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image thanks to Prabhu B Doss
Taking a mental break is important. Sometimes it's challenging to handle distracting thoughts. In this article I'll outline some of the best tips I know that quickly clear your mind. What I'm going to share are some practical mental exercises that you can do wherever and whenever you need to.
Things come up that will often disturb a peaceful state of mind. Some things are external while others are self-imposed. In either case the result is the same - a distracted mind. A mind cluttered with thoughts that creates tension in the body. It's not healthy to carry that type of mental anxiety around. We know that stress can be seriously detrimental, yet we still don't take time to do anything about it. Fortunately we're going to take care of that right now so that you can quickly handle distracting thoughts and enjoy your day with a clear mind.
I know - if it were that easy you would have done it already. But just try it and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Distracting thoughts are like a shadow - they are only projections that don't reflect the truth of reality. As such they shouldn't be given too much attention. At some point you decided that it was useful to consider such thoughts. But when they become burdensome it's important to recognize them in order to set them aside. Right now, if just for a moment, give yourself permission to give up distracting thoughts. It may seem silly - but I want you to actually give your brain the command "I'm not worried about anything right now. I just want to have a moment without unnecessary thoughts." Repeat if necessary and take a couple of nice deep breaths.
Start with the obvious before you get too deep into your imagination. Take a couple of deep breaths and have a stretch. After that settle into your chair. Do a body scan starting from your feet. If you need help with this try our free 30 minute guided relaxation meditation. Progressively relax your muscles focusing on tense areas, end with loosening your neck and stretching your jaw. Now that you're physically relaxed imagine taking it one step further. You don't have to picture yourself in a sauna or hot-tub for this to work. In fact, I want you to forget about being somewhere cozy and imagine being relaxed right where you are. You know that dealing with your situation, whatever it may be, will be easier if you're calm and focused. Recognize it and strive for balance.Now that your imagination is warmed up...
Come on, it will be fun; or at least pleasant. It takes a little bit of imagination, but it can be an interesting experience. What do you think it's like to occupy the state of being of a Zen master? Imagine being able to clear your head in an instant and focus only on your breath. Notice how your body feels when it's unburdened by the weight of thoughts. Picture a mental cloud clearing out in the same way fog dissipates in the sun; the only thing left is a feeling of lightness and clarity. How would a Zen master respond to what you're facing? Try to see yourself responding in a similar manner.
Here's another meditative approach to focus a distracted mind...
Where is the effort coming from? Withdraw effort from unhelpful thought processes. It can be difficult to do this when it seems like distracting thoughts simply appear on their own. That's why it's helpful to look at the underlying cause. Did you intentionally set out to think something over? Is there a reason you still give that topic attention or can you safely focus all of your attention on something else? If you can bring your attention to some present task, then do that. Just start something, even something small, and let distractions fall into the background. Place your effort onto whatever is at hand and your thoughts will lose their power.
A good visualization for this technique is to imagine your distracting thoughts as a train - keep the term "train of thought" in mind. Each time a thought pops up imagine it as another car on the train. Attach it to the train or throw it into a freight car and watch it go away. Take a step back and just watch the train pass. Let it go, and let your thoughts go with it. Notice that it feels different to step back from mental chatter and simply observe it rather than getting caught up in it. There is a distinct lack of effort involved. Notice the difference so you can apply this mental trick anytime it's helpful.
You are a human being; and it's not always possible to be in control. Knowing when to simply let go is valuable. It's humbling to realize that you can't control everything, but it's useful to remember. Saying "F**k it" does not mean that you have to abandon your responsibilities. It just means that you can safely let go of thoughts that hinder your present focus. When mental expectations are unmet it can lead to anxiety and stress. If the results are weighing on you and affecting your present state, then it's best to let them go. You have to recognize when holding on to your expectations is not benefiting you. Even if it feels like that mental effort is getting you somewhere, more than likely it's not. It's like stepping on the gas peddle when you're stuck in a muddy ditch. Take your foot off the pedal and go for a walk instead. I bet you'll get further that way.
Whatever it is that's distracting you remember it's just another moment in time. Like everything else it's only temporary. See if you can focus on this characteristic of your experience. Take the experience as it comes and let go of anything else.
I believe we've covered quite a few useful techniques for dealing with distracting thoughts. There are many ways that you can train your mind to overcome distractions and stay focused. Play with these techniques and see if you can come up with one or two of your own; make it yours. An important aspect of mental training is consistency. If you find one of these methods particularly useful then stick with it. The more you train it the faster it will become second nature and the faster you'll be able to to refocus and get back to enjoying life.