Today I’m going to share a simple exercise that I use to achieve mental clarity quickly. You will find this very useful for different purposes, such as to
- Clear your head (especially if you are feeling cluttered)
- Calm yourself down (if you are feeling restless, troubled, or stressed up)
- Free up mental energy (if you are feeling tired)
I’ve been doing this lately and found it incredibly helpful. I also recommend this exercise to my clients to clear mental blocks.
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 one before).
Every computer has RAM — random-access memory, a form of data storage — which determines its processing capacity. The more applications you run, the more RAM it uses, and the slower your computer gets. If you have used resource-intensive programs like Autodesk Maya (a graphics modeling software) and Sony Vegas Pro (a video editing software) or have played resource-intensive games like Halo and Diablo below, you have probably closed 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 to recalling past events to analyzing data. The more available 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 for usage all the time. Half of it is usually 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, or some music we just heard in the mall.
Much of our mental clutter is created by external stimuli. From the second you wake up in the morning to when you sleep at night, you are exposed to tons of external stimuli. The more contact you have with the world, the more stimuli you are exposed to. If you are a busy executive, you are probably bombarded with tons of stimuli every day, such as all the demands you get at work, random occurrences and advertisements you see on your way to or back from work, and conversations with people. Even if you live like a hermit, you will still be exposed to external stimuli.
It’s never obvious how much these stimuli impact us until we stop to observe our mental activity, say through introspection or meditation. Think of this clutter as the unimportant programs and apps running in your computer. You don’t need them for your computer to function. By having them run in the background, they are using precious resources. Likewise, when we don’t process our mental clutter, we’ll start to have less RAM for our use. The higher our mental clutter, the lower our mental clarity. Eventually our mind is so full of clutter that we have no more mental RAM left. This is when we get very irritable and we can’t focus.
Luckily, we have a natural biological process that clears our mental clutter — sleep. Specifically REM sleep. However, this is not an effective clutter-clearing process since we only undergo REM for 25% of our sleeping time. Meditation also helps us clear mental clutter as well — many people who meditate feel calmer and experience increased clarity because of this reason. However, you may not be able to meditate when you want to — 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.
That’s where today’s exercise comes in. 🙂
Increase Mental Clarity via Brain Dumping
This exercise is known as brain dumping since you are dumping out the contents of your mind through writing. Here’s what to do:
- Pick a medium of writing. Either pen/paper or a word processor. I prefer the word processor as I type faster than I write. Plus you save paper too!
- 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 dump out whatever is on your mind. There’s no need to overthink this. It’s about pouring out what’s in your head.
- Just keep doing this for the next 15 minutes, or however long it takes for your mind to clear up. 10 minutes is usually good for me, while I can take an hour on the days I feel really bogged down.
Compared to sleep or meditation, brain dumping is a more effective way to create mental clarity. With sleep, you have to wait until REM sleep kicks in before your mental clutter gets processed, not to mention that you’ll get knocked out for 1-2 hours for a nap or 6-8 hours for a full night’s sleep. With meditation, you got to wait for your thoughts to “float” around in your head before they get processed. With brain dumping though, your writing speed determines how fast your mind gets cleared. If you type fast, you can process lots of clutter really quickly.
I use this exercise when I feel mentally bogged down, when I need to achieve 100% focus on an upcoming task (like a coaching session), or when I feel stressed up. In just 15 minutes, I can clear a lot of clutter. If I was sleepy before, the exercise makes me more awake and feel mentally “lighter” afterward. I can concentrate a lot better. 🙂
It’s interesting to review what you have written after the exercise. Usually you will notice your thoughts jumping all over the place. One moment you may be thinking about what you had for breakfast; the next you may be thinking about your meeting with your boss; and the next you may be thinking about when’s your next vacation. As random and weird as they may be, these thoughts have always been on your mind. The exercise merely brought them out so they’re now out of your head. The longer you spend on brain dumping, the more clutter you can clear, and the higher your mental clarity.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that you stop thinking about X after you clear a thought on it. Maybe you have 50 strands of thought about X and the exercise only removed 2 strands of those thoughts. Maybe you come across X later or something that reminds you of X, thus recreating that thought.
Since you will always be exposed to external stimuli, you need to brain dump regularly to maintain a high level of mental clarity. Just like bathing, eating, and sleeping, you should brain dump frequently as part of a personal decluttering process. Do this often, and you will feel a greater sense of mental clarity and calmness in your life. 🙂
You can also take this exercise to the next level — beyond just dumping out what’s on your mind, take this chance to dig into the root causes of those thoughts. Why am I thinking this? What’s making me feel this way? Keep asking why, and dig into the interesting thoughts. You may well arrive at some deep realizations in the process. 🙂
- Create Real Change In Life: Address Root Cause vs. Effects
- Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program, my 30-day character transformation program which includes many brain dumping exercises to dig into the root causes of our emotions and issues
As for the contents of what you wrote, delete them. There’s no need to keep them unless you got some interesting insights and you want to keep the documents for self-evaluation.
Have fun doing the exercise! It works very well for me and I’m sure it’ll be very useful for you too. 🙂