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Would You Like To Maximise Your Brain? Try Emptying It First

Would You Like To Maximise Your Brain? Try Emptying It First

Keeping track of everything that you ought to remember and everything that you need to do can be overwhelming. Does it ever seem like your mind is completely overloaded? There’s always something that needs your attention.

Keeping all those tidbits of information in your head is mind-boggling, and it keeps you from being able to relax. Externalising your tasks by writing them down is a simple way to free up your metal space and get organised.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a “brain dump” is the perfect way to reduce stress, focus, and get motivated.

There’s nothing wrong with externalising

Some people deny the value of externalising or feel that it’s a sign of weakness. They may feel that a need to write things down means that you don’t have a good memory or the mental capacity to keep up. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

We come by this aversion to writing things down honestly. Socrates felt that writing destroyed our memory and weakened our minds. He even argued that it was “inhuman” to write things down.

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Sometimes pulling out the pen and notepad seems like a step we could skip. For example, you could go to the supermarket without making a grocery list, or pack your suitcase without a packing list. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.

Without a list, you’ll end up going over-budget at the grocery store, or you’ll forget to buy something. Without making a packing list, the likelihood that you forget an essential item like your phone charger or travel adapter increases dramatically.

    Your brain isn’t meant to juggle so many things at once

    Our brains are powerful, but research shows that we don’t multi-task very well.[1] When you multi-task, your brain splits your attention. You may think that you are doing two tasks at once effectively, but your mind is just flipping back and forth between them.

    You can only hang on to a few ideas at a time, and you can only truly focus on one task. Your brain also doesn’t prioritize very well. Your emails, your to-do list, that thing you have to remember, an item you’re waiting on, and the task you’re trying to complete are all competing for your attention.

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      Our brains are made to solve problems and make connections. They aren’t so great at holding onto tidbits of information that we could easily externalize.

      Here are ways that you can (and should) externalise

      1. Make a to-do list. When you write down what you need to do, the thought of those tasks won’t clog your short-term memory.
      2. Use a calendar. Adding your appointments and meetings to your calendar keeps you from having to worry about them. Those items come into your mental space only when you need to focus on them, which keeps you from worrying about whether you’re forgetting something all the time.
      3. Make shopping lists. There’s nothing more frustrating than coming home from the store only to realise that you’ve forgotten what you went there for in the first place. A shopping list will save you time, and it will help you stick to a budget.

      Imagine what you could do with more mental bandwidth

      Freeing up mental space occupied by trivial items gives your brain the chance to do what it’s built for: coming up with new ideas and making connections.

      Your mind has such an incredible capacity for innovation, but it’s the wrong place to store everything you need to get done. It’s not made to house your to-do lists and appointment calendar. The more you can get rid of these things that are taking up your mental space, the more clearly you’ll think.

      In the late 1920s, the Zeigarnik Effect was discovered. This psychological concept explains that our brains hold on to incomplete or interrupted tasks more readily than they hold onto completed ones.[2] The things you haven’t finished take up more bandwidth than things you’ve already done.

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      Put theory into practice

      When I emptied my mind of all the things weighing on it, I realised how the Zeigarnik Effect influenced my life. After I cleared my mind by externalising everything that I could, I had so much more mental clarity, and I was more relaxed than I had been for a long time.

      I also learned that it’s important to capture tasks as they come up in order to maintain clarity. Getting unresolved commitments out of my head and onto task lists was great, but new things were constantly coming up. I had develop a system to keep those low-return tasks from taking over.

      Find a system for externalising that works for you

      Some of the most productive people I know rely on good old-fashioned pen and paper to keep their commitments in order. This is a great system, but it’s not the only way to approach externalisation.

      I’ve settled into a system that integrates seamlessly with my life. You have to find something that seems completely natural to you. It should make it easy for you to see, manage, and prioritise everything that needs your attention. Choosing the right system makes things come together almost effortlessly.

      The ‘Waiting For’ list is a powerful tool to add to your productivity arsenal.[3] It adds a new dimension to your to-do list. Instead of just tracking what you need to complete, you also note things that you are waiting on to complete those tasks.

