Ever sit down to do something and suddenly your mind is off on a trail like a dog after a bunny?
Which would be great if you stayed on that track, but instead:
Then it’s off in another direction.
You know if you could just focus, you could get things done, but your brain just will not SHUT UP.
Instead it starts reminding you that your friend’s birthday was last week and you never sent a card, and when did cards get so expensive anyway, and oh yeah, at the last party you went to David did that cool card trick—how did he do that?
Sometimes, you just need the brain chatter to STOP so you can get to the calm and quiet needed to enjoy your life.
The good news is that you have a secret magic tool to achieve peace which costs less than a dollar. It is wooden and yellow. Has a handy pink eraser. And frequently comes with a No. 2 stamped on the side.
Here are 9 ways a humble pencil can quickly and easily silence brain chatter:
Press pause on the pings.
Your brain knows when it has committed to a task that remains unfinished. In fact, it will ping you endlessly with reminders. After all, part of the brain’s job is to keep track of things until they get done.
Taking the time to let your brain spill those unfinished tasks onto a piece of paper in list format, gives it the confidence that the task will be completed. With relief, it releases the worrisome reminders. Just by having a list, you assure your brain “I’ve got this.”
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, frames it as closing open loops. And while Allen has a great system to increase productivity, if you are really overwhelmed with brain chatter, the best place to start is by creating a simple to-do list. Besides, there is a unique kind of high in crossing things off once you’ve done them.
Use loose leaf notebook paper for your brain, like you use tissue for your nose.
Sometimes, our brain chatter is so congested that we can’t even get to a list. We need to blow that congestion out.
In her book, Write it Down, Make it Happen, Henriette Anne Klauser, shares: “I encourage a form of getting ideas out which I call Rapidwriting. It means to write fast without stopping to consider, to edit, to rearrange, or critique. Use Rapidwriting when you cover the page, ploughing through objections, mowing down the inner voice that criticizes your every word. Write whatever is on your mind. Tell the truth. It’s okay to burn up your Rapidwriting pages ranting and raving.”
The important thing about Rapidwriting is that you cannot use a filter. Normally, when we write things down, we pause to think and compose in our head. Skip that step. Go straight from brain to paper. Think of it like Kleenex. You can throw the pages out afterward.
If your brain feels like a popcorn popper, mimic that pattern on paper.
When our brains are in popcorn-mode, it can be difficult to find the clarity. An action-plan eludes us.
Spilling ideas popcorn-style onto paper, then drawing connections between related items is called Mindmapping. This form of planning is especially helpful when your brain is overwhelmed with ideas. Drawing lines between related ideas creates structure—and frequently creates flashes of insight.
There are many Mindmapping programs that allow you to do this digitally, but using a pencil and paper can be more effective in silencing the brain—even if the finished product doesn’t look as neat.
Find your zen, with Zentangles.
Zentangle is a method of drawing structured, repetitive patterns in a free-flow from your hand to the page. The drawing bypasses your usual planning functions, so you can enjoy the process without worrying about the result.
Drawing Zentangles is meditative and it allows your brain to relax as your hands play. It doesn’t take long to go from ricocheting thoughts, to a calm and peaceful brain.
Best of all, the method is simple to learn. You draw a shape (or big, loopy scribble), then you divide the shape into sections. Each section is given its own pattern. Simple or complex—whatever you desire. To learn more about this method, check out https://zentangle.com/.
If your brain chatter centers around being stuck, start an imaginary correspondence.
Sometimes our chatter is a function of not being sure exactly what we want. Our thoughts become loops trying to solve our lives like a problem, rather than filled with the enjoyment of living them.
Inspired by an exercise in Henriette Anne Klauser’s, Write it Down, Make it Happen, I began writing letters to my new job at a time when I was at a plateau. I purchased a composition notebook and wrote entries like a diary. “Dear new job, I am so excited that I get to spend so much of every day writing.” And, “Dear new job, I’m so grateful for how many opportunities I get to speak to groups.”
The fun part is that writing these letters helped me get very clear on what I wanted—which prompted me to make inspired choices with my time. Funny thing about this process, I didn’t wind up with a new job. What happened was that my current job began to look like what I most wanted it to be.
Leverage a schoolroom punishment to convince your brain to run on a more positive track.
Did a teacher ever punish you by making you write 100 sentences? It was the worst, right? And chances are, those words were burned into your psyche. You remember exactly what you wrote.
Despite the negative connotations most of us have around writing sentences, the practice can be used to create positive, new, chatter-free tracks for our brains to run on. The repetitive, kinesthetic task of writing sentences can be leveraged to help us reprogram our subconscious mind.
Choose an affirmation, a goal, a belief you want to reinforce, or a piece of scripture, then pick up that pencil and start writing. You will find that not only does your brain begin to calm down, but that whatever you are writing becomes part of your natural thought patterns.
Replaying an awkward interaction? Rewrite the script for a better outcome.
Sometimes the chatter in our heads is just us rehashing dialogue. We are either saying what we wish we had said, or revising what we did say, over…and over…and over.
The next time that happens, get it out of your head and onto paper.
And don’t constrain yourself to what the other person actually said. Rewrite the script in exactly the way you wish it had happened. Your brain will stop the replay because you’ve captured it in print—even if you did take creative license by giving it a Hollywood ending.
Did you know the pencil doesn’t have to touch the paper at all to quiet your brain?
Repetitive, rhythmic, motor patterns are calming. It’s the reason we fidget when we are feeling anxious.
So if writing things down doesn’t appeal to you for calming a chatty brain, keep that pencil lead in the air and learn to spin it around your thumb. WikiHow has a tutorial: https://www.wikihow.com/Spin-a-Pencil-Around-Your-Thumb
It turns your pencil into an old school fidget spinner, drawing just enough energy from your brain’s reserves to keep it from running off after that squirrel.
Want a long-term solution to brain chatter? Proactively drain it before it even starts.
One of the best long-term practices to retrain a chatter-filled brain is Julia Cameron’s daily practice of “Morning Pages.”
In her book, The Artist’s Way Cameron writes: “In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it. I ask you to do this by an apparently pointless process I call the morning pages…the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: ‘Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah…’ They might also, more ingloriously be called brain drain, since this is one of their main functions.”
Cameron asserts that there is no wrong way to do the morning pages. It’s a simple process of writing–longhand–whatever comes to mind. Cameron says, “although occasionally colorful, the morning pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish, angry or bland–even silly sounding.” Over time, the practice of morning pages retrains the brain to hang out in its quiet state, because you start to see the chatter for what it is. Just chatter.
Imagine yourself with a peaceful brain.
The worst part of brain chatter is that it makes us tired. It’s like having a roommate who stands right next to us all the time talking in incomplete sentences who never—ever—shuts up.
Imagine the next time that internal roommate is going on-and-on, how delightful it will be to evict them.
The best part is that it takes very little effort to make this happen.
You just pull a pencil out of the drawer with one of these techniques and in a few moments the brain gets quiet.
Hear – and feel – the silence. Inside and outside. Even that squirrel is quiet.