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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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