Why Does My Brain Need an Off Switch?

Live in the moment.

Embrace the present.

Be. Here. Now. 

Great mantras, but they used to make me cringe and feel unworthy. I am frequently a failure at attaining ‘living in the moment-ness’. All the articles tell me that if I unable able to achieve such focus, I’m missing out. That I’m just not getting the most out of life. The challenge is that even if I am as in the moment as I can possibly be (walking down the aisle at our wedding, taking in a breathtaking hike in the rainforest) my living in the present is different than “They” say it should be. You see, I’ve got extra company.

Meet my brain. It rarely stops thinking for a moment, constantly cycling through a strange game that is part creative burst and part incessant Tetris marathon which it has been playing for as long as I can remember. As it is all I know, I cannot compare it to your experience, or say if it is an everyday occurrence for the average Joe. What I do know, is that a good deal has been written that indicates I need to make changes to curb this untamed thought, in order to become more productive and fulfilled. 

Instead, I decided to let it loose, cultivate my freewheeling mind and see what happens.

You might say I’m a bit of a planner. Unintentionally I start figuring out the complete logistics of an event at the merest indication it could happen. My brain takes in information, incorporates it and spits out a new series of outcomes. Sometimes this is helpful (upon recently learning I require foot surgery that will leave me immobilized for a good part of the winter, I immediately figured out how to still host Christmas, not derail my emerging business plan AND attend the Last Jedi screening – priorities people!); sometimes questionable (if someone robbed the store I’m shopping in right now, what would I do?)

Yes, How to Escape Danger and other Bad Things Happening is a frequent flier in my mind. Could be too much TV in my youth or too many scary books in my present. It doesn’t add stress to my life though or make me anxious – just the opposite. I am rarely caught off guard by the crap life throws my way. I’ve mentally prepared for it already, perhaps even played it out many times over: I’m busy figuring out the angles, and that means looking at good and bad scenarios. I’ve been told that I have a sense of calm about me or keep my cool in times of upheaval. I may have seen the upheaval coming from miles away (thank you, intuition!) or perhaps I have lived it already in my head so the surprise is just not as impactful. ‘What if’ scenarios are the story of my waking life, so I suppose that makes me appear more steadfast in times of uncertainty. 

How to Escape Danger and other Bad Things Happening is a frequent flier in my mind.

One clear benefit of a creative mind is being comfortable on my own. Certainly, I don’t get bored and reach for my phone as soon as I’m alone. My overactive imagination can turn many a boring situation into a comically amusing one.

Are there downsides to having a non-stop narrative going on? Anyone who is around me long enough will have witnessed me staring into space, hopefully not catching flies as I’m caught up in my thoughts. So yeah, occasionally it can be embarrassing. 

It is one thing to be lost in thought while hanging with my friends, but it just won’t do with a client. Active listening is key behaviour I’ve leveraged and yet, as I mentioned earlier, my approach has not been to quiet my brain for I truly benefit from the strange bouillabaisse of creativity and logic that my mind cooks up.

How do I harness the busyness of my brain and still be focused to effectively support those who need my full attention?

  1. Note what’s important at the time. I cannot always appreciate if an idea will be important in the long run, but if it seems significant in the moment, I write it down in my notebook or schedule it in my calendar. (never as a to do, always as a calendar entry) The free flow of my thoughts can continue without risk of me losing track of seemingly pressing things that may get missed otherwise.

  2. Walking. Every morning I try to go for an hour-long walk before getting started. This hour is like recess for my brain. It is free to go wherever it wants and have a ball. What I find is that as I start to return home, I’m able to sort out my day, review changes to the work I’m producing, rethink my priorities…this time is freeing followed by clarity that sets me up for the day.

  3. Mindfulness practice. You’ve probably guessed that I’m dreadful at this, but I still find it helpful in times of stress or heightened anxiety. My time spent meditating (guided, obviously) is not always successful at slowing my ongoing thoughts. It helped me to appreciate, turn down the volume and gently focus my thoughts and not view them as a negative intrusion.

  4. Reading. I can sit still and read for hours. If what I am reading strikes a chord, I know my thoughts will begin swirling around excitedly in the background as I enjoy a great book.

Can I anticipate everything that will happen? Of course not. As the song says, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindsides you at four P.M. on some idle Tuesday”.

Does always thinking about what might happen translate into action? There is no survival kit in my car, nor have I won the lottery – so that’s not a foregone conclusion. 

For the most part however, when those lemons start hurtling at me, I’m mentally prepared. Instead of languishing in the moments of uncertainty, I’m ready with creative solutions and positive energy.

I think that goes a long way towards an increased enjoyment of life.

Feel free to post your comments.

Glendalynn Dixon guides business transformations focused on culture, leadership & data management. She is an author, speaker and mentor who champions women in technology and uses stories from her wild ride of a life to challenge preconceived notions. She is also the creator of The Successful People Manager, a no-nonsense online management training program for leaders committed to professional growth.

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