How to stop the mind chatter and be more here and now?

Talking to myself has one big advantage, I always agree with myself in the end. But apart from this, there isn’t much benefits of the over-thinking and over-analyzing. It’s very easy to wind myself up with the constant stream of consciousness and, also, miss the life happening around me!

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Since I’ve moved to Mauritius and work from home, I spend a lot of time on my own. That leads, unavoidably, to a lot of ‘self-talk’. My mind is constantly on the move and taking into consideration that, apparently, around 80% of our day to day activities are programmed, so that we can do them almost automatically (e.g. driving, eating, cooking), what the hell am I thinking about? I actually stopped several times this week and here is what I’ve noticed:

1.Over-analyzing the past – something happened yesterday, 2 months ago, 10 years ago and I’m still thinking about it! Why? Because I’m not happy with how things went. I analyze the whole situation again and again and try to make it look in my head at least a bit as I would have wanted… The trick that I’ve learned to fight this, is to:

  • Say honestly to myself what happened – even the most embarrassing parts – nobody but me needs to know, but I have to say it loud
  • Come up with what I should have done and said instead and what I will say if I’m ever in exactly the same situation in the future (this is not likely to happen, but this helps my brain to get over the old and focus on potential the new)
  • Say it loud: Next time I am in a similar situation I will say XYZ or I will do ABC. This really helps to ‘close’ this event in my mind and move on.

2. Worrying about the future – things haven’t happened yet but it’s best to think of every possible future scenario and be prepared? Not really. Unless you are preparing for an interview or an exam, in real life, this doesn’t work. The worrying itself is mostly fear that we can’t control the future. We believe that by thinking of all the things that can go wrong will give us advantage but it won’t. Whenever I catch myself on worrying excessively, I try to identify what I am afraid of and CONSCIOUSLY focus on things I can control.

3. Escaping reality – “I am not happy about how things are now, so I just mentally send myself somewhere else in my mind to make myself feel better”. I used to do this one quite a lot. I would imagine alternative versions of my life with different partners, in different countries, different jobs… and it never clicked, that I was doing it because I was unhappy in my current life at that time. The truth is that this actually doesn’t help. Not only we stop ourselves from noticing what is wrong here and now but also avoid actually doing anything to make our situation better. So we end up even more miserable and longing for this alternative reality that will never happen, if we don’t admit we are unhappy and start DOING something to start the changes.

So what can we do, to stop us thinking too much and be more here and now? What worked best for me, was to say STOP! every time I caught myself overthinking or losing touch with reality and change my physical state: get up, walk a bit, make a tea – movement helps to stop the track of thoughts. Then I would do one of the above presented counter-actions.

Below you can also find some long term techniques that are designed to put the mind on a slower gear in general, so we stop being compulsive thinkers. It is worth noting, however, that: in order for them to work, it is recommended to try them every day, at least for a week to see what works best for you and start seeing the results. I’m talking here about CONSCIOUS EFFORT to retrain our brain. Yes, it is possible – I’m doing it right now.

  1. Morning writing – this technique comes from a book “The Artist Way” but my version of it, that I’ve learned from One of Many™, is to write every morning, as soon as you can after waking up. The writing is not really a diary but rather a written form of stream of consciousness. You write EVERYTHING that comes to your mind and don’t stop to think. You write fast and you write for at least 3 A4 pages! The entry can look a bit like this:

    Oh sh** I’m so sleepy. I shouldn’t have watched that last episode last nigh. But it was good. I wonder if Arja kills Cersei, she really deserves it and John Snow… What was this dream about, there were some knights riding horses but one had only one leg and was riding a donkey. Oh, I need a holiday it would be nice to go back to Egypt again soon. Oh no, I forgot to send that report last night, F***. If I go to work earlier I can send it today, that should still be ok. And still have to do the presentation, hope Dave won’t chase me today…. but what Adam said last week was really outrageous. Who does he thing he is?!

    So as you can see, not much sense or continuum. Just like our brain works. Our mind is very complex but we can learn to harness it a bit with some simple tricks, like the writing. Apparently, when we write something down, our brain thinks It’s written down, so I don’t have to think about it any more. And it really works. How many time do you think on average that you have to remember to buy the toilet paper before you actually do it? I bet at least 5! And it’s just one of the million things to do! Not to mention the ‘big’ stuff we think about even more often.

  2. Meditation – To be honest I am not really good at this but when I struggle to fall asleep, for example, because there is something on my mind that keeps me going, I like to listen to some guided meditation. My personal all times favorite is Louise Hay’s Evening meditation. You can find it on YouTube. It really works magic and the best sentence is: …Regardless of if it was the best day or the worst day of your life, it is over.
  3. Dedicated listening – When you have a conversation with someone, really listen to what they say. Don’t try to say all the things that come to your mind when you hear a familiar phrase or don’t get miles away in your own thoughts triggered by what someone said. Just listen to what the other person is saying. Really listen. You can show compassion and  understanding without overtaking the conversation and giving 10 of your own examples on how you have it even worse than them…. It’s a win win, you get your attention and compassion to the other person, so they feel important and supported, and you get to know something else, not just your own opinion.
  4. Feeling – be in your body, not in your mind. If ask you to feel your neck right now, without touching it, to feel how it feels right now. Is it tense, is it leaning to the front, is your shirt touching it? You are feeling, not thinking now. I strongly believe that our bodies are like compasses, they tell us which way to go, what to do. We just have to learn to listen to what and how they communicate. The often we practice to feel what’s going on with our body, the easier we can get to read these signs.

All the above ways to deal with over-thinking and tools to harness the galloping brain have one crucial aim: to help us live our lives here and now. So often we forget to look up, look around, listen. And we miss so much! A beautiful sunset, warm, spring rain, a hint that life is trying to give us, a solution to our problem… You never know what’s gonna come when you open your mind, so don’t be afraid to try.


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