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10 Ways You Can Find More Time To Think

10 Ways You Can Find More Time To Think

People are juggling a lot these days: work, school, spouses, kids, chores, socializing and more. With all of these commitments, it can seem impossible to find the time to just sit down and think. However, time to think is important for maintaining optimal mental health. It also allows you figure out any problems in your life and do some soul-searching, if necessary. If you’re finding yourself short on time, try these 10 ways to fit thinking into your life:

1. Make the decision to make time.

If you’re going to make time to do more thinking, you need to commit to that decision. That means actively making time to do it. If you just say that you’ll make time, it’s likely that it won’t happen. Step up and make the decision that this is something that you want to do.

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2. Schedule it in.

Step two is scheduling that time. Try finding gaps in your calendar that are pretty consistent from week to week. That way, you’ll be able to schedule it in regular increments of time.

3. Write it down.

It might sound silly, but if there’s a problem that you want to think about for a while, write down what that problem is. Once you get to the point where you can sit down and think about it, remind yourself of what that issue is. This will keep the problem fresh in your mind, which will enable you to have a more informed thought process about it.

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4. Seek silence.

Even the most focused of people cannot think well around noise. It’s distracting and eats into thinking time. Try to find a time and place that is quiet and peaceful. Think of this as a time to meditate on whatever you want. This allows you to really focus all of your energy on the task at hand.

5. Be comfortable, mentally.

Many people are uncomfortable with too much time to think because they are afraid of facing their own thoughts. Don’t shy away from thinking. It’s important to be able to open up to yourself and think through things. This time is a gift, not a burden. Use it as a way to relax.

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6. Be comfortable, physically.

Laying down, sitting on a pillow, reclining on the lawn — find a space where you feel physically comfortable. This will enable you to have a pleasant experience and really get to thinking. Try to find someplace that will be comfortable for a long period of time to avoid distraction.

7. Talk to yourself.

Thinking out loud is very helpful to some people. Even if the only person listening is you, it can be great to hear ideas. It makes your thought process more concrete, and will help you reach a solution or answer more quickly than if you keep everything in your head.

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8. Take a break.

Midday breaks — such as lunchtime — are great times to think. Rather than working through lunch, take the time to gather your thoughts. Breakfast time provides another opportunity; in the morning, you can reflect about the tasks ahead and organize your day.

9. Exercise.

I find that workouts give me a great opportunity to think. This is especially true if you’re doing repetitive cardio, such as running. This involves little thought, which will give you more time to think about whatever is on your mind. The bonus is that thinking will take your mind off of the workout, which can make the activity seem easier.

10. Go on a drive.

Aimlessly driving around your neighborhood can be a great time to think. The car is quiet, and it’s a safe place to air your thoughts. Just make sure you’re not too distracted by your ideas, and pay attention to the road!

Featured photo credit: Kate Ter Haar via flickr.com

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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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