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Controlling a Chaotic Mind
In the absence of a system, anxiety takes over.
I hope you’re enjoying your Sunday afternoon. Today we’re talking about the chaos of the mind and transforming our consciousness from an anxious jumble of ideas into a curated collection of worthwhile actions.
I hope the thoughts and ideas below spark meaningful reflection and as always, thanks for reading!
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Controlling a Chaotic Mind
Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.
Consciousness is the difference between being dead and alive.
Our entire body can function perfectly, but without consciousness, we have no way of interacting with the world or controlling our physical bodies. If our bodies decay before our minds, we can continue making an impact and being ourselves. But if our minds decay before our bodies, it’s not worth sticking around for much longer.
Consciousness, the thoughts and ideas bouncing around in our heads (and our awareness of them), is the most valuable thing we have because it’s who we are.
Despite its importance, our minds embody the same state of entropy as the rest of nature.
The thoughts and ideas that make up our consciousness are pure chaos. We constantly generate new thoughts and they bounce around in our heads randomly. Some of them are profound or useful, others are indulgent or shameful, and most of them are entirely useless.
A chaotic mind traps us in a state of inaction. When random thoughts are left unchecked, we don’t know what’s important to us, what we believe in, or what to do next.
In the absence of a system to make sense of the disorder, anxiety takes over.
We all have the same pink spongey thing in our heads generating an insurmountable volume of thoughts, but some people experience less anxiety than others. The difference isn’t in the volume or quality of their thoughts, it lies in their ability to process, understand, and take action on their ideas.
Our brains are like a giant pipe spewing dirty water at an uncontrollable rate. There’s nothing we can do to slow down or stop the source so we need to focus on filtering the water as effectively as we can.
To differentiate signal from noise and reduce our anxiety we need a strategy to 1) recognize our thoughts, 2) understand them, and 3) take action on them.
This begins with cultivating awareness. Researchers at Auburn University estimate we’re only aware of 5% of our cognitive activity, so the vast majority of the chaotic mind slips below our level of awareness.
If we bring more cognitive activity to the forefront of our minds, we will reduce the uncertainty and chaos that live below our normal levels of perception.
Once we’re aware of our thoughts, we can begin the process of understanding them. Often we’ll recognize we’re drawn to something or frustrated by someone, but we don’t know why.
Awareness lets us identify worthwhile or meaningful thoughts/ideas and reflection lets us understand them. (Unsurprisingly, I think journaling is the best tool for peeling back the layers and understanding not only where those thoughts are coming from, but why we feel a certain way about them).
After cultivating awareness to recognize a worthwhile idea and journaling to understand it, we can take action on it. If we play our cards right, we’ll have a long list of impactful things to do. To make sure we don’t fall into the same state of overwhelm and anxiety, we need to get these tasks or projects out of our heads and into a trusted system. Our brains are much better at thinking and doing than they are at remembering.
The same way we triage our email inbox to transform a mess of random information into a prioritized list of action items, we can process the ideas in our heads from a jumbled mess into worthwhile actions that help us become a bit better each day.
Our default state of mind is chaos and buried in the chaos are the gems that make us who we are. When we implement a system to filter our thoughts, we replace worry with consistent action that moves us closer to the person we’d like to become.
What daily practice can you implement to cultivate awareness of your thoughts?
How can you develop a deeper understanding of your thoughts and ideas?
Do you have a trusted system to capture the projects and tasks that are most important to you?
Meditating is hard, but it’s the most powerful tool we have for cultivating our awareness. This is a quick guided meditation I come back to frequently.
Journaling is the best way to understand our thoughts, but it’s tough to know where to start. Here are 156 prompts to make it easy to get started.
I’d consider myself a productivity / task management geek. I’ve tried a lot of tools, but Sunsama is far and away the best tool I’ve ever used. Try it for a week and you won’t look back.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.