Entropy in physics is a measure of disorder. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy will tend to increase. It isn’t uncommon to see an egg break, but it is extremely unlikely that a broken egg will spontaneously reform. Entropy increases with time.
Along with physical entropy I believe we all have mental entropy. This is the amount of chaos present in our minds. Problems, frustrations, tasks and people stack up to produce mental chaos. If you’ve ever felt like you have solved one problem only to have two more pop up in its place, that is the best example of increasing mental entropy.
Creating Order From Mental Chaos
How do you combat this chaos of the mind? I think the answer is to go through regular sessions to order it back together. These sessions don’t need to be incredibly time-consuming, but even a short investment every few days can keep you mentally sharp. Although physics suggests that entropy will continually increase, with a bit of effort you can keep it from growing in your head.
The beauty of this approach is that you’re already doing it. Everyone has their own ways to relieve stress and make sense of the disorganization in their thoughts. By realizing that controlling the chaos was your original goal, you can get the benefits without the waste.
How many times have you turned on the television only to watch something you don’t really like? What about meeting up with friends when you really need to finish that assignment? Or pressed the Stumble button one more time? While there are other reasons to surf and socialize, controlling mental entropy is a big one.
Methods for Controlling Disorder
Here are some things you might want to consider to keep your mind sharp:
- Writing – Journaling is often seen as a recording medium. I have a journal, but I almost never use it to record events. Instead I use it to sort through my thoughts on paper. Even spending ten minutes can clear up a lot of mental chaos. It is amazing how much clarity you can get through a bit of writing.
- Meditation - Another popular mental organizing tool is meditation. You might want to pick a specific focus for your meditation, or simply practice breathing. I usually find writing superior to meditation, but this can be more physically relaxing if the entropy is causing you tension.
- One on One - Talk out your thoughts with another person. Your friends probably don’t want to just hear you complain, but a bit of dialog can get your thoughts straight. Listening and returning the favor is still far less than $100 an hour.
- Walk - No destination or route, just walk. I find the light physical activity to be a good way to tune out mental noise. You can walk while thinking about a specific focus, or let your mind focus on thoughts in general. The extra time spent thinking without new input can help you regain order.
- Just Sit - “Just sitting,” is a Zen Buddhist practice. The idea is that you aren’t focusing on anything internal, external, problems or goals. You are just sitting. This may sound painfully boring, but the idea is that you stop focusing on yourself. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now refers to a similar practice he calls Being. Although sitting is one practice, it can be applied to almost any mentally light activity.
- Music - Music can be an emotional amplifier. Listening to angry, exciting or sad music can amplify any latent feelings inside yourself. Some music has the benefit of cancelling out any existing feelings so you can focus on ordering your thoughts. Although I enjoy listening to new music or classical music for this goal, the type of music isn’t as important as how you listen. Focusing on the composition itself and making sense of the notes and pauses.
- Reading – Authors don’t usually write in a disorganized fashion. Good writers will present ideas in a logical, smooth and controlled fashion. Reading can be used purely as an organizing activity. Your own thoughts become aligned with the highly structured information in the book.
- Rhythm - Your body is filled with rhythms. Heart pumping, breathing in and out, blinking and many more that go unseen or unheard. Spend a few minutes focusing on the internal rhythms of your own body or out in the world.
- Run - If you are in good physical shape, try running without listening to music. Better yet, try running without focusing on your thoughts. If you have a train of thoughts just let it flow and focus on the steady placement of your feet. This is a lot harder than it sounds, but every time I’ve done it the results have been worth it.
- New Perspective – Find a place you’ve never looked from before and sit there. This could be as simple as a corner of your room, or somewhere outside. Then spend the next five minutes studying the area as it appears around you.
Some of these may seem like a waste of time. But in reality they don’t take long. Many can be done in less than ten minutes. You were probably going to take breaks anyways, why not fill it with a thought-ordering routine instead of more chaos? After those ten minutes are up you can resume with a clearer mind.