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      For example, imagine you’re planning an event, but you need a formal request document signed by a superior to order supplies. Your ‘Waiting For’ list would include something like “Receive signed formal request from the boss.”

      Having such a list can help you understand what parts of your projects are within your control and what needs the input of others. Tracking this can let you know whom to follow up with if you don’t have everything you need.

      This system is simple to integrate. Of course, you can write your list by hand, but you can also develop a system for handling emails. After you send emails that need responses, drag those messages into a ‘Waiting For’ folder. You’ll be able to see what you need to be tracking, and it will help you catch important messages that might end up in your spam folder.

      Free your mind

      There’s nothing noble about trying to make your brain do things that it doesn’t do very well. Develop a system to externalise what you need to do. You’ll feel less stressed, and you’ll be so much more effective when you’re free to focus.

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on November 11, 2019

      How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life

      How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life

      When a young CEO stepped in at the helm of a dying giant, his first task was to figure out what needed to be done to save the company. After he spent some time researching the company and the market situation, he came up with a simple plan which he introduced to the shareholders in his first speech as the CEO.

      He spoke just about one single thing–safety. Everyone in the room thought he was crazy and some people jumped the soon-to-be-dead ship.

      15 years later, he not salvaged the giant, but made it one of the strongest steel and metal companies in the world and made a global name of himself.

      The company is Alcoa and the guy was Paul O’Neill.

      But the story matters to us for one thing only and that is the relentless focus he had on safety and security in his company. Paul O’Neill said that his employees deserve to leave work the same way they arrived at it–unharmed.

      And it was this radical focus on a single habit in the company that made it great. A single focus on a single habit which had a massive ripple effect.

      This is known as a keystone habit.

      The Importance of a Keystone Habit

      A keystone habit is a habit which has the biggest ripple effect in your life which means that by implementing it, you will radically change everything in your life.

      It’s quite easy to spot the keystone habits which make your life miserable.

      Take overeating as an example. If you weigh 400 pounds, you’re bedridden and your physical health massively declines. You can’t function individually so you need help to even do the basic things like going to the toilet or walking up the stairs. Since you can’t move, you can’t go to your job so you probably lose it. And since you can’t move, you can’t go out and meet someone so your dating and social life decline as well. And as a formerly overweight person, I know how this sucks.

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      This is just one example of how a keystone habit creates a ripple effect which creates change in every sphere of our lives. So we better open our eyes and make sure that we use the power of the keystone habits for bettering our life.

      Why Less Is More

      A keystone habit is about one thing and, the one thing only which you do to radically improve your life. And a lot of people would, at this point, ask what are the best keystone habits to implement in their lives.

      And here is the big truth: Nobody knows and nobody can tell you exactly.

      Everyone is specific and has different things going on for them in their lives, so claiming something is always superior to something else would simply be irresponsible.

      So even though I can’t tell you what to see, I can tell you where to look.

      Every keystone habit can be situated into one of the following four quadrants:

      It’s either a physical habit, intellectual habit, emotional habit or a spiritual habit.

      Any keystone habit I ever encountered which changed the life of someone falls under these 4 categories.

      And the trick is recognizing what kind of habit right would benefit your life the best at this moment. Asking what the best keystone habit has the same effect as asking what the best book in the world is– it depends on who you ask and what your current life situation is.

      If you’re struggling with the meaning of life and want to find hope in this crazy world we live in, I would point you to a great book which recently came out called Everything is F*cked by Mark Mason. If you were a struggling parent of a 10-year old kid who just found out the perils of the internet, I would point you to a security app.

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      You get the point…

      But just because everything is relative, it doesn’t mean that some things aren’t better than other things. War and Peace will always be a great book no matter if it currently befits you to read it. And the same thing can be applied to keystone habits so let’s see what kind of keystone habits fall into the great category.

      Great Keystone Habits

      I have already mentioned how all keystone habits fall into one of the four categories: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. So the following keystone habits will fall into one (or more) of these buckets.

      But before we proceed into the habits, know this.

      What got you here, won’t get you there.

      So if you already have a keystone habit which you implemented for quite a while now and you think it’s no longer working, you are probably right. We need certain things at certain times of development, but we need to let them go later on to grow to new levels. So use the habits to better your life, but don’t worship any one of them for your entire life.

