How To Quiet Your Mind

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It’s not just that we have a lot to think about and manage in our personal lives each day. We’re also inundated with Big Topics like government turmoil and climate change and inequality on a nearly daily basis. Add in the fact that we’re always trying to multitask in the middle of it — cook dinner, respond to that work email and yell at the kids to stop arguing — it’s too much.

Ryan Holiday, author of the upcoming book Stillness is the Key, writes for the Tim Ferriss Show blog that what we all need is a little more — you guessed it — stillness:

Stillness is that quiet moment when inspiration hits you. It’s that ability to step back and reflect. It’s what makes room for gratitude and happiness. It’s one of the most powerful forces on earth. We all need stillness, but those of us charging ahead with big plans and big dreams need it most of all.

If stillness makes room for gratitude and happiness, then we should all be pursuing it. Holiday provides us with a list of 28 ways to find stillness, and many of them aren’t overly surprising: take a break from the news, read a book, declutter, volunteer, get more sleep. Put down the phone and back away.

But one easy way to invite stillness into your life that you may not have tried yet, Holiday says, is to question yourself:

As in, do I need this? If I get what I want, what will actually change? Why do I care what they think? What am I working on in myself today? Will this matter in five years? What if I did nothing? Questions like these help us calm the anxieties in our head and help us slow down — allowing room for stillness. It’s important to question our beliefs and our instincts.

I personally ask myself “Will this matter in five years?” whenever I start to feel overly anxious about all manner of things big and small. But you can take it step further by making it a common practice to question your own feelings and assumptions when life gets loud and overwhelming.

What will happen if the kids eat macaroni and cheese four nights a week? Will missing this deadline truly have a longterm negative effect on my career? What is motivating me right now? The internal dialogue can slow the frenetic pace of your thoughts and give you a moment to better analyse your rising anxiety.

Holiday has a few other suggestions I like for embracing the still:

Take mindless mental wanderings. For a short period of time, let your mind wander free. Start with a minute or two and work yourself up to 10 minutes or more. You may start to notice patterns or goals emerge from your thoughts that were getting lost before.

Develop your values and memorialise them. Chose your own personal ten (or whatever number you like) commandments. What qualities or actions are most important to you? Write them down and post them where you will see them regularly to remind yourself of your priorities.

Zoom out. Remember that although you are small and unimportant, as far as the vastness of the world is concerned, you’re also part of something much bigger:

When astronaut Edgar Mitchell was launched into space in 1971, he stared down at the tiny blue marble and felt something wash over him: a sense of connectedness and compassion for everyone and everything, “an instant global consciousness.”

With the realisation that we are all one, that we are all in this together, and that this fact is the only thing that truly matters, we lose the selfishness and self-absorption at the root of much of the disturbance in our lives. Remind yourself of this each time you look down out of an aeroplane window or from a high floor in a tall building or each time you look up at the stars.

Now, go forth and be still.


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