Disclaimer: This is a long one, but hang on with me, it is soooo gonna be worth it! So grab yourself a nice cuppa and let’s get started!
Question: When was the last time you really thought about something?
I mean literally sit down and just think. Not watch TV, not scroll through Instagram, not empty the dishwasher, no mindless down time.
My Monkey Mind
First off: Why did I start implementing thinking Time in my routine?
For months, I would wake up in the middle of the night with something that felt like an anxiety attack, my mind spinning. Or couldn’t find sleep in the first place although I was exhausted from my day. I tried to calm myself down. It was like my inner voice was screaming to me, begging for attention. Which I ignored, because I thought it was just paranoid nonsense of my mind acting like a toddler in a tantrum.
I felt so overwhelmed at times that I just couldn’t cope with all the things in my life going on. I was distracted, couldn’t focus on conversations, couldn’t remember what I was just doing, etc. etc. My productivity went down drastically because I was jumping from thought to thought. I couldn’t get ONE thing done, because while I was working on one thing, I was thinking about the million other things I had to do to keep my life together. Sometimes, I was crying in the corner from exhaustion and desperation, wondering what was wrong with me, knowing that this wouldn’t help either. Vicious circle. I thought I was on the verge of losing my mind.
It is like my head was running on fumes, so it just shut down.
Needless to say, I felt burnt out, exhausted but couldn’t stop my head from spinning, desperately trying to keep my productivity up in this downward spiral.
But it was my mind screaming for attention.
So something needed to change. ASAP.
Which is why I sat down one day and thought (here we go) about how I can change that and keep my head from exploding … and my sanity.
Well….I had such a mind-blowingly amazing experience just from that one session that I just could not NOT share this with you. It has -hands down- Changed. My. Life.
Hmm… I came up with Thinking Time during my Thinking Time! Nuff said.
Why I don’t meditate
Yes, I have tried mediation. And yes, it does help. And yes, I like meditating.
However, meditation does not work for me very well when my mind is buzzing with all the things I have swirling around in my head. How TF can I quiet my mind when I have real stuff to deal with right now?! I don’t WANT to let go of my thoughts, I want solutions.
It’s like someone telling you to “just relax” or “chill” when you’re actually about to freak out.
I found that sitting down and forcing myself to relax was hard for me, like I was forcing an outcome. My mind was wandering around trying to help me find solutions and it felt like I had to cage it in like a wild animal which only made my mind even more uneasy and my meditation practice suck. I could not force myself to visualize, repeat random affirmations, think positive thoughts or focus on anything with all those loose ends in my head.
I just cannot sit still and switch off my thoughts. I don’t know about you, but to me, it is completely counterintuitive to put a lid on my mind when I actually WANT to think. This is just how my mind works.
So I came up with my own practice that gave my mind the attention it wanted – and needed.
What is Thinking Time?
Thinking Time is mental hygiene, it is a little daily declutter of your mind, like a software update for your brain.
Thinking Time is a brainstorming session with myself. Just me, myself and I. It is an opportunity for creativity and problem-solving, dreaming, planning or visualizing.
The true beauty (and power) of this is that it can be anything.
You can just take the time to think about anything that is on your mind, completely distraction-free.
The best part: By doing this regularly, you will train your brain to become more efficient and ‘good’ at thinking. But more to that later.
A Quick history of the human brain
We live in a highly evolved, intelligent, intellectual, educated society. Still, we don’t really THINK anymore. We live in a world of constant action. We are DOING things all the time. And when we don’t, we distract ourselves by browsing the internet and coming up with new things we need to do. We live in endless stress mode and overwhelm, frantically going about our days and never really THINKING why we do what we do or how we can do things better.
This is actually not new. Our ancestors had a pretty cool ritual. When the day was over, the food was killed, prepared and eaten, they would sit around the fire and chat or just… stare into the flame.
Yes, they just sat there and stared into the campfire. And thought.
Fast forward: They made it out of the cave and into penthouses, using plastic cards to get food on the table and iPhones to communicate.
Because they used their brain to THINK.
Philosophers and scientists spent a lot of time thinking, so they could create things, find solutions to problems we still benefit from to this today.
Humans have found solutions for every problem they had and thus evolved into these wonderful (gladly less hairy) human beings we are today by using their problem-solving part of their brain, which -not surprisingly- has grown to the bigger, more is now the larger part. We have literally outgrown our brain by using it.
Stress/Urgency = Survival
Thinking = Evolution
Grow Your Thinking Muscle
We have become a species than can thrive, not just survive.
Just quickly appreciate that actually, regarding size and hunting techniques we didn’t stand a chance against huge tigers and other dangerous animals in the wild. Yet, we have survived and developed into the most intelligent, highly evolved species that makes iPhones and invented overnight-delivery. Now, isn’t that pretty amazing??
All because we have developed the best tool there is out there: our brain.
And we are not done evolving, our brains are constantly being formed. Every thought you think formsWho knows what we’ll be able to do with our minds in 100 years from now?
