You’re listening to the optimize Your Life podcast with Dr. Sharon Grossman, episode number four.
Welcome back to the Optimize Your Life podcast. I am so excited to be back and talk with you today about something that I think a lot of people struggle with, and I know because I’m talking to you all all the time. I’m hearing about how busy your mind is and I also know from personal experience. So let’s get right to it.
So today we’re going to talk about how to quiet your busy mind and I want to first start with the problem, the problem of having this busy mind. It’s really about not just thinking about lots of things, but also the problem of overthinking. And so let’s start by first defining what overthinking actually is.
So we use this term all the time and it’s actually really interesting when you think about it because overthinking, by definition, is thinking too much. And of course, that’s a very subjective term. Who is to say that what you are doing is too much? But I think it’s a very personal experience and you only would know. And how do you know if you’re overthinking, if you are thinking too much?
I want to share with you some ways to think about this so you have some concepts in your mind. When you are overthinking, typically what we see is that you don’t trust yourself. There’s a lot of anxiety about potentially missing some information so you’re constantly thinking about what else might there be. And this can lead to sabotage. Have you ever spent hours upon hours lying in bed wondering about all the things that could go wrong, wondering about whether you forgot something, or thinking about what is to come the following day? Maybe you had a presentation coming up and you became really worried about it so you were thinking about it and then you couldn’t get to sleep. This is something that is obviously not very helpful because if you do have that presentation, by staying up and worrying about it you are actually going to be less energized and less focused.
What else I can share with you is that you might have trouble taking all the thoughts that are roaming around in your head and actually translating them into action. So why do we have thoughts in the first place? Thoughts are there in order to help bring meaning to situations to help us feel certain ways about what’s happening around us and ultimately to drive action. And so if you’re having thoughts and you’re just kind of spinning and spinning and not actually turning those thoughts into some action then that’s the definition of being stuck, alright? So overthinking is one of the ways that you might become stuck.
I mentioned earlier anxiety so are you somebody who’s hyper-vigilant where you’re constantly scanning the environment worried about what might happen, thinking and overthinking all of this? That can create a lot of buzz in your head and so that’s how we get this busy mindset.
It might just be that you doubt yourself very much, so having self-doubt is something that’s going to create more anxiety and as a way to compensate for that, you might be searching for all the information that you might be missing. What are other people doing about this? How else might I think about this? What information might be missing? And certainly there’s nothing wrong with asking those questions. I actually think it’s very productive, but to a point. You don’t want to continuously ask yourself questions and not actually move forward. At some point you need to make a decision about what you’re going to do and it might mean that you make a decision not from a place of actually knowing what the right thing is, but you just have to decide that you’re starting. And so you pick a point to start and you go with it knowing full well that you might make mistakes that you might fail, that you might have to learn some more things in order to be able to get on the right path, but that’s okay. That’s part of the process.
It might be that part of the reason that you have self-doubt and that you spent so much time thinking and thinking and thinking is because you’re concerned about repeating your past patterns. You know, how many of you have had the same sort of events and situations happen in your life over and over again where no matter what you do you always end up in the same place? Maybe every time you have to give a presentation, as we said, you spend the night thinking about it, worrying about it, and then you show up the next day and you’re not feeling prepared? Your mind is not laser-focused. You’re not relaxed. That is a pattern. There could be a hundred different patterns, right?
It could be that maybe the way that you engage with your work is creating sabotage in the sense that you spend too much time on one task and you’re not able to get to all the other tasks on your desk so then you feel overwhelmed and things are just stressing you out. That is a pattern. If you’re always saying yes to everybody because you’re worried about what they’re going to think if you say no or that they won’t like you or that you’re going to hurt their feelings, that’s a pattern.
So are there some patterns that maybe you know did not work well in the past and you worry that they’re going to happen again so you’re trying to think of all the ways that you can do it differently this time? Again, this is very productive to be able to look at your past failures and what you can learn from them but you want to again get to that place of action and not stay stuck in that hamster wheel. The reason why this is problematic as you already know is that it just makes it harder for you to be present. Then what happens is you become stressed out, depressed, anxious about all the things that have happened and all the things that have yet to happen. It’s harder for you to enjoy your life. And one of the best ways for you to know that this is problematic is when you are meditating. So if you’ve ever tried to meditate and maybe given up on the practice because it was hard, because your mind was so busy, then that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It doesn’t mean that you should quit. It just means that it’s hard and the reason it’s hard right now is because your brain is not trained to be still. In fact, we’re born with a brain that is constantly buzzing around with a million thoughts. It’s our job to train it so that it becomes more still, so that we have more control over the whole process.
So I want to share with you some techniques that can help you in the moment when your mind is really busy and you’ve got all this mind chatter, how to calm that mind down so that you can relax, focus on the thing that you’re trying to do, and stop sabotaging yourself, alright?
So the first thing, which is so simple, and by the way–most of the time you’re going to find in life that the simplest things are the things that are the best solutions to your problems. But we overlooked them because they feel so simple. So I want to bring you always, always, always back to the basics.
