Is your mind often whirling with so much information that it’s impossible to relax? Try these tips to clear brain clutter and chill out…
– Clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice
– Mindfulness trainer and life coach Karen Liebenguth
1 Start Small
We all know holidays offer the perfect opportunity to stand back and take a fresh look at our lives. But if you don’t have two weeks wandering the streets of Florence or lying on a sun-kissed Bali beach lined up, don’t worry because even an hour out of your normal life will help you see things differently. Ring-fence some time, make an appointment with yourself, forget your ‘to-do’ list, tell others if need be, and make sure there will be no distractions to crowd your thinking.
Try this: It works best if you leave your home, but having a coffee in a café or walking through a park is enough. If you have more than an hour, try to pick a café or park further afield. Now just enjoy some switch-off time. Your mind will do the rest.
2 Drop a Gear
Clarity strikes when you stop your mind from asking yourself the same questions, and instead relax, allowing your unconscious mind to tick over unhurried and undisturbed. Have you noticed how great ideas tend to come at the most unexpected moments – as you’re soaking in the bath or walking the dog on a Sunday morning?
Try this: Do you recognise the activities that enable your brain to go into idle? Do more of them.
3 Brain Dump!
Automatic writing is a fun exercise that can capture your thoughts as they drift into unexpected places. In a quiet place, when you are relaxed and alone, sit with a pen and paper, and write as fast as you can without thought. You may want to use trigger words to get you started.
Try this: Now put it away, wait until you have a day off with a nice leisurely start and look at it again. The stream of consciousness that results may just take you to the answer.
4 Switch Angles
Often, our knowledge, past experience and personality cause us to make assumptions about a problem, which limits our thinking. Studies have shown that we are able to solve twice as many problems when they are distant, rather than close to our real lives.
Try this: Take on different perspectives. “How would my grandmother have responded to this problem?” “How would a scientist approach it?” “What about an artist?” Have fun and view it through as many filters as you can until you feel enlightened.
5 Worry Breaks
Do little niggling anxieties or bigger headaches make it impossible for you to switch off? This is a paradoxical approach but, for 15 minutes, focus entirely on what’s worrying you. Hold up the problem to the light, examine it fully and allow all the worst-case scenarios to flood your mind. Don’t fight your feelings, but recognise them. At the end of the time, put the problem away mentally. Having given it your full attention will mean your subconscious will go on processing your feelings, but it won’t be at the forefront.
Try this: If you do start to feel tense about it again, postpone thinking about it until the next worry break.
6 Identify What Matters
Do you have a clear idea of what your purpose is and what really matters to you? It can be easy to lose track of this, but time spent thinking about yourself will remind you and make you feel grounded. Make a list of your values, for example: creativity, kindness, authenticity. How are you honouring them in your life at the moment? Check out your Kindle book list, the music on your playlist, the plays or films you’ve loved or want to see.
Try this: Ask friends and family about your passions, what they think you love. All this information will help you see what matters to you personally and what your purpose is. Once you have identified your purpose, forget about the outcome and start working towards it in small, manageable proportions. If you overwhelm yourself, clarity will be the first casualty. When setbacks strike, or your mind feels like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, step back and allow yourself to begin again without judgement. The more you can do this without attachment to the outcome, the more you learn to love the process, instead of the final result. Have faith that all will be well. With peace and enjoyment comes crystal-clear thinking!
7 Make It A Daily Habit
Once you’ve found clarity, how can you build it into everyday life?
- Make regular time for yourself away from everyday distractions. Aim for minimal planning so that your brain can enjoy the present moment.
- Walking is a wonderful clarity booster, as our minds have to be alert to our movements and the environment instead of chipping away at the task we’ve set it when stationary. It takes us beyond our constant thinking and gives our minds a break so that changes in perspective can occur.
- Avoid the familiarity trap New experiences have a powerfully refreshing effect. Think of things you’ve always wanted to do. Go to a symphony. Try a still-life art class. Regularly step outside of your routine. Each new experience will open up your mind and help your brain think along new lines instead of running on autopilot.
- Keep a journal for a little while. It may sound like a teenage indulgence, but science has shown that routinely organising your thoughts in a journal calms a busy mind, unravels emotions and boosts clarity. Though we usually problem-solve from the logical, left-brained perspective, sometimes the right-brained intuition is what we need.
- Exercise aerobically Brain activity is fuelled by oxygen, and studies have shown that vigorous aerobic exercise leads to significantly enhanced reasoning and thinking scores.
- Take regular breaks Excessive stress leads to high levels of cortisol in the body, which leaves you feeling confused and unable to see what matters and what doesn’t. If possible, reorganise your holidays to take regular long weekends away.
Words Anna Moore