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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.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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