, strike it, and watch the wax melt.
- Listen to relaxing music. There’s nothing like calming music to quiet your brain. Turn on some soft music, ideally without lyrics, and observe your mind as the thoughts fade away.
- Do a yoga inversion. Another one of the best ways to calm a mind is to turn yourself upside down. My favorite way to do this quickly, is to slide into Sarvangasana, or shoulder stand. In this yoga pose you support your lower back with your hands and lift your feet over your head. This pose changes the blood flow through the body in order to promote a healthy quiet mind.
- Let go of the problem. In certain cases you may be plagued by something that you just can’t handle, you won’t be able to find a solution, you won’t be able to achieve everything you ever wanted. Tell yourself that can’t do this. That’s okay, you tried. Make space for the next ambitious goal, and let this one go.
Breathing in, I calm body & mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know that this is the only moment. –Thich Nhat Hanh
What is your favorite way to clear your mind? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
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