“When people will not weed their own minds,
they are apt to be overrun by nettles.”– Horace Walpole
Why do we seek clarity? For one thing, it simplifies our tasks and lives. When we’re clear on what we want, who we are, what goals we want to achieve, it boosts our motivation, intention and action.
We’re more successful when we enjoy greater clarity of thought.
It helps to alleviate the pain of uncertainty and my goodness there’s been an abundance of uncertainty this year.
So why is clarity of thinking so tricky to find?
There are a number of reasons why:
1. We overthink things.
If you’re a bit of a high achiever (nay, a perfectionist, go on, admit it), you may find it hard to let go of those worrisome thoughts that haven’t been completely dealt with. There is always more to be considered, thought through, added to or subtracted from leading to a backlog of other thoughts and ideas all jostling for your attention. If you’ve adopted a terrier-like approach to your problems, you may have noticed you don’t want to (or are unable to) let go.
2. We are overwhelmed by taking on too much or are overloaded by external forces.
If you’re a people pleaser, a yes person, a helper/fixer or volunteer you may have lost use of the “No” button that used to be located behind your left ear. This can lead to a loss of boundaries in your personal and or professional life that blur into a congealed Eton mess like pudding. Too many competing tasks, requests and insufficient time lead to mental confusion brought on by stress and in some cases frustration and resentment.
Busy brain syndrome resulting from overwhelm leads to poor attention, reduced performance and foggy thinking.
3. We’re distracted by bright shiny things.
Like a hyperactive puppy rushing from one exciting thing to explore, to another, your mind becomes a racetrack for novelty and curiosity. There’s just one problem. You’re not adhering to the speed limit, resulting in a blurring and confustication of thoughts as you leap excitedly from one idea to another without drawing breath.
4. We’re mentally exhausted.
Poor sleep or not enough of it, high stress, challenging relationships, colleagues or clients all take a toll. It’s hard enough to get things right when not under pressure. It becomes even harder when you’ve been on your feet all day taking orders for fifteen different types of coffee, gluten-free quiche, lactose-free ice cream, low-carb doughnuts, high protein shakes, Paleo salad, Keto salad or vegan cheese. Sorry, was that a long macchiato topped up with a shot of cold milk on the side or the short black?
The problem with all this is that our lack of clarity creates a threat state in our brain adding to the difficulty of consistently making the best decision, showing sound judgement, being logical, analytical or being happy that we are thinking well.
Do you deep down yearn for greater clarity?
It’s been a tough year, with so many changes, fear and anxieties to contend with. Do you have the clarity you need to be best prepared for what 2021 may bring?
Happily, there are a number of ways to rediscover the clarity you seek, even during the hectic run up to Christmas:
1. Press pause, slow down or practice coming to a full stop.
Give your brain a break, a short mental breather each day by choosing to take some downtime just for you and your mind to be still.
This can take the form of a short 5-15-minute meditation practice. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to calm the mind, slow down your thoughts and find greater clarity and focus for your thinking.
Breathe. Yes, I know you’re already accredited in this, but breathing is a highly underrated tool for enjoying a level head and clear thinking. By consciously slowing down your rate of breathing (especially the out-breath) to about 6 breaths a minute you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system that via the vagus nerve serves to also slow down the heart rate, reduce muscular tension and the rate of neuronal firing.
Give yourself permission to sit and be still. To sit in silence, not thinking, not planning, just being in the present moment.
2. Switch off your phone and disconnect from the Internet.
Studies have shown that the mere presence of your mobile phone on a table while having a face-to-face conversation diminishes the quality of that interaction. We know that Siri is listening in anyway, but the sight of that phone is enough for your brain to get side-tracked.
Not only that but the longer you spend on your mobile phone and laptop/tablet/computer, the greater your sense of time passing too quickly, elevating your cortisol and blood pressure that makes it harder to think clearly.
Try switching off from your technology for 15 minutes during the day (or at least switch your phone to silent if you can) and have a set time where you disconnect from emails, work online, social media etc. in the evening until next day.
Having a technology-free morning, afternoon or even a whole day has been shown to reduce stress (and your blood pressure,) increase attention, clarify your thinking and boost productivity and performance. Also, people reported “feeling“ more energised.
3. Get outside and move it.
Physical activity is great for clearing your head. It not only lowers stress levels but increases the release of those feel-good hormones dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins, so you feel great. Getting outside in the great outdoors has also been shown to be brilliant for elevating your mental wellbeing and perhaps you’ve noticed how when you’re feeling good about yourself, you’re thinking better too.
Whether you choose to go for a walk, run, cycle ride or kayak, combining physical activity with being outside is a wonderful clarifier.
4. Talk it through.
Rather than staying prisoner to your thoughts, especially if they are of a ruminative or negative nature, who can you talk to, to share your thoughts, feelings or concerns? The adage that “a problem shared is a problem halved” holds true. When you articulate those thoughts, you’re not just telling the other person, you’re hearing those thoughts too helping your brain process the information and come up with its own solution.
That’s why too if you’re on the receiving end, the best thing to do is to shut up and listen! Zip that lip and share your greatest gift – your complete and undivided attention. It’s so tempting to want to add your own opinions or ideas but that’s not what’s needed here. (Male engineers please take note. Not all problems need to be “fixed,” so please hold back when appropriate. I say this because I’m married to one and he is a fabulous fixer but doesn’t always get I’m not looking for his solution.)
5. Focus on what’s possible.
If you’ve had to let go of what you used to do, how you spent your time, who you interacted with or not been allowed to see family or friends, that sense of grief and loss can feel overwhelming which is where focusing on what you do have and what you know to be true can help.
The power of routine and ritual provides you with the ownership of how you manage your time and your thinking while reducing the amount of angst and disappointment what is no longer available.
If you find yourself thinking “I can’t do that,” or “that’s impossible!” challenge that thought. Is it fact or opinion? Ask instead, “what if” or “how can I make this happen?”
A little mind-wander down a local rabbit warren in your mind quietens your thoughts, assists you to reflect inwardly (better still when you are in a slightly happy of mind) and facilitates the birth of a marvellous new insight. That eureka moment being the clearest and most obvious thought. Hold on to it, as it’s very fragile and easily lost.
6. Make an appointment with yourself.
Too busy to think? It’s time to make that appointment with yourself to sit quietly and reflect.
What’s been happening?
How has the past year impacted you mentally, physically, socially, financially?
What isn’t working?
What‘s important to you, and how will you manifest that in 2021?
Who is important to you and how will you nurture that all-important relationship?
What makes you happy, gives you joy and makes you feel fulfilled and how can you get more of that?
What are your top 5 core values and are your actions aligned to those?
Taking that time out to think allows you to prioritise and have the energy to deal with the important and to dismiss, deflect or delegate what isn’t.
If the global pandemic has caused you to become disoriented in the sea fog of uncertainty this year, what will you be doing to reclaim your clarity of thought and be best prepared for what lies ahead in 2021?
Is clarity something you’re seeking more of?
Have you found something that’s helped you find greater peace of mind and clarity for what’s next?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.