      Physical Domain

      When it comes to great keystone habits in the physical domain, they all fall into two buckets:

      • Exercise
      • Food

      These two are the pinnacle of the physical domain when it comes to keystone habits. I don’t even have to tell you all the ways exercise helps you in your life.

      From better hormonal regulation, to energy levels, to looking better, to feeling more confident, to increasing your lifespan and the quality of your life, a keystone habit of exercising is one whose effects you will feel fast.

      When it comes to food, it’s literally the building block of your life’s energy. If you eat garbage, you will feel like garbage–garbage in, garbage out. And your energy levels are one of the most important factors you need to regulate in your life if you want to achieve anything.

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      None of your dreams will ever come true if you eat a massive bag of chips every single day, which makes you drowsy and lifeless no matter how much ambition you have.

      But the physical domain is just one of the four domains so let’s jump to the next one.

      Intellectual Domain

      There are many great intellectual keystone habits we can pursue, but I will just name a couple of them which most of you who read the article will find relevant:

      • Reading Books
      • Writing (columns, articles, personal blog or diary)
      • Learning new languages
      • Learning a new skill set (copywriting, coaching, cooking…)
      • Teaching your skillset or your life experiences

      All of these have their own benefits and can massively improve your life and the life of people around you. When you, for example, learn a new language, you don’t just learn a new language, you learn a completely new way of thinking and form unique connections in your mind.

      But we don’t stop here, we have two more domains to cover.

      Emotional Domain

      This is a difficult one because, for one, it’s really hard to measure it in any quantitive way. You can’t just call your wife every single day and think that by doing just that, you are a good husband. It doesn’t work like that.

      I wrote about the problems of measuring emotional habits before and I won’t go in-depth about it here, but I will just mention that measuring these kinds of habits requires your and yours only subjective analyses. It’s like giving yourself a daily score of 1-10 on the question of “Did I do my best to be a great husband today?”

      The keystone habits of the emotional domain are one of the most complex and difficult ones to pull off because they require most people to change things they do in relation to other people.

      If you want to be more sincere and honest in your emotional responses, that means that you will have to make some people angry by doing that. It can be a difficult conversation you need to have with your spouse or with your friends, maybe a disagreement with your peers and colleagues, or a deep look within yourself with an honest look about your actions and mistakes.

      Emotional domain keystone habits improve your life in any stage, but since they make us do uncomfortable things, they are the last ones we pursue.

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      Some of the examples would be:

      • Telling yourself that you are the only one who is responsible for your emotions and keeping that standard
      • Calling out passive-aggressive in people
      • Speaking your mind even though you know it will bring disagreement
      • Dealing with your own problems first before pointing fingers
      • Asking for feedback constantly, both positive and negative ones
      • Deciding to be vulnerable even though it means risking being hurt

      The things I wrote above are probably the most difficult things you can ask someone to do, but they are also the most rewarding things you can do in your life. If you want to achieve greatness, you need to be willing to dare greatly.

      And last, but not least, are the keystone habits of the spiritual domain.

      Spiritual Domain

      The keystone habits of the spiritual domain are our connection with things which in our lives that have a higher purpose than just ourselves. This is the place where feel the connection with our communities, with Higher Beings, with God or Emptiness or whatever you want to call it.

      The spiritual domain is the strongest as a guiding force in life and some of the keystone habits of this domain include:

      • Finding your life’s purpose
      • Living your vision of life
      • Sacrificing yourself for the achievement of something bigger than you
      • Nurturing your inner voice and connection with the Spirit

      To some readers, this might seem like woo-woo, but I can assure that it isn’t. This is about the spiritual dimension of every individual and if you disregard it, you will annulate a part of you which will become a problem.

      The Western world currently faces a major spiritual crisis where people feel disconnected with anything in their lives which has a higher purpose than themselves. That’s why people are miserable even though they lead an “objectively” rich life where they appear to have everything but still feel like happiness is not in their lives.

      If you read all the way up to here, you found at least one keystone habit which can help you right now in your life.

      All that is left now is to implement it. As the famous adage goes:

      “Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.”

      Now you know, it’s time to do.

      More About Habits

      Featured photo credit: Bram Naus via unsplash.com

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