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Sync Your Brain And Your System Using a Mind Dump

Sync Your Brain And Your System Using a Mind Dump

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    One of the keys to any productivity system is to actually put things into the system. Who knew?

    Obvious though it may seem, many of us have trouble taking the time to enter our thoughts into our task-manager, to-do list, or organizational system.

    This can happen for any number of reasons – no paper nearby, no easy way to record your ideas – but our productivity can be hurt by not inputting everything into our system so we can deal with it properly.

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    What should live on paper lives in our brain, and then proceeds to be forgotten and left alone. That’s a surefire road to getting yourself in trouble- or at least forgetting leaky faucets.

    There’s a simple, quick solution to this problem, though – it’s called a mind dump.

    A mind dump is simply a way for you to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Our brains aren’t made to remember things forever, but paper is; with an empty brain, we’re able to either focus on new things or deal with the task at hand, instead of constantly dwelling on past things taking up valuable bandwidth.

    Executing a mind dump is simple: take out a pen and a paper, or fire up a new document on your computer. Then, write down everything that comes to your mind. There is no step three.

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    Anything and everything is fair game: what you have to do, what you’re thinking about, hopes, dreams, goals, and whatever else comes into your mind. Set a time limit – say, 20 minutes – and everything that enters your brain immediately must exit your brain and go onto your paper.

    Once you’re done, you can begin to take action on the items you’ve written. On what do you need to take action? What do you need to deal with, follow up about, or file somewhere?

    Things that don’t need to be further dealt with? Just get rid of them. Make sure you don’t need to think about them ever again, and be done with them.

    There’s no set way for doing the best mind dump possible. The point is to reset your brain, update your productivity system, and put onto paper all the things that have been taking up the valuable (and limited) space in your brain.

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    Many people use “triggers” to make their mind dumps easier – a set of key words or phrases that set your mind on a particular aspect of your life, in order to let you focus on items related to it. 43 Folders has a long list of these triggers, everything from “Phone calls,” to “Furniture”, to “Weddings.”

    Some people, GTD followers in particular, do a mind dump before their Weekly Review, as part of figuring out what the week ahead has in store. Others, like myself, do it once a week or so – whenever I have 20 minutes to spare. I recommend doing it at least once a week – it has a tendency to get long and unweildly otherwise.

    A mind dump can also be done anywhere – another great thing about it. Open up a note on a cell phone, or write on the back of a newspaper; wherever you are, if you’ve got a free moment, clear your head.

    You’ll be amazed how many things come out of your brain and into your organizational system, when you devote time and space to emptying it.

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    How and when do you get things out of your head and into your system?

    Photo: Tyla ’75

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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