Bottom line: Our brain is a pretty nice machine.
However, like any other tool, it requires regular maintenance.
How do you care for your brain?
You take care of everything in your life: your body, your home, your car, your kids. You shower, brush your teeth, clean your house, declutter your closet, get an oil change.
What do you do for the biggest asset you have sitting on your neck?
Do you do regular maintenance on your mind?
Why do you need thinking time?
We have an average 60,000 thoughts per day. And we only use 10% of our brain’s capacity. And you probably know what I mean when I say: It can get pretty messy up there.
Thinking Time is emotional and psychological hygiene.
It is like your home. You need to clean it up regularly, or it clutters up and gets dirty and messy.
And most of us use the rare moments we have to ourselves by adding even more distractions, ‘escapism’ and consumption like browsing through social media, online shopping and messaging.
No surprise we are overwhelmed and stressed.
You know you need it
Have you noticed the following:
- Do you have the feeling your head is exploding sometimes?
- Do you jump from thought to thought like a monkey?
- You have trouble thinking clearly?
- You have trouble focusing or paying attention?
- Do you feel stressed when making decisions?
- You have moments of anxiety?
- Do you notice having strong emotional reactions to small things?
- Do you feel like you are out of balance?
- You feel you really need a break or time for yourself?
- You immediately pick up your phone whenever you have ‘dead time’ and start scrolling?
- You feel exhausted by the end of the day?
- You think it is pointless to have ‘deep’ thoughts?
- Thinking about your life makes you feel down?
- You have no idea what you’re doing?
- You are doing all the things and it never gets you anywhere?
- You cannot find peace and calm?
- You cannot meditate?
- You think you have too many problems?
- Your find your life overwhelming and distracting?
- You don’t know where to even start?
- You feel unorganized and forget/misplace things?
Internally nodding your head?
Then you need Thinking Time.
How my brain works (and yours probably, too)
It is very human to get into stress mode when we feel something is wrong. Our brain tries to protect us from harm.
Negative emotions fires signals and chemicals of urgency. Stress is a chemical reaction in your body. It is a survival mechanism.
Since we came out of the cave, part of our brains (the primitive brain) have not caught up yet. We don’t pick blueberries anymore, we get blueberry cupcakes around the corner. Our primitive brain doesn’t understand that we will NOT DIE when we quit our job or nail that presentation. Our today’s problems are rarely about life or death. Yet it seems to us that they are.
The human brain prioritizes survival over evolution. This is the older part of the brain. And although the younger one is much smarter, it listens to its older brother, because -hey- it cares more about keeping you alive than happy.
Not the most fun fella, but he does its job very well. Kinda like a bodyguard.
What happens when you’re stressed
When you’re in stress, your brain goes into survival mode. It will try to keep you alive by revving up all the alarm bells and putting your entire body in emergency mode.
It fires all kinds of chemicals, releases hormones and triggers a physiological reaction.
that decrease your perception and look for just more things that might ‘endanger’ you.
In short: It is physically impossible for you to think clearly because your brain and the subsequent physical reaction is keeping you from doing so.
You cannot think clearly.
Stress is forever
We live in a world of constant urgency. We stress about everything, like not finding parking space and being late for a meeting which we think our life depends on.
The more often you experience negative emotion, your brain practices that behaviour and builds a stronger neuro-pathway. Anything you practice, you become better at. Unfortunately, if you keep stressing over your stress, that’s exactly what you will get better at. You are strengthening your stress muscle and literally get addicted to feeling that negative emotion.
This is how efficient our brains are. They save you the hassle of relearning things every day (thank God) and makes behaviours automatic, so we can save energy.
That’s why we keep doing things we know are bad for us. Because we have practiced them over a period of time.
Whenever we need to solve a problem or have to make a decision, we immediately go into our default mode. When we’re stressed, we are using our old brain, the survival brain. When we think in solutions, we use our new brain, the prefrontal cortex.
You cannot make a good decision from stress, scarcity and fear.
Taking time to think gives you the mindspace to reflect your options from a calm place.
Before you think this is an essay about stress management, hear me out. I’m making a point here.
Time for a brain reset
Almost anything you unplug and reset, starts working again. Same applies to your brain.
I thought I needed to manage my stress or change my life, find ways to be more productive and efficient. I blamed my circumstances, I just had too much on my plate. Turns out, I just needed to manage my thoughts better.
Thoughts >> Feelings >> Actions >> Results
So if you want a different result (like more money or six pack abs), you need to start with your thoughts first!
So that’s exactly what I did. I started at basecamp one, getting my thoughts organized.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I sit down with my thoughts.
It works like decluttering: some things you can ditch right away because you can clearly identify them as junk. Others need some more attention and reorganizing.
Collect those loose ends
I get stressed when I cannot finish my thoughts. I call it loose ends. I have hundreds of those loose ends in my head.
