Do you ever get so overwhelmed that it feels like your head will explode? It’s like you’ve got way too much going on in your head. You’re mentally juggling all the things that you’ve got to do today. And you’re also making a mental list of the things you’ve got to remember to do tomorrow and later in the week week.
You have so many random thoughts bouncing around in your head. The more you think about them, the more you lose yourself. And it’s just at that moment, your boss turns to you at the meeting and asks you a question. You’ve got no idea what they’ve been talking about. You’d lost yourself. You weren’t present. You just have a blank look on your face. There’s a simple ’secret’ that can help you manage all those thoughts in your head, clear your mind and let you be totally present. Why We Feel Overwhelmed and Stressed The reason why we tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed is because we try to keep too much information in our short-term memory.
We end up trying to use our memory as the place to capture every thought or idea that we think might be worth keeping or remembering. And we also try to use our memory as a reminder system i.e. return that phone call, make that appointment, do that research, pick up the kids early etc. But by dumping all these thoughts in our short-term memory, we create an endless loop of information that we can’t stop thinking about. We end up having that nagging feeling that we’ve forgotten something, but we’re not quite sure what. It’s like we have a hamster in our head that’s furiously running on that wheel but getting nowhere. We feel mentally and physically exhausted.
Our minds have a remarkable ability to remember incomplete tasks. This is known as the Zeigarnik Effect, which is named after a Russian psychologist who studied this phenomenon in the late 1920’s. It’s like we have a built-in ‘reminder system’ in our mind. This ability can be very useful in certain situations. But in today’s modern world, it doesn’t work so well as we tend to overload our short-term memory. And then we literally can’t get those things out of our head. But because we have so many things to remember, we end up feeling overwhelmed.
Creating a System to Clear Our Minds The ‘secret’ for dealing with this feeling of stress and overwhelm is actually quite simple. We need to get things out of our head. We need to put those ideas and reminders into a reliable system that we know will safely look after that information until we’re ready to deal with it. And we also need that system to remind us on a regular basis to process that list of information and decide what action needs to be taken. Putting It All Together The first thing we need is a way to capture every thought and write it down.
The goal is to get it out of your head as quickly as possible and into your ‘system’. You can use a notebook or a piece of paper that you keep in your pocket. Or you can use a free app like To do list, which works on most platforms and smart phones. Or you can just send an email to yourself. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as it’s something that’s likely to be with you most of the time and lets you quickly capture the thought. Next, you need a daily reminder to review every thought you captured and decide what you’re going to do with it.
You can create a daily recurring meeting in google (or whatever calendar you use) to remind you to do a quick 5 minute review at the end of each day. You can even have Google Calendar send a text message to your mobile phone at a specific time each day to remind you. I’d recommend doing this until you build a daily habit. At the scheduled time, go through all the information you captured and quickly decide what your going to do with each item. I use the 4 D’s to help me decide:
And that’s it – you’re done! By doing this regularly, you can clear your mind and let your brain do what it does best – think creatively without all that ‘mind clutter’ getting in the way. And you can be totally present in every situation – whether that’s a work meeting, dinner with your spouse or time spent with the kids. If you’re not currently doing this, then why not try it out for 24 hours and share your experience in the comments.