In the past 20 years, some controversial research suggests that at any given moment, women have more activity in their brains than men. The corpus collosum that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain is larger in women, allowing for more movement across the hemispheres. This accounts for a frequent change in focus and ultimately, a noisier brain.
Whether women really have noisier brains or not, aren’t there times you wish you could shut off the incessant mental chatter? Don’t you wish you had a way to clear out the clutter—worries about work and family, concerns about your health and aging, nagging thoughts about money, the rehashing of arguments and relationship complications, and the incessant planning of events? Top this off with fretting about opinions others might have of you plus your own critical analysis of yourself and there is little space left for noticing what is delightful right now.
The answer is not in thinking happy thoughts or chanting affirmations. Once you stop, it’s likely the throng of thoughts will flood back in.
Instead, you have to empty your brain to control your mind. When you clear the space, you more easily control what comes in. For a period of time, you choose what you see, feel and think. You’re free to plunge into the present. Here are four tips to help you clear your thoughts:
#1. Let go of what you thought would happen. Clinging to your expectations blocks out possibilities. We all have pictures of what we thought a situation or conversation would look like. Then something else happened. To let go of your frustration, go with the flow. As they say in tennis, “play the ball in front of you.”
Trust that everything will work out. Think of the times in life where you didn’t get what you wanted yet the results turned out to be better than expected. There is always a possibility the worst will happen. Just as strong is the possibility the best can happen. Live with faith in a positive possibility and your brain will quiet down.
#2. Be curious. Enter conversations and situations wanting to learn more than you already know. Seek to see a broader picture or to find something new about the person you are with. You will see fresh ways to deal with challenges. Plus, people will find you much more interesting.
Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, said, “In the Beginners Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert, there are few.” Try coming from a place of “not knowing the answer.” Quit figuring out what people are going to say while they are talking. Quit making snap judgments about ideas. Stay open and curious to keep your mind clear.
#3. Laugh it off. When you are laughing, your mind is clear of clutter. In fact, you increase focus and awareness. You can then better evaluate options and consequences. You have a better sense of where you are and what you are doing in the moment.
Develop your sense of humor. See the silliness in habitual human behavior. Listen with an comical ear. The world is brimming with fodder for laughter. The great comedian Steve Allen taught his protégés to practice having a funny state of mind by seeing comedy films, reading funny books and hanging out with funny people as a daily diet.
#4. Don’t give up. If you can’t clear your mind today, try again tomorrow. You are teaching your old brain a new trick. It will take time.
Practice mental clearing by consciously stopping your thoughts for one minute. Pick out all the different sounds you can hear. Focus on noticing the details of a small area in front of you. Notice how you are breathing. See if you can even out your breathing and heart beat. Tomorrow, increase your practice to two minutes. Each day, see how much longer you can go without thinking. Enjoy the moment of peace.
Find these and other tips for giving taking control of your mind in the book, Outsmart Your Brain: How to Make Success Feel Easy.