So I spaced out time in my day I create on purpose where I allow myself to process all the thoughts that are buzzing around in my head.
Thinking Time is the time I get my best ideas, explore options, get creative, work on my mindset, change my negative thoughts to positive ones, dream, visualize, make plans, journal…
The best thing: it is completely effortless.
How it works
I would love to give you an amazing tutorial but it actually pretty basic (but very profound).
I just let my brain do its thing. So like a little robot, it starts picking up all those loose ends.
What you can do during thinking time:
- ask yourself questions
- reflect on something that happened
- find solutions to problems
- think about the future
- think about your wants
- make decisions
- analyze things that have happened
- process negative emotions
- come up with positive thoughts
- find better systems and routines
- make plans
- be creative
My thinking time is always different, and this is the beauty of it.
Also, I noticed that I seamlessly transition between these ‘activities’. So I start by reflecting my day, journal about it, let off some steam, ask myself questions, cry, laugh, be grateful, pray, meditate, visualize, jot down ideas for the next day… I transition between them naturally.
It is never one thing. I do whatever I feel inspired to do and I never have to force any of it, it just flows. I let my mind go good places and linger there if needed.
Once my head has calmed down and all is nice and neat up there, I fall into a meditative state automatically. Sounds weird and not like your normal definition of meditation, but that’s how I roll. So ultimately, it becomes a form of unintentional meditation. A super-charged one.
If you know Sherlock Holmes, you have heard of his mind castle. That’s what you do. You unplug, zone out and go to all those beautiful places in your brain you didn’t know you have because of all that junk you had laying around.
It’s Play Time!
I find that this happens naturally, and I usually transition between these seamlessly. I try not to stop my brain when it goes good places. Just let it flow. Sometimes I zone out completely, it happens naturally, so I don’t stop or intervene – which kind of is like meditating – just so much better!
It is making use of our brain’s natural capacity to do these things. Children do that all the time. They switch from one thing to another and are creative and in their own ‘zone’.
I don’t have to force myself into sitting still anymore, it just happens.
Usually, I come out of those ME-tings super inspired, refreshed, recharged and relaxed. I allow all my emotions. But because I am approaching them from a calm place, I noticed I have become grateful of experiencing all emotions, whether it is sadness, happiness or gratitude. I move through it, instead of escaping or ignoring it – without lingering.
Basically, it is like a playtime for your brain. Just do it, no rules, just play.
And have I mentioned I sleep like a baby since?
Your mind gets very busy at night. It processes everything. The last thing you think before you go to sleep is what your unconscious mind will be working on all night. Because my head is ‘clean’ and I have ‘resolved’ all the issues before going to sleep, always in a positive state, I give my brain something useful to do, like answering some of the questions I have asked myself during my thinking time.
You do the prep and then delegate to your subconscious to finish the job. You are the boss. the rest is delegating. Give your mind something good to think about. See how you feel in the morning! I had a few ‘epiphany’ moments, when suddenly the answer just popped up out of nowhere.
When you practice using your brain right, thinking clearly will become your new default.
Make it cosy: I make myself a cuppa tea, keep my pen and journal next to me, sit in my favorite reading chair next to my window, snuggle up in a fluffy blanket, dim the lights (in case I am writing) and light candles. This is how our dear ancestors did it, so I give myself a flame to stare into. I like to do it in the evening as it is less busy, and gives me the opportunity to process and reflect the day and plan ahead.
I like to create a calm space that allows my mind to calm down.
Silence: I do it either in complete silence or with some very light (instrumental) music on. It is important that it is completely non-distracting. So no podcasts, blasting music or audiobooks. It is not a time of consumption, but creativity.
Time: Also, I give myself a lot of time, so I can ‘open-end’ it if I need to and not have to time it or rush between appointments. An hour is fine for starters. Give yourself as much time as you need. It can be 30 minutes or three hours. I don’t like to stop my flow. Give yourself that gift of time and freedom to take it.
No screens: This is completely distraction free time! No phones, laptops, tablets, no screens whatsoever. I switch off everything.
Schedule it: I keep saying it, and I’ll say it again: If it’s not in your calendar, it’s not going to happen. Carve out at least one hour 3 times a week, and make it a date, just like a workout. Scheduling time is the first act of using your prefrontal cortex. So do it! 🙂
Thinking Time has become a fixed part of my nighttime routine and it is the best part of my day! Rocked my world!
Effects to expect
- Better sleep
- Better decisions
- More clarity & awareness
- Clear goals and visions
- Better planning
- Time to truly work on your mindset
- More efficient & clearer thinking
- New ideas and creativity
- Find solutions to problems
- More productivity
- Peace & Calm
- More creativity
- Alignment with your core values
Do I need to say more?
Taking time to think will be the best hour you have ever spend.
You will learn to use your prefrontal cortex -your smart brain- more and create new neuropathways that will help you think clearly and make better decisions, reduce stress and think better.
Taking time to think is an investment in your future self.
Let me know how it’s going!
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