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8 simple ways to create a spacious mind


How to create a spacious mind

Credit: Jessica Lee

One Sunday afternoon I was at a cafe with my husband when he went off to do some shopping. Only a few seconds after he had left, I reached for my phone and started scrolling through social media.

This was nothing new. What was new was the realisation that I didn’t actually want to be doing this. My brain felt so full and scrolling was only making it fuller. What I actually wanted was the ability to sit and just watch the world go by.

When faced with moments of nothingness, I didn’t want to automatically spend all my free time and headspace being a passive observer of what everyone else was doing and thinking. I wanted to relearn the art of waiting and turn my attention inwards. I craved more space and energy in my life to explore and create.

Do you feel like your brain is full most of the time? Do you yearn for more space in your mind to think clearly and to feel less stressed? Do you wish you could just sit and be rather than feeling pulled towards distractions?

Spaciousness comes when you allow the pauses in life to be true moments of stopping, stillness and rest.

There is no doubt that technology has bought some amazing positive changes to how we live, connect and engage with the world but is being connected all the time actually good for your health and wellbeing?

The more often you are connected and switched on, the more your brain has to work to process what you are seeing, reading or watching. When you no longer have pauses in your life to rest and observe your world, both internally and externally, your brain becomes overloaded.

As your brain becomes overloaded, your stress goes up, your ability to think clearly and creatively goes down and you may struggle to make good decisions and solve problems. Being constantly “on” means you end up trading calm and control for a frenetic pace of life that is exhausting and can lead to burnout.

What your brain needs to work well and allow you to feel on top of life is space. Space seems to be a rare commodity in today’s world but spaciousness in your mind is something you can control. Spaciousness comes when you allow the pauses in life to be true moments of stopping, stillness and rest.

Pockets of time during the day when you are in line waiting for your coffee, waiting at the doctor’s office or waiting for public transport are all moments you can use to bring spaciousness into your mind and life.

You can do that by not filling those spare moments with more distractions. You create spaciousness by being in the moment, connecting with yourself and your world and resisting the urge to pick up your phone or another device.

The hyper-connected brain

While you may know it’s good to switch off, it isn’t always easy. Being connected and distracted all the time can in fact become a driving habit that wires your brain to seek distraction. As your brain becomes used to distractions, you will notice how challenging and uncomfortable it feels when you are forced to wait and be in the moment.

While your brain may seek distractions, it doesn’t mean being switched on all the time is good for your brain or wellbeing. Your brain actually needs spaciousness to work optimally. It has limited ability to notice, remember and store information. The more you fill the pauses in your day with updates, news and information, the more your brain becomes overwhelmed, leading to brain fatigue or “brain drain”.

The world is a noisy place and it’s easy to let other people’s lives, opinions and thoughts drown out your own internal voice of wisdom and creativity.

Signs that you may be experiencing brain fatigue include forgetfulness, headaches, trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing on one task at a time and feeling agitated and restless. You may also feel “tired but wired”, the sensation of being exhausted yet struggling to switch off and calm your busy mind.

In her book Make Your Brain Smarter, Dr Sandra Bond Chapman talks about the necessity of allowing your brain to have some time out, which she calls the “power of none”. Bond Chapman says, “The brain thinks more clearly when it is seemingly doing nothing or is in a calmer state … We often experience major aha moments when we stop trying and clear our minds.”

She says, “It is becoming increasingly rare to find times when people truly practise the brainpower of none. Instead, individuals constantly fill their thought space with added stimulation.” Moments of nothingness allow your brain to recharge. The antidote to the hyper-connected brain is to create spaciousness and to switch off more regularly.

Valuing rest

In many ways, the pressure to “go, go, go” and be “on” all the time comes from the belief that to be productive you have to be working. In fact, it’s common for people to feel anxious and fearful when they aren’t in “doing” mode.

In his book Rest, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says, “When we define ourselves by our work, by our dedication and effectiveness and willingness to go the extra mile, then it’s easy to see rest as the negation of all those things. If your work is your self, when you cease to work, you cease to exist.”

As common as this belief and mindset is, it isn’t helpful or accurate when it comes to optimal brain performance and wellbeing. Believing that every spare moment in your day needs to be used “productively” by emailing, researching, catching up on news or posting on social media means you end up with very little mental space.

Rest, stillness and quiet times are far from wasted and unproductive; rather they are the very keys to success, creativity, innovation and productivity. In Wired to Create, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explain that “science has confirmed that time for solitary reflection truly feeds the creative mind … Solitude isn’t just about avoiding distractions; it’s about giving the mind the space it needs to reflect, make new connections and find meaning.”

Wiring in habits

Do you regularly give your mind space to reflect? What has become second nature to you when you think about your digital habits? Do you pick up your phone as soon as you have to wait for something? Do you check Instagram as soon as you wake up? Do you scroll through Facebook while at the gym? Do you take your phone to the toilet? Do you check emails in ad breaks while watching TV?

