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How to Shut Off the Overly Busy Mind

When you try to write, do you find that your mind races -- jumps from thought to thought and you just can't seem to settle down and write productively? Well, you're certainly not alone -- my mind simply won't rest.

Our wonderful Writing Club Coach, Rene, has some great ideas for those of us who have an overly busy mind. I think you'll enjoy her tips for how to regain your focus and be more productive with your writing.


How to Shut off the Overly Busy Mind
by Rene Hadjigeorgalis, Academic Writing Club Coach

Have you ever been in a situation where you just could not shut your brain off? This is our tendency to not let it go mentally and to insist on analyzing and re-analyzing something until we have done it to death.

The busy mind is not a good thing. Continuously and obsessively thinking about something to no end doesn't get us our solution. Just like our body, our brain needs rest to function well and to figure out the answers we are looking for. But, you say, I go to sleep and I keep on thinking about it (whatever it is)? Yes, you do, because the busy mind is persistent. It will forge on while you are driving, while you are exercising, while you sleep even! And of course it is alive and well when you are trying to write. How to turn it off? Where's the switch?

The key to quieting the busy mind is to recognize that the brain has a mind of its own (no pun intended). It will keep on thinking and thinking and ignore your inner pleas to at least think about something else! To derail the busy mind, you need to engage the brain in some other thinking activity. Here are some suggestions:

1. Free write This is particularly helpful if you are having trouble concentrating because your brain is stuck on some other issue.

Okay, persistent little brain, here are your 15 minutes. Just write and write without stopping about whatever the issue at hand is. Make a list of what you need to do to deal with the issue. Tell your brain in this writing that you will not forget about the issue, that you are working on it, that there is a solution, but for the next 30 minutes you need to work on something else and then you will come back to think about it. Writing about it gets it out of your brain and onto paper so that your brain can think about something else.

2. Read an entertaining/engrossing book. This is particularly helpful when you retire at night and can't stop thinking about something. Now, to make yourself sleepy you are supposed to read something not so entertaining, but this doesn't work if you have psycho-brain going. Mr. Thinker Brain is just going to get bored with the text and start thinking about the problem again.

By engaging the brain in another interesting activity you distract it from the thinking chain.

3. Play some Sudoku or other kind of thinking game. Personally, I have never gotten the hang of Soduku, but I find it very engrossing and hard to think about anything else while I am playing it. Crossword puzzles and word searches work well also.

4. Do some concentration exercises. Here is my favorite. Pick up a book and a nice sized paragraph and count the number of words in the paragraph without using your finger to follow along. Easy peezy lemon squeezy you say. Ha! Try it and see if you don't have to really concentrate to not lose count.

5. Meditate This is a great practice to cultivate, but meditation won't work for you in your hour of need if you have not already practiced it. Start today, start small (1 minute, 2 minutes). Or take a yoga class and learn there (see below). Meditation is something you definitely want in your toolbox when you are hit with the busy mind.

6. Practice breathing deeply in and out for 5 minutes Set a timer. I have found that when my brain is really in overdrive, 5 minutes doesn't do it, but it is almost impossible not to calm down your mind and body if you continue to take long, slow breaths for 5-10 minutes. 7. Take a yoga class This is also an activity that requires your concentration. I find that it is easy to continue on with the busy mind during a spinning class, but less so in yoga where, quite frankly, you will just fall over. An evening hatha yoga class of about 90 minutes can really do wonders to clear your mind and improve your sleep.

8. If stress is what you are feeling rather than an overactive mind, get some vigorous exercise -- very long walk, run, biking, swimming. It will tire you out and provide a release for all that energy.

What tips or tricks do you use to calm your busy mind?


If your overly busy mind makes writing a challenge, we have just the answer for you! The Academic Writing Club provides the structure, guidance, accountability, coaching feedback and interactivity with peers that you need in order to write productively.

With the Club you will discover how much more you can get done, and how much less painful writing can be when you have the right support.

In addition to the online program, you will get extra tips on how to become a more productive writer and how to maximize your time in the Club, in our free teleclass, "Six Strategies for Successful Academic Writing."

All this, plus our free telephone group coaching Q & A session, will help you jump start and continue your productive writing throughout the year. (You will receive recordings of both teleclasses in downloadable MP3 format). Just the teleclass and very popular telephone group are worth the Writing Club fee!

Check out the Writing Club at:

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  1. Anonymous2:13 PM

    Thanks for the tips! I've found that guided mediation (ie via a CD) is very helpful: it forces the busy mind to listen to the words and follow the breathing exercises -- and it helps me fall asleep at night (I'm using Deepak Chopra's Sleep meditation CD).

  2. I totally agree, with you, anonymous. I am not "soothed" by music alone. I need to have those words to focus on -- then I can get very relaxed very quickly. I'll look into Deepak Chopra's CDs.

  3. Thank you so much for this! I use the puzzles method to switch off my mind but it is so hard to focus when it comes to actually sitting down to write essays. Once I'm working though, an earthquake won't disturb me!

  4. I Like the electronic game Simon. Memorizing patterns through sound and color. My mind gets so busy on a problem that once it is solved, I am still obsessed. I have to remind myself that this one is solved, now onto the next challenge.

  5. Linda, I could see why that would work. Simon is totally not-verbal, so there is a meditative component to it, I would think.


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