Tools for Slowing a Speedy Mind

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Do you ever feel like you can’t slow down? Like your mind keeps jumping ahead to what’s next instead of staying with the here and now?

Or maybe you wander in the other direction, stuck rethinking the same regrets or reproaches no matter how many times you remind yourself not to.

Welcome to everyday normal, where minds are designed to wander, scan and (re)mind us to stay out of harm’s way. Mostly this happens behind the scenes, so we’re not even aware of it.

Who hasn’t had the experience of perking up when someone across the room quietly mentions your name in conversation? Even though you didn’t realize you were listening, you’re instantly tuned in. That’s your brain at work in scanning mode, keeping you safe from gossip!

Helpful as these default modes can be, when we don’t pay attention, we’re likely to limit our experiences by automatically labeling and categorizing based on past events and future predictions, which prevents us from fully connecting with what’s actually happening now.

Your brain is a prediction machine, ready to leap to conclusions based on past events or current beliefs. Yet how accurate are these predictions? According to a study reported in Psychology Today a whopping 91 percent of things we worry about never come to pass. And of the remaining 9 percent of worries that did come true, the outcome was better than expected about a third of the time.

So how do we stop this crazytrain, or at least slow the race to the station long enough to assess whether our first reaction is the best one? Hint, decisions made in the heat of a reactive moment rarely are.

With all our advances in neuroscience, our minds remain somewhat of a mystery. And while we can’t change the design, we can reshape the functionality, so we’re able to catch ourselves before we glide back into wander-mode.

One proven way is through mindfulness, the process of turning your focused and non-judgmental attention to the present moment.

Mindfulness requires tuning in to the here and now, not in a hippy dippy way, but as a mental and physical practice of refocusing your attention every time your mind wanders. It’s like a bicep curl for the brain. And when your brain won’t cooperate, try taking 2 minutes to focus on your physical flow of your breath or to savor the smell and taste of a delicious piece of fruit.

During that 2-minute span, your mind may wander 10 times, to follow a sound you heard, an idea you just had, to a sudden itch or a review of your to-do list. So, simply bring it back to the breath or the sensory delight of the food all 10 times and boom! Ten mental bicep curls done, just like that. Pretty good for also enjoying what you’re doing at the same time.  

Mindfulness techniques are helpful in managing stress, improving mental well-being, and enhancing self-awareness by allowing us to notice and intercept our usual habits of detachment, judgment, and isolation.

So, when your mind won’t sit still no matter how many times you tell yourself to focus, mindfulness can be a way to slow your roll.

Here are some simple techniques for training your attention when your brain is on overdrive.

First, stop. Now notice how you’re breathing, how you’re holding your posture, whether you’re clenching your jaw or your hands.

Breathe in and out through your nose for equal counts of 4, releasing any tension or holding on the out-breath.

Once you feel grounded, try using some everyday activities to prolong this feeling of presence.

Here are some techniques for tuning into your senses in a whole new way, by working with the body to calm the mind:

  1. Mindful eating: Also known as savoring, this exercise encourages you to eat with full awareness of the sensory experience of your food, noticing the visual details, the smell, as you linger over the taste and even appreciate the texture. By savoring each bite you become more in tune with your body’s signals of hunger and fullness. This is a great tool for weight management too.
  2. Mindful Scentsing: This exercise involves exploring different scents, either from candles botanicals or essential oils, with full attention. It helps you become more aware of how different scents affect your mood and emotions. The smell of lavender can bring instant calm, while citrus scents are often uplifting.
  3. Mindful listening: Choose a piece of music and listen to it attentively, focusing on the lyrics, instruments, and overall auditory experience. This exercise encourages you to notice new details in familiar songs and enhances your ability to concentrate on auditory stimuli.
  4. Mindfulness through touch: This exercise involves tactile exploration, where you take an object and use your sense of touch to fully experience its shape, texture, and temperature. It can be done with various objects or fabrics to heighten your sensory awareness. But simply rubbing the fingertips lightly together and focusing sharply on that sensation is enough to refocus your attention in a mindful moment.
  5. Mindful walking: Take a walk while paying close attention to the sensations of your feet on the ground. It’s a form of walking meditation that helps you stay present and focused during the walk.
  6. Mindfulness in nature: Similar to mindful walking, this exercise involves walking in a natural setting while paying attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. It encourages you to immerse yourself in the experience and return to the present when distractions arise

These mindfulness practices have been shown to help slow down the thought train, reduce anxiety, and enhance your overall sense of well-being. You can incorporate them into your daily routine or use them whenever you need to come back, get focused, and be here now!

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