For as long as I can remember I’ve had an active mind. Thoughts flow in and out like planes at a busy airport. In some ways it’s a strength. I see opportunities everywhere and am great at thinking through complex problems. The downside is when I can’t turn it off. I start over analyzing everything, bringing unnecessary complexity and stress into my life. Simple concerns become drawn out debates. Tomorrow’s challenges always feel like today’s. I lose sleep. I grind my teeth. I get less done. I’m unhappy.
This really became a problem when I was 26. My first response was to surrounded myself with people and activities that would keep me busy. Ironic that I opted to overcome a busy mind by creating a busy life. This just gave my brain more to chew on. Next I self-medicated. A couple beers would silence the internal debates, but they always came back. I tried exercising, hoping that exhausting myself in the day would keep my brain from running laps at night. It didn’t and I quickly resented the exercise itself since it wasn’t achieving what I really wanted – a quiet mind. After five years of experimenting, the three practices below are what have helped me quiet my mind so I can focus on what really matters.
Commit: For the majority of my life, I was afraid of working on myself (post here) and that fear kept me from acting. I ignored my problems because I didn’t want to, or know how to, make a change. Turns out problems don’t just disappear. It takes time, energy, and will-power to address them. Tackling an over-active mind is no different. The first step has to be committing to put in the work, or anything else you do will be short lived.
Give Your Demons a Voice: Growing up, most men I knew didn’t speak about their feelings. I followed suite. Without air, those feelings festered and became demons in the form of resentment, jealousy, and insecurity. The simple trick that helped me quiet my demons was to give them a voice. I did this by journaling, allowing my demons to vent on my terms. Over time, these journal entries became ‘data’ that helped me determine which demons were causing the most damage.
Make Time to Think: Most of us feel like there isn’t enough time in the day. Our schedules are over-booked and each spare minute is filled with newsfeeds and updates. Thinking is becoming a lost art. All that noise keeps us from hearing the one voice that matters most, our inner genius. And it only speaks up when we give it space. The practice that works best for is a brief morning meditation. Random thoughts may enter my brain, but giving them my attention is a choice. Meditation taught me how to ignore fleeting thoughts and dive deep into the ones that keep showing up. It gives me space to listen to my gut. It helps me hear my inner genius.
These ideas are nothing new, but they’ve made a huge difference in my life. I am better at managing my stress, have gained clarity on what’s important to me, and spend more time/energy/attention focusing on things that matter. If you overanalyze every situation or struggle to quiet your brain, consider giving them a try. Who knows, they may work for you too!
- If you are new to journaling, don’t over-complicate it. Just write, write, and keep writing. You’ll be surprised what shows up. If you find yourself getting stuck too often, check out The Most Dangerous Writing App
- If you’ve never meditated, TRY IT! Insight timer and headspace (both in my resources section) are great places to get started.