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Combat Mental Entropy With These 10 Tips

Combat Mental Entropy With These 10 Tips
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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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

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    Here are some things you might want to consider to keep your mind sharp:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

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    Last Updated on September 17, 2020

    5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

    5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

    There’s nothing quite like a state of “flow” when you’re working. The rare moments when your inspiration aligns with your motivation likely lead to some of your most creative work. Plus, it feels great to actually check a task or project off the list so you can move on to the next thing. Meanwhile, a mental block — its opposite — can cause work to feel laborious and uninspired. Forget creativity when you have a mental block — it makes it difficult even to start working on what you need to do.

    A mental block can manifest in several ways. Perhaps your imposter syndrome is squelching your creative ideas, for instance, or you’re overwhelmed by the breadth of a project and its impending deadline. Maybe you’re just tired or stressed.

    Either way, having a mental block feels like being trapped in your own head, and it can seriously dampen your ability to think outside the box. The problem is, you’re so locked into your own perspective that you don’t see more innovative approaches to your problems.[1]

    Luckily, jumping over these mental hurdles is simpler than you think. You just need the right strategies to get your flow back.

    Try these five practical ways to overcome a mental block.

    1. Break Your Project Down

    A few years ago, I was working on changing a company product that I believed would hugely benefit our customers. Sounds great, right?

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    As inspired as I was to make people’s lives easier, though, the sheer magnitude of the task at hand felt overwhelming. Every morning, I cracked open my laptop to work and felt totally paralyzed. I loved the idea, yes, but actualizing it felt risky. What if it didn’t turn out the way I pictured in my mind? More importantly, where would I even begin?

    A former colleague gave me great advice over coffee:

    Change how you think. Start by breaking the big project down into small tasks.

    When a major project overwhelms you, you only see the entire forest instead of the individual trees. And as you stare it down, you start to feel discouraged by your own lack of progress, thus slowing you down further.

    Breaking down a massive task into smaller chunks makes the work feel more manageable. You’ll have multiple clear places to start and end with, which will lend a motivating sense of productivity and mastery to your process. Learn more about it here: The Motivation Flowchart: The Mental Process of Successful People

    Think of it as accumulating small wins. When you realize you’re more capable than you have once thought, you’ll develop the momentum and confidence needed to get your big job done little by little.[2]

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    2. Change Up Your Scenery

    Of course, there’s a time and place for sitting down to get things done. But if you’re experiencing a mental block, switching up your surroundings can make a big difference in your output.

    Have you ever noticed how your environment directly impacts your performance and mood?

    Your brain associates your physical surroundings with certain feelings and activities. So, if you feel mentally stuck, your mind may need some new sensory stimuli.

    During this time in your life, it may not be possible to set up shop at a cafe or move from your cubicle to a conference room, so you may need to think outside the box. If you’re working remotely in a home office, try going to your dining table or couch. If the weather cooperates, sit outside for a bit with your computer or take a walk around the block.

    You can also simply rearrange your workspace. Not sure where to begin? Try decluttering. Some studies show that an organized desk enhances productivity.[3]

    The point is to stimulate your brain with new sounds and sights. You may find a much-needed dose of inspiration when you work while breathing in the fresh air, listening to city sounds, or staying in the comfort of your own living space.

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    3. Do an Unrelated Activity

    When it comes to productivity, a bit of distraction isn’t always a bad thing. That’s especially true if your chosen distraction helps you get things done in the long run.

    Have you realized how your most creative thoughts tend to bubble up when you’re, say, lying in bed or taking a shower? In their research of the “incubation period,” scientists have discovered that people’s best ideas seem to surface when they aren’t actively trying to solve a problem.[4]

    In a 2010 study, participants needed to look for a roommate or new employee based on the profiles that the researchers gave. The people who had a brief “incubation period” — in this case, working on an anagram — consistently made better choices than those who spent more time weighing their options.

    If you can’t seem to prime your brain for a project, try doing something completely unrelated to work, such as washing your dishes, working out, or calling a friend. Some experts say finding another low-stake project to work on can help jump-start the creative part of your brain and activate your flow.[5]

    The key is to allow your unconscious mind to do its best work: eliciting the new knowledge your conscious mind may be ignoring or suppressing.[6]

    4. Be Physical

    Feeling antsy? When your mind won’t seem to settle into a state of flow, it may help to swap out your mental activity for a physical one and see how it impacts your perspective.

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    While any physical activity is beneficial for your body — and getting up to move can serve as a helpful form of distraction — certain forms of exercise can more directly impact the mind. To be specific, relaxing, flow-based exercises like dance, yoga, or tai chi can create a gentle sense of momentum in your body, which can prime your brain for the same state.

    Stress-reducing activities may also be necessary. Meditating or taking slow, deep breaths will also calm your nervous system if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Evidence shows that the logical, creative part of your brain essentially shuts off when you’re stressed.[7]

    On the flip side, when your mind and body are relaxed, you can think more clearly, be more creative, and focus for longer periods — all of which will help you overcome a mental block.

    5. Don’t Force It

    It can be frustrating to fight against your own mind. If your mental block won’t go away after some effort, it may be time to take a break. Forcing creative thoughts only adds to your stress levels, which in turn inhibits your ability to think creatively. And if you sit and stare at a project for too long, you’ll not only waste valuable time but also begin to associate this specific work with frustration and produce work you’re not proud of.

    “I know that forcing something is not going to create anything beyond mediocre, so I step aside and work on a different project until it hits me,” the artist Ben Skinner said about his creative process.[8]

    If your work isn’t time-sensitive, then it may make sense to step away for a while to focus on something else, be it an administrative task that requires less creativity or a project that you feel motivated to work on.

    When the time is right, you’ll find your way back to the original task with a fresh, creative perspective (hopefully).

    More on Getting Rid of a Mental Block

    Featured photo credit: Jonas Leupe via unsplash.com

    Reference

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