So first thing: deep breathing. Why is this so important and why does everybody talk about breathing as something that can be helpful? Well what’s happening when you have all of these thoughts, it creates tension in your body. And when your body is tense and your mind is busy and thinking and all over the place, you don’t feel relaxed. You don’t feel like you have control over the process. You’re in a state of anxiety. You’re feeling stressed out. Deep breathing just helps to slow everything down, right? So instead of just buzzing and buzzing and buzzing, you’re just creating more of a pause, more of a space between those thoughts. You’re just allowing your body to exhale all of that tension and just relax, alright? So try that. As simple as it may sound. It might only take two or three deep breaths to completely shift you out of this tent situation. And guess what? When your body is more relaxed, you can think more clearly. If you’re stuck in a thought loop, guess what can happen for you? By taking some deep breaths you might get some clarity on what it is that you’re trying to figure out. You might be able to more quickly reach that aha point where you know exactly what it is that you need to do. So deep breathing. Huge.
Secondly, find ways to self-soothe. This might include taking a warm bath, breathing in some aromatherapy, finding some soothing calm music. Whatever it is for you, you want to find a way of engaging your senses so that you can soothe yourself. You’re shifting out of this really busy state of mind where everything is really frantic to a place where everything is just calm and smooth and soothing.
Think about how you feel when you walk into a spa and how they deliberately create it in such a way that there’s some ambience. You leave all your troubles at the door. You walk in and you immediately smell lavender or you hear some really nice soothing music. Or they’ve got some things in the environment that are really basic like Zen kind of art, right? Everything is minimalistic. There’s not a lot of clutter. And so think about how can you engage your senses, whether it’s what’s in front of you…Maybe the reason that you’re in such a frantic state is because you’ve got a million things on your desk and just seeing that clutter creates clutter in your mind. There’s a million things that you can do that can help you soothe.
The next thing is grounding. So what do I mean by that? When we are in a state of anxiety all of our energy is rising up. We’re all in our heads and we’re disconnected from the earth, we’re disconnected from our body. So I guarantee you that when you have this very busy mindset, you’re not really paying attention to what’s happening in your body, where you’re holding tension. So it’s a great way for you to get interconnected, to have the integration between mind and body. So how do we do this? Well again, there’s all different ways that you can ground. One way that is fairly well-known is that you go outside and you engage with nature. If you’ve ever gone walking on the beach or walking in the forest, you know how immediately it creates a shift within you. Now if you can’t go out physically, you can imagine yourself going to walk on the beach. You can imagine yourself taking your shoes off, walking on the sand, feeling it on the bottoms of your feet, noticing the beautiful color of the ocean and the ocean breeze and how it’s so warm and beautiful but refreshing. You can think about the scenery and anything that is going to put you at ease.
You can also just do a quick scan of your body. This is a great way to ground where all you do is close your eyes and slowly go from the top of your head all the way down to your feet but don’t do it in two seconds. You really take a good 15-20-30 seconds to slowly scan so that you can pay attention as you go down the sides of your head, the front and back of your face and head. You notice. Where you holding tension? What are you noticing is going on in your jaw, in your neck and your shoulders? So slowly take yourself down all the way to your feet and then see what you discovered. Often and we find that there is all this tension in our body we didn’t even know was there. So that’s a great way to do it.
For other people and especially you if you’re an introvert, I recommend doing some writing because that’s a great outlet to just get all of your thoughts on paper. Perhaps there’s a problem you’re trying to solve. you can start by writing out what the problem is and then brainstorm all of the ideas. Write them all down and then you’ll be able to pick the best one because it’s right in front of you, it’s in written form. It’s so much easier to organize your thoughts in this way. It’s also helpful when you are stuck and you’re not really sure what the answers are and so you’re kind of spinning out in your mind because you’re worried about not having the right answer. So what I recommend is taking out a piece of paper, writing the question at the very top, and then you leave it blank. And then you go do something and think about that question kind of in the back of your mind. So you might go for a walk or you might go, if your swimmer, you go do some laps. Or you go do some other activity and you just kind of pose that question. Or maybe in meditation you ask yourself that and then you got real quiet and all of a sudden things starts a pop-up. And as a pop-up, you write them down onto that piece of paper. So writing is a great way.
And finally, writing down thoughts that bring up anxiety and self-doubt is another way because then it also offers you an opportunity to challenge your thoughts. Until we see the thoughts on paper, it’s really hard for us to slow down the process enough to sit with our thoughts and say, “does this really make sense? Why am I stuck thinking all these things?” We have these thinking patterns that get us into real trouble. And so when you have it down on paper, you can actually sit down and look at it. This is a way of making your thoughts concrete. Then you ask yourself, “how is this thought making me feel?” And then notice what you feel. And then as a result, what is the action? Is the action, is the behavior that I am not moving forward. I’m just ruminating or I’m just overthinking. Then that’s a problem and then what do I need to do in order to change it? So having that on paper is a great way to help you just calm and quiet that really busy mind.
So to recap, we talked about five ways that you can really calm that busy brain of yours and here they are again. Deep breathing, self-soothing, grounding, writing, and challenging your thoughts. So now I want you to start to implement some of these strategies as your thoughts are occurring to you, as you notice that your mind is really busy. If you have been trying to calm your mind down and you’re noticing that it won’t sit still, especially when you’re meditating you’re noticing it, just take some breaths. Just focus in on the inhale and the exhale. Remember, it’s always about coming back to the basics and slowing everything down. Alright! So I hope this is helpful and I’ll talk to you next week take care