What are some of your prescriptions for ‘taming the frenzy’?
People with organized minds take care of their minds in a wide variety of ways. The quickest path to taming frenzy is to move your body: go for a walk, go to the gym, take a yoga class or, if you don’t have time for that, just do a vigorous physical activity for a short period. Even five minutes of stretching, skipping down a hallway or climbing a few flights of stairs can reduce frenzy. Research shows exercise makes the prefrontal cortex work better and counterbalances the physical damage of stress.
Next on the list is sleep, because our brains need time to recharge. A third way to tame the frenzy is through cultivating positive emotions, which are like butterflies – they don’t stick around in contrast to the Velcro quality of negative emotions, so you actually have to harvest and amplify them. The best way to get the most ‘juice’ out of positive emotions is to share them with someone you care about.
Another key concept for moving towards an organized mind is mindfulness. The basic idea is to unhook your mind from all the automatic stuff going on in your brain – the frenzy, the chaos, the murkiness. Meditation is one way to achieve this. The goal is to create a little space between your mind and your negative thoughts and emotions, by proactively being in the present and noticing them, instead of being sucked in and getting lost in them.
Another strategy that helps one move towards an organized mind is good nutrition. The brain uses up 20 per cent of our food energy, so if you provide it with a steady level of blood glucose, it will have enough energy to stay focused and positive. You have to pay attention to what you’re feeding your brain if you want it to run on ‘high-octane fuel’ – you can’t just load up on simple carbs like sugar and white flour and expect it to function well. When you get the right combination of protein, healthy fats and carbs, your brain is awake and alive. This really matters in the afternoon, when energy starts to fade. The difference between having a piece of fish, rice, and veggies for lunch or a burger and fries or a slice of pizza is colossal.
For readers who want to achieve a more organized mind, what is the first step?
I suggest that people act like scientists and experiment with different approaches, to see what works best for them. Try getting just a bit more exercise – standing up from your computer and stretching, or walking up a few flights of stairs. When you do this, take your mind’s attention out of your brain and into your body; concentrate on your breathing. This will disconnect you from the mental chaos. Another approach is to listen to a beautiful piece of music, or have a conversation with someone you care about, or do something nice for someone: go get a bowl of blueberries for your colleague or spend a few minutes saying thank you to someone about something.
The bottom line is that you are in charge, and you have a choice: you can choose to work on being more calm and less frenzied; you can choose to bounce back when you have a bad moment, a bad day – or even a bad year. We all have the ability to use our minds to better control our brains.
Strategies for Taming the Frenzy
- Look at a photo that makes you smile.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Think of something that makes you grateful.
- Send someone a note of appreciation for what he or she brings to your life.
- Read a comic strip.
- Go outside and breathe in some fresh air.
- Do a yoga pose.
- Water a few plants.
- Text your partner and tell him/her that you love them.
- Take the dog for a short walk.
- Remember a pleasant memory.
- Get a colleague a coffee.
- Listen to a favourite piece of music.
The possibilities are endless.
Margaret Moore is the founder and CEO of Wellcoaches Corp. and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. She is the co-author, with Harvard Professor of Psychiatry Paul Hammerness, of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time (Harlequin, 2012).