Time for a Defrag?
Perhaps you are familiar with that feeling of having too much on your mind, too many balls in the air, and feeling like you have no clarity, no perspective, and no time to think.
Perhaps it’s time for a ‘defrag’ – time to clear you mental ram, to gain some more ‘working memory’.
But I can’t afford the time to stop and clear my mind right now
When we most need to ‘defrag’ we feel least able to step back from our busy lives to regain some perspective. This is perfectly understandable when we think about what happens to our thinking patterns when we are caught up in the stress response or ‘fight-flight’ physiology. If your body is circulating adrenalin and other stress chemicals, your mind goes into the very ancient ‘danger mode’, in the same way it would if you were being pursued by a wild animal in ancient times. And part of that mode is an intense sense of urgency and pressure – which would be very useful to you if you were actually being pursued by a wild animal. So while one part of you has an awareness that you need to step back or take a break, just about every cell in your body is feeling that sense of urgency, and tells you that you can’t afford to stop or slow down – that you have to soldier on.
In addition, many of us have been brought up with a strong work ethic, and when things get tough, we just work harder. When our brain is clogged up, we’re not thinking clearly, we have no sense of perspective, and have difficulty in prioritizing. In this state we are not able to work as efficiently as usual. Working harder in that state is not helpful and is likely to just get us more stressed. In a sense, working harder in this situation is like already being down in a big dark hole, and the only tool we have handy is a spade, so we pick it up and dig like crazy. Not a very clever idea.
What is it that we fill our ram with, to the point that we reach that overload point?
I would suspect that maybe 80% of the space in many people’s minds is filled with mental movies – scenarios that we have created in our heads. These ‘virtual reality movies’ are often of the worst case scenarios we imagine for the future, or movies re-running past disappointments, upsets or guilt. And we tend to play them over and over in our heads. I would suspect that only 20% would be real current problems that we are in the midst of solving. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I’ve lived through many troubles in my life, and some of them have actually happened”. There is nothing to be lost and much to be gained by clearing our ram of these unhelpful mental movies.
Mindfulness practices can be very helpful in clearing our mental ram.
1. Regular daily mindfulness meditation allows us to take a break from our mental movies daily, and through doing this practice we get better at not accumulating as much dross during the day. Through our daily meditation practice of ‘just noticing’ and ‘being in the present moment’ we build up our ability to move our attention away from unhelpful mental movies whenever we drift into them.
2. We learn to notice more quickly when we begin to go into our heads and create unhelpful mental movies. This saves us from getting lost in them for as long and reduces the amount of time we spend feeling worried, guilty etc in relation to them.
3. Through our daily mindfulness practice and using everyday mindfulness tools we are strengthening our ‘attention muscle’ and the more helpful neural pathways. And the less time we spend re-running old movies or playing unhelpful future movies, the weaker these unhelpful neural pathways will become.
4. The increased calm or equanimity that we develop through regular mindfulness practice means that we tend to be pulled into less ‘drama’ during our day.
5. As we develop increased compassion for ourselves and others we experience less anger, frustration, resentment etc. which means that we don’t fuel difficulties and challenges and turn them into dramas as much.
The result being that we create a lot more mental space, feel a lot less stressed and can think more clearly.
Resisting the ‘I haven’t got time’ dinosaur brain message
So when the wise part of you is aware that you need to step back, slow down or take a break to get some perspective and clear your mental ram, but the ‘crazy-brain’ is caught up in the fight-flight physiology and tells you that you can’t afford the time, it’s useful to remind yourself
● That’s just ‘crazy-brain’ adrenaline-fuelled thinking – and you are not being pursued by a wild animal
● With a clear mind you can think and work more strategically, make better decisions and less mistakes
● You will be more efficient and enjoy your work more if you clear your ram, refresh yourself and return to your work with a sense of perspective
So although it may feel hard for you to do, stepping back and clearing your ram is definitely worth the effort.
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)
I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences: Please add your comment/s below.
Do you find that you get caught up in the ‘I can’t afford to take a break or slow down’ mode? Are there particular ideas or thoughts that get you ‘hooked in’? I know that one of mine is a desire to ‘clear my plate’ before I finish a task, but knowing that I have set myself a challenging (in fact often completely unrealistic) time limit to get things done in.
Or do you have a reluctance to accept anything less than the highest standard so you never have ‘enough time’ to achieve the standard you want?
Or what other thoughts or beliefs trap you into a sense of rushing, urgency or ‘not enough time’?
And if you’ve broken through these traps, what tips can you share with others as to what worked for you. Or books you’ve found helpful that others might enjoy? (I recommend Dr Libby Weaver’s ‘The Rushing Woman’s Syndrome’ – it contains great easy to understand explanations of the physiological (including hormonal), nutritional and lifestyle factors that contribute to women’s stress.
Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.