Updated: Jun 7, 2021
Today I thought I'd share one of my favourite mental organisational techniques, that I've learnt to use whenever I come up against the all-too familiar mental block.
Unsure what I’m talking about? Let’s get a bit more definitive - I’ll use myself as an example.
I’ve been addicted to writing and jotting down thoughts in journals since the day I could write.
My mother cottoned on early to this [OCD] trait, and started buying me journals every year for my birthday. I would write everything down in these. Thanks Mum!
My primary school teacher also fanned this addiction and would consistently encourage me to “Finish that book you started…” from the day she realised I loved to write - even up to university when (bless her heart), she could not believe I’d decided to take up flying aircraft instead. You're still my one in a million, Mrs Eaton!
Now, on top of that passion for writing, I’m also a serial “Lists” person. For example, I have a checklist for my blog to ensure I am consistently putting up relevant content. One of the notebooks in my OneNote app where I track my content and published blogs through my ‘Month’ and ‘Checklist’ tabs. I set up a monthly goal to post five well-researched blogs. There’s a cute little quirk in the OneNote app that lets you set up checkbox lists - and I take huge satisfaction in checking off one, every time I finish a blog.
Another example, is my days have to be sorted into sections with tasks, and I’ve found (much to my chagrin) that an unintended consequence is I become overly fixated on perfecting a single task, that I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture.
Cue: our son’s first birthday, when I spent the entire night cutting up cardboard for party favours and props for my photo booth - that the children mostly ignored the next day during the party. My husband, father and brother meanwhile built an epic wooden frame for all Nevan’s photos from birth till his birthday to form into a giant number 1, put up his Gotham City backdrop for his birthday cake table, organised a sound system and a DJ and brought a marquee and chairs for guests. See what I mean? Fixating is from Satan.
That aside, I still stand by my opinion that having lists allows for order and in another blog, I will share my 14 Lists I Cannot Live Without.
For this blog, I want to concentrate on the ONE singular, toxic trait that undermines my passion for writing, every single time - my mental blocks (not the “Oh I need a walk to clear my head” type… mine are more the “OMG, what is this black hole of nothingness that I have I built this story up into?” kinds).
I will also talk about how I manage them; because it wasn’t until very recently that I realised there was an actual mental technique that I could use to overcome this.
Managing that Beautiful Mind
We are women.
We are the multi-taskers, with a series of things running through our heads, while trying to finish on-hand, important tasks.
What are we having for dinner tonight?
Did I buy milk?
Is the standing order kicking this fortnight or next?
What are we bringing to X’s house for his/her birthday?
Did I water the plants?
I need to fold that laundry.
It’s Book Week for Nevan next week.
We also do not fully concentrate on the task at hand - maybe, a report or a presentation - and end up not finishing it to the best of our abilities.
How do I know I need a brain dump?
Sometimes your brain is just so full of thoughts that you simply can’t focus.
This directly results in mental blocks for some, and undue stress for others.
I know I need to do a brain dump, when I start falling out of my usual healthy habits (sleeping early, exercising) and begin to overly fixate on little things (my workaholic tendencies shine in all their glory here).
It is essential you realise your cues for needing a break in your schedule too.
Are you finding it hard to fall asleep at night?
Are the gazillion things you need to do giving you a splitting headache just thinking of them?
Tired, even after a full night’s rest?
I’m no doctor, I’ve just described all my cues for realising I need to give myself a break (and go to Jings… I’m kidding) and concentrate on some mental self-care.
So how to manage this?
Cue: the Brain Dump.
Also known as the 'free recall' method, but known as its less prettier name: the brain dump. As a serial over-thinker, I find this method extremely therapeutic.
Ernest really should weigh in here on how far and wide my thoughts have tended to go, that have led us to so many arguments. The poor dude really had no clue that one thing for him, could translate to ninety-million different scenarios for me. We adapted though - it’s the learning curve every couple has to go through to manage their relationship - this 'learning to manage each other's quirks' thing. 😉
So, a brain dump is essentially, dumping everything in your mind onto paper - write them out, sis. Typing doesn’t resonate the same as actually writing things down.
What do I mean by that?
By writing, you’re dropping your stressors.
Every nagging thought, every unfinished task, every pesky deadline - all flowing from your hand and onto that piece of paper.
How Do You Know You’ve Achieved It?
I write until I have nothing left to say. And after a while of writing, I (kid you not) actually feel less pressured and a lot more calmer.
That’s my cue to know I’ve achieved a full brain dump.
How Do They Work?
You may be reading this, with a slight skeptical smile on your face - I see you, because at one point, I was you.
How will I achieve anything by listing all my problems on a silly piece of paper? That doesn’t really solve anything.
I think it does, actually. Hear me out.
The reason a brain dump is scientifically effective, is because you have been able to capture even your most abstract thoughts and written them down. They are now real.
When you are stressed, you should think of your mind as a whirlwind.
One nagging thought whips through your mind, and before you can address it - another whips through, then another… and then a million others. This is why men are so adept at singularly fixating, whilst we are not. The ability to compartmentalise is a bit harder for us to manage, but that is just us - and we can manage it.
Because once you’ve written those thoughts down, they’re nailed down into absolutes that can’t leave to haunt you another time you’re overthinking.
Still sounding like smoke in the wind to you?
You can write down specific tasks you need to do, like:
- Buy milk.
- Pay the haus mere.
Your brain dump isn’t specifically for task oriented things that have no particular action plan. I’ve written:
- Plan for beach day
- Upcoming birthday
You actually have a few options from this point - because there is no set rule for this.
My favourite is to have a look at that list and highlight which ones are stressing you out. I then make an action plan to address these.
There’s another method for exploring a particular issue you have on a more analytical level. Its called the List of 100 method.
Another favourite option is to simply walk away. I’m not kidding. Sometimes, when working in high-stress environments, the simple act of putting your thoughts to paper can be an incredibly draining process. I’ve found that this part is a good one to take a walk from, and re-visit later when your mind is clearer and you can formulate actual plans to address your stressors.
The Brain Dump Process doesn’t take that long, but it’s incredibly helpful and can go a long way towards relaxing your mind and allowing for some self-care.
Once you’ve emptied your brain of those nagging thoughts, you allow space for new thoughts and ideas to take their place.
That’s my favourite time.
I know I’ve gotten past my mental block(s) after doing a brain dump, when the words start flowing again - and I can get back to my writing.
Do you go through something similar? Let me know how you manage your stressors!