Two things that I know to be true. One, I have a lot of thoughts (let’s call it chatter) in my head. And two, I have a finite amount of headspace. The stream of thoughts coming in often overwhelms me. If I could put an activity meter on my headspace, I imagine the needle flickering back and forth across the full line, a warning for me to stop filling up.
With all of the uncertainties and transitions of the past year (and continuing into this year), it feels like I have a record number of thoughts competing for my attention. My thoughts come in many forms – invited, uninvited, judgemental, helpful, annoying, distracting, extraneous, and so on.
A few months ago, I was talking through a jumbled assortment of thoughts with my partner, Fin. He summed it up nicely when he observed that it sounded like I was curating my headspace.
I love when an observation turns into an aha moment (that often happens when talking with Fin). I had been unconsciously curating my headspace as a way to untangle my thoughts, make decisions, prepare for reframes, and replenish my energy. And since that aha moment, I have been working on being more mindful and intentional about it.
The signals have always been there and now I’m learning to listen to them. I hold tension in my head. When my head feels jumbled, distracted, disorganized, or stressed, those are all signals for me to pay attention to. The signals show up in different ways – procrastination (that’s a big one), lack of focus, frustration, and sometimes tears. And when the tension is most strong, I feel an intense pressure in my head, like it could explode at any moment.
I now treat any and all of these signals like I would a fire alarm. I stop what I’m doing and I calmly exit the building. Or in the case of my headspace, I stop, take a beat, breathe, and then move getting my thoughts in order to the top of my priority list.
I am proactively curating my headspace. I’ve recently been introduced to the concept of equanimity, which is mental calmness and composure, especially in difficult situations. It’s how I’d like to be in the world and a state that I have a better chance of reaching if I’m proactive about curating my headspace.
This all came about after my first week back to work this year. After only a few days into 2021, I could feel myself going down an unhealthy path. I felt unfocused and my mind was jumbled. By the first weekend, I was in full-on explosive head mode. On a whim and with a strong desire to get my headspace under control, I downloaded a meditation app. It felt like a reactive and somewhat desperate move. Now, two months later, I am happy to report that my morning meditation (10 to 20 minutes a day) has been a game changer for me when it comes to creating space, interrupting my thoughts, and replenishing my mental energy.
It has been neat to shift an impulsive decision into a proactive habit. Being proactive about curating my headspace and practicing meditation is building up my endurance for the inevitable jumbled and explosive mind feeling that I have been known to experience.
I am experimenting with new systems. I’ve noticed that there are certain days and times of day when the chatter in my head is louder – Sunday night, Monday morning, and the end of the work day Monday through Thursday. To relieve the pressure and decrease the likelihood of intrusive thoughts at those moments, I have introduced a few new habits.
- Calendar management – I am a consistent calendar user so it made sense for me to try a new habit within my pre-existing system. At the end of every Friday, I create my Monday to-do list. I proactively get these work thoughts out of my head and take the pressure off of thinking about what I will need to do when Monday morning comes around. I also allocate Monday mornings as meeting-free time. I find that eases me into the week and reduces the likelihood of me thinking about work on Sunday evening. Plus, anything that is not done but needed for Monday can be done that morning.
- Outsourcing my meal planning – It may sound silly, but I cannot get it together and meal plan for the week. As a result, I often spin about what to make for dinner which leads to poor decisions. I have addressed this by signing up for a meal delivery service (thanks Fresh Prep!). This solution took a bit of unpacking. I had tried this before and talked myself out of it because the meals were things that I could theoretically come up with and cook on my own, and it seemed expensive. Once I realized that my issue was not my inability to cook or the price but in fact, the decision-fatigue that I felt most weeknights, then a meal delivery service made a lot more sense. I’m 3 weeks in and so far so good!
I am trying to reframe incoming suggestions and feedback as data, not obligation. This is really about knowing and respecting my boundaries. Sometimes it is about setting boundaries with others, but mostly it is about setting boundaries with myself.
I really noticed this as I was getting ready to launch my business. As part of my learning, I asked many people for advice. It was heartwarming to see how open people were about sharing their experiences and advice and I am grateful for all of it. At the same time, I was inviting a lot of new thoughts into my head that I ultimately had to decide what to do with.
I think that I am getting better at sorting through that info and deciding what works for me and where I’m at. It is hard because this is new and I often don’t know if I have enough information, how much weight to place on certain pieces of advice, when to accept and integrate it, and when to trust myself. My reframe for all of this is to treat all of the incoming advice as data – as something that I didn’t know before. I’m becoming efficient at thought trade-offs, knowing that I cannot use them all at once. Ultimately, I can take in the thoughts AND I also have to be okay saying (to myself), thank you, but not now.
How do you manage the influx of thoughts with a finite amount of headspace?