What you do repeatedly becomes an automatic habit, wiring your brain in a certain way. If each time you have a moment of stillness you fill it with more stimulation, you are training your brain to need distraction, making it hard to just be. To create spaciousness in your mind, you may need to hardwire in new habits and associations.

When I realised I had wired in a habit that meant I reached for my phone the second I had a spare minute, I knew I wanted to make a change. Because I was checking social media countless times throughout the day, I chose to spend a week off social media. I wanted to use that week to train my brain to be comfortable with stillness, to wait without distractions and to stay focused for longer periods of time.

Switching off

While my social media detox wasn’t easy at first, by day two I was starting to see the benefits of switching off. Taking time away from the online world gave me hours back in my week. Knowing I couldn’t jump over to Facebook when I wanted a distraction meant I got through my work with more focus and efficiency.

You create spaciousness by being in the moment, connecting with yourself and your world and resisting the urge to pick up your phone and other devices.

Training my brain to focus again was surprisingly energising. I hadn’t appreciated how exhausting it is to be constantly switched on. I gravitate to social media when I am tired, assuming it will help me zone out, but I have found it often leaves me more exhausted.

This makes sense because for each post I see my brain is quickly deciding if I will like it, comment, share or just keep scrolling. This rapid-fire decision-making process tires my brain out and at times leaves me with “decision-fatigue” and struggling to think creatively.

The most important observation I had, however, was that when I’m connected all the time I become disconnected from myself. The world is a noisy place and it’s easy to let other people’s lives, opinions and thoughts drown out your own internal voice of wisdom and creativity. The fuller my mind, the less room there is to explore what it is I want for my life and what I want to create.

Switching off allowed me to reconnect with my big-picture goals and to feel energised to make them happen. I also found a greater sense of clarity around the projects I was working on because my brain didn’t feel so overloaded. During my social media detox I finally started to write my first book, something I have wanted to do for a long time.

Taking time to disconnect got me thinking: “Do I really want to be spending so much time online? Is it a good investment of my time?” In her book Switch Off, Angela Lockwood says, “The way we use our time is vitally important for our health and wellbeing, and being constantly switched on leaves us with little time to disconnect and do all the things that re-energise us.”

Not only can spending so much time switched on stop you from re-energising, it can also stop you from having the time to do meaningful things in your life. If you had more time in your week would you get to the gym more, see your friends and family more regularly, relax more, write a book or start a small business?

While social media and the internet are incredible innovations and tools for modern living and business, it makes sense to be mindful of how you use them and what flow-on effect they may be having in your life.

Your brain’s ability to keep up, think clearly, solve problems, work efficiently and keep stress at bay relies on your willingness to stop, be still and enjoy moments of spaciousness. By intentionally switching off and creating space in your mind, you can begin to reconnect with your own inner wisdom and reclaim hours each week to invest in activities that truly matter to you. It’s in the pauses of life that answers and creativity flow.

You can start today: Stop. Breathe. Observe. Connect. Create.

8 steps to create space in your mind

  1. Reflect: Are your digital habits helping you or holding you back? What would you like to change?
  2. Limit: Consider cutting back on how much time you spend online each day by checking emails and social media at certain times only. Enjoy a screen-free day each week. Put your phone away a few hours before bed.
  3. Boundaries: Turn notifications off on your devices and set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode so you can be present at certain times during your day. Leave your phone at home when you go for a walk.
  4. Detox: Consider a social media detox week each month to disconnect and turn your attention back to your own life and goals. Give your brain a break.
  5. Mindfulness: When you find yourself waiting for something during the day, resist picking up your phone. Instead, spend at least five minutes being mindful. Notice your surroundings, scan your body to check in and see how you are feeling. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling through your mouth. Close your eyes and be still for a moment.
  6. Silence: To create fewer stimuli for your brain to process, turn off background noises and enjoy some moments of silence in your day. Drive without the radio, walk without listening to a podcast or read a book without the TV on.
  7. Schedule: Be intentional about creating space in your mind and life by taking up yoga or meditation, or any other leisure activity that allows you to disconnect, switch off and quieten down the noise in your mind.
  8. Purpose: Choose a project that excites you to reinvest your newfound time. Seeing what you can achieve by switching off will be motivation in itself.


 

Jessica Lee

Jessica Lee is a speaker, writer and business consultant. She is the owner of The Spark Effect and is passionate about sharing neuroscience-based strategies to teach corporate teams and businesses how to better use their brains to reduce overwhelm and stress, while boosting productivity, creative problem solving, wellbeing and communication. Get in touch with Jessica at jessica@thesparkeffect.com.au, on +61 424 358 334 or via thesparkeffect.com.au.