Slow Down Your Thoughts
Are you busy today? Do you feel and think: “I’m busy!!” The thoughts in your mind spinning, rotating from thought to thought without real action or true movement!? The Busy Mind is at work.
In those moments, when caught in a busy mindset, I find myself in a paradox of action and in-action; more in a made-up world of constant activity that has yet to see the light of day. Urgency and stress manifest more in frenzy than planning, more fear than purpose, more anxiety than momentum. A false sense of urgency.
Thomas Edison said: “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
Increasing our knowledge of ‘What is stress?’ and identifying our key stressors reduces the pull of a busy mind. First, let’s align on the language of stress.
My colleagues Indy Batth, Sylvia Abergil, and I spent over a year delving deep into understanding stress at various levels, historically, scientifically and emotionally. Our findings and discussions led to understanding stress as a continuum of healthy stress (Eustress) and unhealthy stress (Distress):
Some of the thoughts of a busy mind may be healthy and productive, stressors that challenge you to do and be your best. For me, healthy stressors are starting a new and innovative project, learning a new skill or simply cooking a family meal. We need some stress and stimulation, some healthy stress, in order to feel motivated, inspired and energized. According to Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress:
- Healthy stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion.
- Embracing stress can make you feel more empowered in the face of challenges. It can enable you to better use the energy of stress without burning out. It can help you turn stressful experiences into a source of social connection rather than isolation. And finally, it can lead you to new ways of finding meaning in suffering.
- The Pre-frontal Cortex, the part of our brain responsible for ‘executive functions’ or high level thinking, works optimally when everything is ‘just right’ in its chemical environment.
Some of the thoughts of a busy mindset may be unhealthy and draining, getting in the way of focused thought and a healthy mindset. For me, unhealthy stressors are when my thoughts are excessively on things outside of my control, hunger when I skip meals and hearing bad news. Distress may cloud our judgement, stand in the way of effective decision-making, impair our sense of empathy and influence. We get lost in a blur of a busy mind. According to Shamash Alidina, author of The Mindful Way Through Stress (p 8 & 9):
- Stress is the feeling of being under too much pressure
- Pressure can be classified as external (in the world around us) or internal (our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes)
- If the pressure is too high for you and lasts for long periods of time, it can cause excess or chronic stress, and that’s where the danger lies.
As we slow down, become more aware of when the busy-ness of our mind is a distraction, we shift to better discern between being lost in thought and impulse and being found in forethought and insight. When our mindset and our actions work in unison, we bring focused insight and purposeful action together into a sense of true urgency. In such moments, I am laser-focused. This is very different than being lost in a sea of stories, suppositions and speculation, the track of a busy mindset. A busy mindset traverses dangerously close to the fragile ego, caring more about making an impression than making a difference.
Identifying Your Stressors
Slowing down, self-reflecting and identifying stressors into categories of Healthy Stress and Unhealthy Stress allows us to step back, observe, pay attention, be choiceful and respond with intention. Using a journal or a piece of paper:
First, select the context for your exercise:
☐ Personal ☐ Professional ☐ Combo
Second, select the degree of stress – a barometer:
Imagine that stress is on a continuum, a range between 0 to 10. In this moment, identify where in this range you are right now. Identify in terms of your stress level for both
- HEALTHY STRES (Eustress)
- UNHEALTHY STRESS (Distress)
Third, identify your stressors in the below categories; identify 3-4 stressors for each:
- HIGH EUSTRESSOR: On a continuum of 8-10
- MEDIUM EUSTRESSOR: On a continuum of 5-7
- LOW EUSTRESSOR: On a continuum of 0-4
- LOW DISTRESSOR: On a continuum of 0-4
- MEDIUM DISTRESSOR: On a continuum of 5-7 Unhealthy Stress
- HIGH DISTRESSOR: On a continuum of 8-10 Unhealthy Stress
Fourth, put aside your journal / notes for a few days, take time to pause and reflect.
- Select one Eustressor and one Distressor.
- Reflect on or journal how these stressors serve and do not serve you. Write about your insights and discoveries and share it with a trusted coach or adviser.
- Review every few months or when you feel like you need to up your self-awareness.
Recalling a time when I was lost in my busy mind:
I am sitting at my office, lost in the spin of the pinwheel of thought. As I bring my attention closer to the surface, I realize that more than fifteen minutes have passed into a daydream of thoughts that may or may not serve a purpose. Perhaps I just needed to drift away to refocus myself back to where I started? Yes, I am more apt to find the good in the wanderings of my mind!
Yet, I am unable to retrieve those precious minutes. So, I re-focus on the task at hand. I realize that my thoughts were actually lost in impulse, in a black hole of ego-enforcing distressful thoughts of making an impression and avoiding failure. As I re-engage in working towards what I want, I find myself in healthy stress; laser-focused, determined and on a roll of creativity and purpose. I work on the project at hand. A couple of hours pass. I hear the hum of the printer and the zig-zag sound of words and graphics making a solid impression on sheets of white.
Now that the right impression is made, I focus my efforts on slowing down and getting ready for the challenges and opportunities already set in motion. It is a constant practice to remind myself that the right connections, relationships and opportunities are already in place. I shift my mindset towards being present and making a difference.