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How to quiet the mind

Remain calm, serene, always in command of yourself. You will then find out how easy it is to get along.
~Paramahansa Yogananda

I used to be an incorrigible thinker. I could not be stopped. If there were a race between thinkers of the world, I’d stand at the top. When I say thinker, I don’t mean people who invent amazing things and think creatively.

I did that too, but less frequently than obsessive thinking. There, I said it. I’m was obsessive thinker first, a creative one second.

What does it mean to think obsessively? Imagine you have a list of things to do tomorrow. You are just lying down on bed and your mind is racing, thinking of all the things you have to do next morning. You spend more time thinking about what has to be done, than doing it.

You don’t want to waste a moment either. You’d rather spend the last few minutes of your day reading or listening to an audio tape, even though you’re exhausted of the constant thinking.

That was me. In retrospect, I was worrying more about how I will achieve x, y and z, and how I must now screw up this or that instead of doing x, y or z and not screwing this or that. I heard a constant chatter in my head (I call this my “mini-me”). The result being I was tired, irritated and unsure of why I didn’t create any miracles that day.

If you’re nodding as you read, you wonder if there’s a way out of it. You’re so tired of the racing mind that a magic wand to stop the chatter would be great.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that can rid of your mini-me. There is no instant result. But there is a way to convert it into your best friend that cheers for you, and this is how.

How to Quiet Your Mind Aka Your Mini-me

The first step is to realize that your mini-me is not your enemy. It exists in your 40,000 years old brain because you’ve let it to linger there. It’s about time you do something about it lest you want to go to bed and wake up restless!

Here are 5 ways I used to switch from being an obsessive thinker to a purposeful one.

1. Listen to your thoughts

Sometimes, it is better to surrender and just listen intently. I noticed the more I tried to stop myself from thinking, the more I was engulfed in the chain of thoughts. I was thinking even more than before. Needless to say, it was tiring me more.

So I took a step back, reclined and just listened to what these thoughts were really saying. In essence, I became the observer. It was very unsettling in the start because I wanted to chime in. Out of habit, I wanted to interrupt these thoughts by bringing in another one.

Have you noticed this happen to you? You think about one thing and after a few seconds, you are thinking about something totally unrelated and wonder how you came to think about it? Yes, that’s what I mean. . .

So I controlled the urge to interrupt and kept at it.

That’s when something unique started to happen — I grew more and more quieter and distant from these thoughts. Or were these thoughts going away? I don’t know. But I felt a blankness and nothingness, that I was of course happy to embrace.

2. Replace your thoughts with hand-picked ones

Let’s say the observing trick doesn’t work well for you. You are really worried about something and just noticing it doesn’t make it go away.

When that happened with me, I would find hand-picked replacement thoughts to go in the negative thought’s place. I have a repository of all the good things and successes that have happened to me which come handy during this time. These are personal achievements, testimonials, kind words from friends and loved ones that are perfect to replace the worrying thought.

3. Read something promising

When things get tough, I invest my time in reading promising stuff. I am a huge non-fiction and personal development reader, and I love learning a new thing every day.

When you’re engaged in an activity like reading or painting (and I mean intently doing it), your mind is focused and in flow. You reduce or eliminate constant worrying thoughts automatically.

One more thing: I’ve tried listening to music to quiet my mind, and although it helps me remove focus from negative thoughts to new ones, I cannot say the latter are always positive. I find every song means different things to different people — it is an anchor.

For example, a piece of music might teleport you mentally to a past relationship, or a phase of life that was not very exciting. Music is an anchor to that event or time in your life. So be very careful of what you choose to listen to.

4. Breathe

Simple but works most of the time. Take a deep breath, hold it for 3 seconds and then release. When your brain is hyperactive, it uses up oxygen pretty quickly. Breathing mindfully brings fresh oxygen to your brain and you feel lighter, calmer and more relaxed as you focus on your breaths instead of the nagging thoughts.

5. Do the work

I can’t make it simpler than this. I found my mini-me the loudest when I was procrastinating or not fulfilling a long-time goal. Or, when I was overwhelmed.

One solution to this is to write down your problem or goal on one side of a piece of paper and on the right side, write down the next best immediate step you should take to fulfill it.

The “next small step” technique breaks down the impossible into possible, doable chunks. Once you’re able to achieve that, it gets easier to focus on the positive.

If there were a sixth way to quiet the mind, what do you think it would be? Share your personal tip below. Would love to hear them.

Image by Daniele Zedda.

You might also like: What is Vipassana Meditation? Try this meditation technique to quiet your mind now.

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