Increase Your Mental Clarity in Just 15 Minutes

Water Droplet

Today I’m going to share a simple exercise I use to achieve mental clarity quickly. You will find this very useful for different purposes, such as to

  1. Clear your head (especially if you are feeling cluttered)
  2. Calm yourself down (if you are feeling restless, troubled, or stressed up)
  3. Free up mental energy (if you are feeling tired)

I’ve been doing this of late and found it to be incredibly helpful. It’s also the same exercise I recommend to my clients to clear mental blockages.

How It Works – By Increasing Mental RAM

Now, I assume all of us reading this have a computer (or at the very least, have used it before).

Every computer has RAM — random-access memory, which is a form of storage — which determines its processing capacity. The more applications you run on your computer, the more RAM it uses and the slower your computer gets. If you have used resource-intensive programs such as Autodesk 3ds Max (a graphics modeling software) and Sony Vegas Pro (a video editing software) or played resource-intensive games like Halo and Diablo below, you probably have done things like closing unwanted applications to free up RAM for these programs.

Like the computer, our brain has its own RAM too. Our RAM is used for all kinds of brain work, from thinking, recalling past events, analyzing data, to the processing subconscious thoughts. The more RAM you have at your disposal, the more RAM you have to focus on your tasks at hand.

However, not all our RAM is available when we want them. At least half is occupied with mental clutter – thoughts running in the background.

What are these thoughts about? Anything, really – whether its some task we have to yet to do, some issue we are facing, some advertisement we just saw on TV just now, music we just heard in the mall, etc.

Majority of the clutter is triggered by external stimuli. From the second you wake up in the morning, to when you sleep for the night, you are exposed to many stimuli in your environment. The more active contact you have with the world, the more stimuli you are exposed to. If you are a busy corporate executive, you probably get bombarded with lots of stimuli every day, from your workplace, the society and mass media. Even if you live like a hermit, you will still be faced with your own set of external stimuli.

It’s never obvious how much of these stimuli impacts us until we stop to observe our mental activity, say through introspection or meditation. Think of this clutter as the unimportant programs and applications running in your computer. You don’t need them for your computer to function. By virtue of them running in the background, they’re using previous resources. When we don’t process the clutter, we’ll get to a point when we have lesser and lesser available RAM, till there’s no more.

Luckily, we have a biological process in which we clear this clutter – Sleep. Specifically REM sleep. However, it’s not the most effective clutter clearing process since we only undergo REM during 25% of our sleep time. The other 75% is non-REM.

Meditation also helps to clear mental clutter as well. Many people who meditate, feel calmer and experience clearer states of minds because of the same reason. However, sometimes you may not be able to do so – say when you are at work, when you feel too restless to meditate, or when you’re too sleepy and may fall asleep during meditation.

This is where today’s exercise comes in.

Freeing Your Mental RAM via Brain Dumping

This is known as a brain dumping exercise, since you are dumping the contents of your mind via writing:

  1. Pick a medium of writing – Either pen/paper or a word processor. My pick is the word processor cause I type faster than I write. Plus, you get to save paper too!
  2. Type whatever comes to mind. When I say whatever, I mean whatever! For example, if you are looking at the paper and thinking “wow, this looks so white”, then write that. If you don’t know what to write, then just write “I don’t know what to write”. Basically just get whatever is on your mind down. There’s no need to overthink this. It’s just to get down what you are thinking.
  3. Just keep doing this for the next 15 minutes, or however long it takes for your mind to feel clearer. Sometimes just 10 minutes is sufficient for me, while I can take over an hour during the times I’m really bogged down.

Here, we’re using writing to clear the clutter in our mind. It’s a more effective way of processing clutter than sleep or meditation. With sleep, you have to wait till REM before clutter is processed. With meditation, the thought is processed as it “floats” around and out of your head. With this exercise though, the speed you write determines how fast it gets processed. If you type fast, you can process a lot of clutter really quickly.

I use this when I’m feeling mentally bogged, when I need to my full focus on an upcoming task, or when I need to perk myself up for an upcoming task. I can get a lot of clutter cleared out in just 15 minutes, resulting in a much clearer mental state. If I was sleepy before, the exercise leaves me more awake and mentally “lighter” afterward. I can definitely concentrate better.

It’s interesting to read back at what you have written after the 15 minutes. Usually you will notice your thoughts jumping from all places. One moment you may be thinking about what you had for breakfast, the next you may be thinking about your meeting with your boss last week, then the next you may be thinking about your vacation for next holidays. As random as they may be, as queer as they may see, these thoughts have always been on your mind – the exercise merely brought them out so they’re now cleared from your mind. The longer you spend on this exercise, the more clutter you can clear, and the higher your mental clarity.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you stop thinking about XYZ after you clear a thought. Maybe you have 50 strands of thought about XYZ and the exercise only removed 2 strands of those thoughts. Maybe you come across XYZ later or something that reminds you of XYZ, thus retriggering the thought.

Since you will always be exposed to stimuli, you need to repeatedly do the brain dumping exercise to maintain this mode of increased mental clarity. Just like bathing, eating, or sleeping, you need to do this frequently as part of the clearing/up keeping process. Do this often, and you will feel a greater sense of mental clarity. You’ll also feel calmer as well.

You can also take the exercise to the next level – beyond just dumping what’s on your mind, take the chance to dig into the root causes of those thoughts. Keep asking why, and dig into it. You may just arrive at some deep realizations in the process.


As for the contents of what you wrote, delete or trash them. There’s no need to keep them unless certain things gave you new insights and you want to keep them as an evaluation process.

Have fun doing this exercise! It works very well for me and I’m sure it’ll be very useful for you too. :D

Image: Droplet

  • Carol C

    I love this exercise. At first I thought I would write it out but then I decided to try typing because I have a thumb splint on. The first couple of thoughts, I typed as if someone was going to read them. Then I realized that I was going to delete them anyway so I started typing while staring off in the distance. It was so liberating to not worry about spelling (or even if I had my fingers on the right keys) because even I wouldn’t be reading it. When I started the exercise I was feeling tired and at loose ends. When I finished I was laughing. Thanks Celes for another great tool :mrgreen:

  • maria

    Wow I do this ALL the time especially on the commute on the train. But I didn’t realize its about writing out anything because I always write down ideas and future plans, as a to do list.

  • rey

    It’s like you have been reading my mind, or I have talked to you. This is the process that I have been using to uncluster my mind for the past two week. It’s definitely works! At least someone sees things the same way I see it.

  • D

    I do this all the time. I have a 5 subject notebook that I begin writing whatever comes to mind. But I included margins with one word phrases. I drool when I see a large porcelain whiteboard, brain dumping…Yes!!

  • Juan Manuel Garrido

    Cool method!

  • Mariam

    Thanks a lot!
    I was having a bad mood and I felt like carrying mountains on my shoulders. Just writing my worries down uplifted my spirit, and here I am ready to go and explore the whole life purpose thing.

    Thanks again :)

  • Tansies

    This was a really amazing exercise for me and nothing I have tried before. Often I find it hard to see the wood for the trees and this helped me to clearly write down my worries and also specific mechanisms to help me deal with them effectively and ultimately overcome them. I can understand throwing away random thoughts, but what I ended up with was a really cohesive explanation of the issues I am facing and ways to combat them. So I think I will keep my musings to refer back to- after all we can’t change over night and I need to retrain myself.