Today during my meditation session, I found it really hard to calm my mind. Thoughts kept running in and out, popping up and down like ping pong balls.
As I observed the thoughts, most of them were thoughts about things I didn’t have closure with, or thoughts that were painting future situations I might experience; an important business phone call, a meeting I forgot to schedule, tension building around a friendship, what to do about 4th of July, my upcoming moving arrangements, and a host of other things darting in and out.
What’s cool is that I was able to observe those thoughts for a second, and then, while I meditate, set them free for 12 minutes. One by one.
My takeaway was that I couldn’t fully give myself today until I gave myself mental room to be clear. I needed to make space in my mind for calmness.
As my friend, Darren Hardy, pointed out in his High Performance Seminar I attended, your brain is similar to a computer. We have long term memory and short-term memory (referred by us computer nerds as RAM). RAM for a computer is used to open and close programs, and find data quickly and a non-sequential order.
Have you ever noticed your computer slowing down after you’ve had it open for a while? Each time you open a new program, your computer assigns some of its RAM to the task. If you keep opening programs or leave the computer on for days and days, the RAM is eaten up, and your computer slows down to a crawl.
The same thing goes on in your brain.
Each time your ‘open’ something new in your brain without getting closure or without resetting, you eat up some of your own personal RAM. Eventually, your head is spinning, you can’t concentrate on the task at hand, you feel worried or anxious, and you are either (a) regretful over the past or (b) fearful of what might happen in the future. Your RAM is gone and you’re powerless to do your best work right now.
So, how do we reset? How do we clear our personal RAM to make space? Here are some tips I’ve found handy.
Write it down
We all have Androids or iPhones. Use the Notes section of your phone to capture anything that you need to do that you have not yet put on the calendar or your to-do list. Then, when you’re planning your day or week, transfer those notes and assign the task to a specific day. Did you forget to call your friend and congratulate them? Either take action on it immediately, or jot it down in your notes and review at the appropriate time.
This creates space by freeing your mind from having to remember it over and over. It allows you to observe and capture it, then act on it at a later time.
Unless you train yourself, most of your thoughts will be spent on things you cannot change at this moment. You will either be thinking about a past event that you cannot change, or a future situation that does not yet exist. Most of that time wastes your RAM. Make a choice – day by day – to observe where your thoughts are and move them to what you can do about things right now. That’s where you get your power – by applying your energy to thoughts and tasks that you can control right now.
When something in my past keeps bothering me, it tells me that I don’t yet have completeness with it. Then, my brain keeps bringing it up, over and over, until I deal with it.
How to clear the thoughts
- Observe the thoughts.
- Ask myself, “Is this within my control to change?” If not, then I work to release it. I decide to accept what is, instead of what I think should be.
- If it is in my control, I ask myself, “Is there anything I can do about this, right now?
- If so, do it immediately, or plan it out (with a time and date).
- If not, I write a note to think about it again at some point in the future, then I let it go.
What I’ve done is cleared space in my head to think and do things that (a) I can control and (b) that I have power to influence at this time. It allows me to “clear my RAM” and work on the most important and real-time events right now. It gives me the right to accept that I don’t have to know the answers, I don’t have to control the outcome, and I don’t have to worry about things. It gives me mental space to focus my energies on what I am doing now, and it produces better results.
I wish this was easy to do, but it’s a lot of hard work. I’d grade myself a “C” on it right now. I’ve had to really work on clearing my personal RAM. But what I’ve observed is that the more you observe and clear, the easier it gets. At first, I totally sucked at it. Now I suck less. And tomorrow, I might even get good at it.
If you find you suck at it at first, that’s OK. It’s normal. But keep practicing and you’ll rewire your brain to create space for today.
Bonus: 3 Steps to Having a Great Day:
- Stop for a moment, take a few minutes and let your mind dwell on three things you’re grateful for.
- Choose to live today free from the failures of yesterday.
- Choose not to worry about what might, or might not, happen tomorrow.
Try it out. Then, repeat tomorrow.
What are ways you make space for yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips. Leave a comment.
I caught this picture this evening as the sun cut through the clouds over the San Diego bay.
The contrast between the overhanging clouds and the light was powerful for me. It reminded me that, in life, we have a choice of what to focus on. We can choose to focus on the dark clouds, or we can choose the sun. Same picture, same circumstances.
Let’s focus on the positive and let the sun shine through.
One of my favorite short reminders of how to live life can be found written on the wall in Mother Theresa‘s bedroom of her home for children in Calcutta, India. It is a constant reminder to live by a set of principles that are grounded, unfettered by the whims of societal change.
I wish I could say I was good at abiding by all of these, but I’m still a work in progress.
People are often illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will certainly win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years building, others could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give anyway.
And here are a few more that I’ve added personally from my own experiences…
And if the world rewards mediocrity, choose to give the world your best anyway.
If you take the worthy road, people may beat you to the finish line. Take the worthy road anyway.
If you show common dignity for all, some will not return the same courtesy. Show common dignity anyway.
If you give love unconditionally, you will get hurt. Give love anyway.
I’ve really come to appreciate the value being curious, where curiosity is defined as a state of mind where one is interested in the how, why, what, when, or where of an event or statement.
Curiosity allows us to challenge ourselves, challenge what we’re being told, see if things make sense (vs. blind acceptance), and make breakthrough’s that we would never even consider before. By giving ourselves the permission to dig a little deeper and feed our minds, it helps us discover new passions in ourselves and new delights in others.
Staying Curious in Business
In business, staying curious is more than a good habit. It’s critical to your success. A good way to practice curiosity is to do zero-based thinking.
What that means is taking a look at a problem or situation without the shackles of your current perception. Approach the challenge this way. Ask yourself,
“If I had not made the decision I did, and I knew then what I know today, would I still make the decision again?”
If the answer is no, then step away and see how you can unwind. There is no credit for climbing a ladder if it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Curiosity in Personal Life
In your personal life, over the long term, staying curious is one of the key components to keeping your mind young, vibrant, sharp, and in shape. And if your mind is in shape, it’s much easier to improve your quality of life over the long term.
Try it out for a couple weeks. Do things purposely to build your CQ (curiosity quotient).
- Order a different beverage at Starbucks
- Go to the local coffee house instead of Starbucks
- Go a new route to work
- Work on displaying an emotion that has become dormant
- Surprise your significant other and shake things up
- Ask why
- Ask why not
- Ask a co-worker to respectfully challenge you on something
- Become aware of your beliefs, then ask if they are still valid
The great Bob Dylan put it this way
“He who isn’t busy being born each day is busy dying”
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