When you get home from work, is it hard to turn off your mind: The spilling-over-list of to-dos, the important meeting that’s coming up tomorrow, project A-1 that’s due on Friday, and oh, you forgot to attend the team meeting today?
Worse yet is when you’re winding down to go to sleep and your mind switch stays ON. The more you worry about the missed meeting and how you’ll pull off the project, the more your mind keeps spinning around, obsessing on things you can’t control at 11:00 at night.
What to do?
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman offers these simple “thought-stopping techniques” in his book Learned Optimism.
Put a Halt to Your Thoughts
If someone was shouting loudly into their cell phone right next to your cube, you’d tell them to stop, right? That’s what Seligman says to do to your own mind, too. Make the command urgent and firm. You can say it aloud, in your head, or write “STOP” in large letters on a sticky note and post it on the edge of your computer screen. Print out a stop sign and tape it to your ceiling at night when you’re trying to catch some rest. If you prefer a more intense approach to behavioral modification, Seligman recommends that you put a rubber band on your wrist. He says to give it a good SNAP when your mind chatter races.
Has someone ever said a joke in the middle of a heated debate and you laughed so hard you forgot what you were arguing about? Interrupting your train of thought also works for clearing mind clutter. As soon as the chatter fires up, give your mind something else to focus on, such as returning an important phone call. If that still spins you into obsessing, look out the window and focus on the orange leaves blowing in the wind. You’re not going to sit there and day dream, it’s just a quick diversion to switch gears and then re-focus your mind in a more productive way. Moving around can snap you out of it, too. Jog over to the water cooler for a cold drink. Check off a fast action that’s not related to your mind chatter.
Reschedule to Another Time
Be the aikido master of your own mind: turn the force of the mind chatter against itself. It has a survival purpose, after all. Your mind knows instinctively to repeat things over and over to fend off danger. (“Turn off the stove, turn off the stove, turn off the stove”) But in mind chatter’s effort of self-preservation, it’s too lizard-like to know when it’s no longer serving a survival purpose and is making you edgy in the process. The solution? Seligman says to reschedule with yourself. If your mind ruminates on stopping by your boss’ office on your way out, reschedule that thought. Say to yourself, “I’ll think about you at 4:55 p.m.” Of course, be sure to enter it into your calendar and set a reminder. Then your mind is free.
Try these mind tricks to unlock chatter mind’s grip and get back to what’s important.
Sue Brenner is a regular contributor to Unclutterer and also can be found on her personal blog Action Symphony.