6 May 2016

Three Steps to Settling a Busy Mind


Imagine a snow globe, complete with Santa and his reindeers pulling his sleigh across the sky. Mentally shake it. Watch as the flakes whirl and dive, obscuring the festive scene. Now, mentally put it down and let the snowflakes settle. Notice the picture of Santa becoming clear and crisp again. Imagine that you were able to obtain such clarity by settling your busy mind.

According to a 2010 Harvard research paper, our minds are lost in thought on average 47% of the time. That means that we are lost in our thinking for almost half of our waking hours. As the researchers at Harvard said ‘A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.’

I’ve only ever been able to access my ‘wisdom’ when my mind is clear and settled. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can only consciously do one thing at a time. If I allow my mind to settle then I’m more likely to do it well and not have to deal with the repercussions of it having been done badly.

Finding a way of settling your mind is the first key step. There are lots of fun ways to do that but most of them take time that we don’t have right now. We can’t go for a walk in nature or hop on a sailing boat when a deadline is looming and we’re feeling the stress of all of those things that need to be done. My technique is to think of the snow globe, and imagine my thoughts settling to the bottom of my mind. There’s also a nifty approach called the ‘mindfulness minute’; take the number of deep breaths that you can comfortably manage in a minute – focussing on the ‘in and out’ sensation of the breath entering and leaving the body. A blast of music for 60 seconds might do the trick for you. Whatever it is, find a technique that you can readily engage whenever your mind begins to race.

There’s only ever one current priority – the thing that needs to be done first. The definition of priority is ‘a thing which is regarded as more important than others’. ‘Priority’ wasn’t used in its plural form until well in to the twentieth century. That there is always one thing truly more important than any other is handy, because we can only ever do one thing at a time. Choose that one thing. Don’t deviate by checking your emails, making a list or grabbing a cup of coffee. If you’re not clear on what’s the single priority RIGHT NOW then do the thing that’s urgent, important and you least want to do, no matter how long you think it’s going to take you – because step number three will help with that.

Set the timer on your phone for seven minutes and start working on that one thing. Ignore the voice in your head that’s telling you it’ll take an hour to do that one thing. It might – but you’re just going to start it right now. Who knows, you may well finish it in one sitting, or you may not. But your brain will feel the relief of the job having been started.

If you want to settle your busy mind, identify your ‘settling technique’, remember that there’s only ever one priority in a single moment, and set that timer without dithering or delaying. After all, you can grab a coffee in seven minutes’ time.