Feeling like your brain is too full of random stuff and you have no mental clarity?
Too much clutter keeping you from thinking straight?
Can’t gather your thoughts because they’re buried under mountains of trivia or worries?
Do you find yourself in a mental fog just when you need your brain the most?
Finding Mental Clarity
Mental clarity can escape anyone. Surely even Einstein had moments where he looked at a page full of formulas and had no idea what they meant; and Shakespeare probably sat there, pen in hand, while no words came out of his head.
However, mental clarity is something you can create quickly on the spot. Whenever you need to think your way out of a problem, make a compelling argument, or you just want the mental noise to STOP… Use these tips to clean-sweep your mind and restore mental clarity.
1. Meditate to de-stress.
Stress is the #1 cause of mental clutter and inability to think clearly. When your thoughts keep hovering around your problems, there’s not a lot of working memory left for anything else. Just like a computer, your RAM is full from running a bunch of worry-programs that cause your brain to work slowly.
Your brain can only handle one thought at a time. Super-fast, mind you, but only one at a time. So when you have a lot of unwanted thoughts running in the background, you can’t expect conscious thoughts to be clear or coherent.
Meditation also teaches you to focus and shut out distractions that contribute to slow mental functioning.
2. Simplify your life.
Too much external stimuli clog up the works too. The more plugged-in and connected you are, the worse the situation! Try having one day a week with zero electronics – no phone, no computer, no TV…
Just you, unplugged from the world. The world won’t stop without your input, and you’ll be just fine without updating your Facebook status or texting/calling/tweeting anyone for a day.
Also, don’t automatically respond and obey every time you get a bing or bleep that you have a message. Set aside a time to answer emails and call people back so you stay focused on your work.
Finally, cut back on your social obligations. If you’re already slammed with responsibilities, let the book club slide. Do you really need to be on the leadership committee? No… Focus on what is truly important to you and say no to the rest. Solution: an electronics-free day once a week and cut back on social obligations.
3. Make a hit list.
You may not realize just how much stuff you carry around in your head that doesn’t need to be there. Your to-do list. Your reminders. Unfinished business. All of that is using up your mental RAM, leaving little working memory for complex problems and clear thinking!
So write down a to-do list that encompasses everything that you need to do. Then whittle it down to the essentials. Focus on the top priority tasks, your “hit list.” Do them, finish them, and you can literally forget about other tasks until it’s their turn. They’ve been written down, on a piece of paper (your “external drive,” if you will).
If you spend 5 minutes a day on organizing your hit list, you can free up memory AND focus on what needs to be done. This is a great relief and allows you to put your mental energies on what you need to accomplish. Solution: a daily hit list that you commit to completing.
4. Do a “Brain Dump.”
This is a silly, fun little exercise that effectively clears your mind. For the next 10 minutes, write down whatever thoughts you are having, no matter how random or ridiculous they may be.
Become aware of them as they float into your consciousness, and write them down. Then let your mind keep wandering and write down the next thought, and the next.
Stumped about where to start? Close your eyes and wait for a moment. Your mind does not like silence. It’s not used to not constantly yammering on — so within a few seconds it will come up with a topic.
Write that thought down, and say, “next,” before you get caught up in it; allow the next thought to come up — and write down that next thought. And the next. For 10 minutes. You don’t need to keep any of this. But if you do, it’s very illuminating what sorts of random thoughts your mind generates every day! Solution: random brain dump.
In fact, this is a great self-awareness exercise. You can see very clearly how your mind jumps from topic to topic like a kid at the playground. Awareness is the first step to self-mastery. And speaking of self-mastery, meditation is the single most effective way to silence the mental chatter so you can have a mind with NO thought for a while. Talk about refreshing!
5. Move your body and oxygenate your brain.
Get up and get away from whatever you’re doing and go clear your head. Go outside, go for a walk, run or bike ride, pet the dog, do yoga or do some deep breathing exercises where you focus on your breath.
Sometimes you just need a break, a chance to reboot the system with a brisk walk and a healthy snack to clear your mind. And within 10 or 15 minutes you can be feeling refreshed and mentally clear. Solution: take a walk.
6. Don’t be too full or too hungry, and stay hydrated.
Avoid heavy food-coma-inducing meals and don’t let yourself become too hungry between meals. Both of these contribute to the deadly mental fog!
Also, stay hydrated throughout the day. Your brain is a spongy mass that requires water for electrochemical reactions to work optimally; a dehydrated brain is a slow brain (but be careful of hyponatremia, a dangerous condition caused by excessive water that flushes essential minerals and nutrients from your bloodstream). Solution? Eat when you’re hungry (but just a little), and drink when you’re thirsty (in moderation).
How do you restore focus and clarity when you notice mental fogginess? Share in the comments below!