How many times has a friend asked you how you’re doing, and all you can muster up in response is “Busy”?
Juggling a career, family, friends, personal goals/interests, and the general maintenance of day-to-day life can be overwhelming and stressful. This is true before factoring in any additional mental clutter or anxiety that can be carried with us throughout our daily lives.
While we might not have complete control over the external forces that induce stress and create noise (job, money, relationships), we absolutely have control of our internal state of mind (how we choose to process stress).
With practice and a few helpful tactics, a calmer and more positive state of mind is within reach — and it can pay dividends in one’s overall satisfaction with life.
Starting With Mindset
A positive state of mind begins at the intersection of the external world and our internal processing of that world. An ability to steer the mind in a favorable direction at this crucial intersection is possibly the single greatest thing we can do for ourselves to optimize happiness.
Yet, creating space for this kind of thinking is usually one of the first things to be neglected amongst the noise of life.
The result of a poorly managed mind is burnout and negativity (among other potential health issues). While none of us will ever be perfect, we can make it a point to focus on channeling a positive state of mind through ongoing practices.
Below are some tactics that I’ve found helpful for managing my mindset.
Control Complication Creep
Complication creep is a term I use to describe my tendency to overcomplicate tasks, to the point of harming my ability to complete them efficiently.
You may be given a project that you don’t feel like working on – maybe there is a steep learning curve, maybe you are being asked to clean up a mess you don’t feel like cleaning up. But the job has to get done, and you are the person tasked with doing it. An overwhelming feeling of not even knowing where to start is common in this scenario.
In these cases, complication creep can become your greatest enemy. Instead of moving forward with the task, you lose focus worrying about how much there is to get done. As mental energy is syphoned away through agonizing, the energy needed to efficiently tackle the task at hand runs dry.
To dismantle this foe, it helps to break large tasks down to simpler components. Then, tackle each component individually without worrying about tasks that lie further down the road. Teaching yourself to catch your mind as it wanders away from the present task will help in moments like this, and is a skill that is valuable beyond measure.
Use In-Between Time to Create Headspace
One great way to practice watching your mind is to train your focus during the in-between times of the day. In-between time could be riding the bus or subway, walking from point A to B, or driving to and form work.
I often see pedestrians run into things because they are staring down into their phones while walking down the street. In my daily commute on the subway, the vast majority of those around me are constantly staring at their phones. I see drivers nearly cause accidents because they are texting. When waiting in line to buy a coffee, most people I see are…well, you get the idea.
It’s as if people don’t know how to be alone with their thoughts or their environment, and are constantly seeking an escape from real life into the digital world.
But walking, commuting, and waiting in line are some great times to take a break from it all. We are trained to always be doing something, as if just being idle is completely useless. The truth is, learning to feel comfortable being idle is one of the greatest favors you can do for yourself.
I’ve found that being present and focused can lead to some of my most productive thoughts or ideas. The term “shower thoughts” is used to describe ideas or revelations that come into your head while showering. Usually, being in the shower is relaxing and there are minimal distractions (until all smartphones are waterproof).
This is a prime example of the benefits to be seen from inducing a relaxed and distraction-free mindset, and what better time to train this mindset than the parts of your day where nothing else needs to get in the way?
Practice Meditation & Visualization
Meditation and visualization are powerful tools to help regain some semblance of control over the mind. Having started a routine meditation practice over the last year, I can attest to the both its challenges and benefits.
It’s called practice for a reason. It turns out that learning to identify and manage the waterfall of thoughts flowing through the mind at any given moment is not easy. It’s also challenging to learn how to apply focus gently, and not force it.
That’s why visualization is a great tool to use during meditation. Learning to visualize an object and training your mind to focus on it removes some of the burden of attempting to silence the mind. With further practice, visualization can be used to enhance productivity and achievement. Visualizing yourself having already completed a task, or having already reached a goal you are striving for, will truly help get you there.
I am by no means a master when it comes to meditation, but already I can identify thought patterns and catch my mind as it floats off into the ether. This enhanced identification ability has made for measurable improvements in my life and productivity.
No matter what you have already managed to get done, there is always a laundry list of other things waiting in the queue. Constantly focusing ahead on the things remaining will certainly lead to an overwhelmed and burned-out state of mind.
It can be easy to diminish the things that have already been completed. No matter how small the task, getting it out of the way probably felt good, and it probably is a good idea to acknowledge that feeling.
I’ve found it helps to take checkpoints throughout the day and acknowledge everything I have managed to get done. This exercise does a lot to help keep things in perspective. Taking a checkpoint when arriving home from work helps clear my head and refocus, so that the evening can be as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
This same philosophy can be applied to long-term goals and milestones. Learn to remind yourself of achievements and accomplishments instead of just crushing through them, and immediately focusing ahead to the remaining list. It’s another way of training your mind to focus on the positive as opposed to the negative.
Avoid Complaining and Complainers
Surrounding yourself with people who like to complain will probably turn you into a complainer yourself. Complaining doesn’t help anyone. We all have legitimate gripes and issues to deal with in our lives, but complaining is going to do nothing to address those concerns.
Complaining generates mental overhead and is best avoided. It will only add a layer of negativity to your mindset, and considering how powerful mindset is, it goes without saying why this is no good.
Take note of what others around you are saying. If they are complaining while offering no value in terms of a thoughtful point of view or a solution to the problem, learn to filter them out of your life as much as possible.
This rings true in recent months in particular: the current election cycle has brought the complainers out in droves.
The tactics described above can help you to achieve a more positive mindset. In a world full of multitasking and instant gratification, our minds are trained to keep racing and refocusing as if it were the mind’s natural state.
Remember that there is no badge for being too busy or trying to appear that way (at least, no badge that is in our best interest to seek out). It is easy to forget this truth out of fear of falling behind in our lives, but it’s important to do as much as we can to constantly be reminded.
The next time you catch yourself defaulting to “I’m busy” when asked how you are doing, stop and think about how things are really going. Create space for yourself, friends, and loved ones; tune out the rest of the noise — instead of vice-versa.