We’ve all been there. We’re trying to get work done, but our brain is elsewhere. It’s re-hashing our troubles, revisiting embarrassing moments from our past, refusing to budge from a tense exchange with a friend. Wherever our brain is, it’s preventing us from focusing on the task at hand, and the inner monologue - that we’re stupid, that we’re unworthy, that we can’t ever get into med school - is dragging us down.
It’s times like these when we need techniques to help silence that monologue and bring our brains back to the present.
An interesting one that we practiced at a session at the UC Davis Health Conference, led by Terry Regan, a psychologist in the Bay Area, involves a simple notecard. Using the outer edges of the card, the instructions of the drill are to:
1. Start writing down all of your troubles and don’t stop.
2. Turn the card 90 degrees when you get to the end so that you continue to write in a square around the edge of the card.
3. When you circle back to the first sentence again, keep writing over it so that the resulting mess of letters and ink is unreadable.
4. Keep writing until you’re out of troubles in your brain (it should take a minute or two).
Now, look at all of your troubles sitting there on that card. You can’t read any particular one, but you can see them all stacked on top of each other. How meaningless they look! Those - that hodgepodge on the paper - are your troubles? Why waste brain power on that?
In all seriousness, exercising these troubles will help quiet that inner monologue and should provide some relief and clarity for the task ahead. You can use this technique to start your mornings, before you go to bed, or any time you need some focus. There are plenty of other techniques that accomplish the same thing - breathing techniques, meditation, exercise - but this one is nice because of how concrete it feels to be writing on paper.