If you’re like me then ideas are constantly in your head at all times of the day. Whether going to bed or driving along the freeway, something will pop into my head and nag at me for however long I choose to think about it. For many years, the sheer accumulation of thoughts in my head, when is this due? did I call my friend back? did I pay that bill? lead to unwanted stress in the short-term and not letting these ideas out in some way lead to unwanted mental weight in the long term as well. Simply put, I did not have a good handle on how to cope with, what seemed like, out-of-control thinking at all hours of the day.
It is not until recently did I begin to learn different method to cope with letting these ideas out and as a result reducing my mental stress level. The changes were like night and day and as a result, I felt like I was able to flow my ideas in a neater more precise way and effectively break down what each of these ideas meant. More importantly, I learned never to squelch thoughts – but rather preserve them and expand upon them later rather than try to do everything in the present.
Mind Like a River
Here are a few of the methods that I learned over a series of months to how to cope with excessive thinking and over-thinking:
1. Write things down. Simply write your idea down on a piece of paper and make a collection of these ideas in a clearly marked folder called “Ideas”, “Thoughts” or something like that. By writing the idea down, it is no longer an abstraction in your mind; now it is a tangible idea scripted to paper. Transforming ideas from abstractions to real-time items might sound simple and ineffective, but being able to look at a stack of papers and see them as a stack of your ideas instead is rewarding change of perspective. Plus you can go back and look at backlogged ideas at your leisure, rather than trying to remember them!
Here’s what my workspace looks like. There’s always a pad of paper and pen ready with my clearly marked, “IDEAS/THOUGHTS” folder:
2. Say it out-loud. Similar mentality to writing it down. Bouncing ideas off out-loud gets the idea out of your head and turns the abstraction into an audible phenomena which your brain will process differently.
3. Forget. This is a corollary to the other two points. The goal is to get the idea out of your head so that you are not thinking about it anymore. “Forget” may or may not be the best word to describe this, but it does bear an aspect of truth to it: once the idea is out, why should you continue to try to waste mental energy continuing to think about it? Once it’s out – it’s out!
Focus, clarity of mind and stress are all interconnected in some way. Lack of the former two will increase the latter one and vice versa. The key is to treat your mind like a constantly moving stream. The mind should not stop working – nor can it – but it can be re-directed and channelled in a more effective way.