As the years go by, we’re adopting more and more strategies to ‘clean’ the different elements of our lives. There are the age-old cleaning habits we cling to, like physically emptying our cupboards for a spring clean, but more recently, we’ve taken to cleaning out our bodies when we feel the need to detox, or taking a break from social media/ phones/ the internet for a digital cleanse. We clean out our friendships and partnerships – whether that means dumping the B list, not returning calls or ending relationships that don’t nurture or sustain us. We possibly hit ‘peak clean’ a few years back in 2019, when we all found ourselves Marie Kondo-ing our lives, learning how to rid ourselves of anything that didn’t spark joy – a concept that can extend way beyond physical possessions.
Just as our environment, bodies and relationships can benefit from this range of cleaning routines, so too can our brains reap the rewards of a good old tidy up. Think about it: our brain is the most complex part of our body. It’s the source of our intelligence and the controller of our senses, actions, thoughts and behaviours. It’s where all our beliefs, feelings, dreams and values originate – so it’s only fair to give it a well-earned rest from time to time.
Much like our bodies, when it comes to resting and resetting, our brain needs stillness. Yet when did you last detox what’s going on in your mind? Prioritised ‘doing nothing’ (or at least nothing useful) in your schedule? Taken the time to be mindfully present, not just ticking a box by listening to a meditation app while eating lunch, or going for a walk while blasting music through your headphones? So many studies tell us how critical silence is to our brains – not only helping to regenerate this overloaded organ, but also allowing us to process the data we consume, consolidate memory and reinforce learning.
So, how can you incorporate stillness into your daily routine? Coaches will nearly always recommend that change and growth happen in a sustainable way. Changing a habit takes 66 days, on average –that’s according to one study from University College London, which also found that individual habit-forming times vary from 18 to 254 days.
Regardless of the number of days or weeks it may take each of us to form new habits, success and emotional health come from small steps and changes. Try going for a walk without doing (or listening to) anything else. Spend more time in nature, which research tells us delivers major benefits to our wellbeing. Schedule breaks during your work day to focus on your breathing. Sit for a period each day in silence; just two minutes of this can be more relaxing than listening to ‘relaxing’ music.
Incorporating these and other stillness practices into your day will give you the opportunity to reflect on your thoughts, ideas and emotions; to really get to know your inner self without the distraction of external noise. You can start by asking yourself these six questions:
- What do I need to unlearn?
- What belief am I repeating and making true that does not serve me?
- What people, places and events do I think about that make me unhappy?
- What values do I think I need to honour, but really belong to others (my parents, teachers, the media, religious beliefs)?
- What do I need to let go of?
- What’s been calling out for my attention to be resolved (in my dreams, in my conversations, repeated thoughts)?
If you’re looking for some practical pointers for ‘cleaning’ your brain, there are some great TED Talks on the topic. You can learn how to refresh your mind with 10 minutes of mindfulness or replace multitasking with mono-tasking; both useful videos that can be found in this ‘slow down’ playlist. You can also explore strategies for making new habits stick with this talk from technologist Matt Cutts. For a lengthier lesson, Professor Alan Lightman’s book In Praise of Wasting Time investigates the creativity that comes from allowing our minds to freely roam. Well worth a read.
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