I am the kind of person whose mind doesn’t stop racing. It is my default mode; I’m constantly thinking through what has happened and what could be — avoiding, at all costs, the present moment.
At times, I like to think of this as an asset that helps me come up with new ideas.
But most of the time, this non-stop background dialogue is distracting, exhausting, and often anxiety-inducing.
My mind will replay something that went wrong until I thoroughly feel horrible. Or, it starts randomly highlighting all the things on my never ending to-do list or surfacing all the things that could go wrong with our upcoming round of production.
Listening to a recent Tim Ferris interview with physicist Safi Bahcall, I was reminded that I’m not alone. In fact, Safi has come up with a pretty clever way of working with — not against — the thoughts that attempt to hijack our minds, time, and energy.
He suggests that we begin by personifying each type of thought. For example, the voice that is constantly replaying that bad investment you made months ago — call that voice Mr. Money. The voice that is constantly creating concerns about what could go wrong on your next camping trip — call that voice Concerned Camper. The voice that keeps obsessing about the moment you made a mistake at work — say hello to Worried Worker. And on and on, repeating for each voice in your head that is fighting for your attention.
Safi, calls this the “Chairman of the Mind” technique (though feel free to call it the Chairwoman or Chairperson of the Mind technique too). He explains how he visualizes a mock “board meeting” when his thoughts are getting the best of him:
“You start by assuming positive intent. The character that’s stewing about the work, you thank them for their thoughts and you say...
‘I hear you — the reason you’re replaying this video in my head is that something happened today and you’re replaying that video over and over; there’s a very good reason that you’re doing that, and I appreciate that because you’re watching out for me. You want me to learn the lesson from that video.’ …
You analyze it and you say, ‘Here’s what you’re trying to tell me. It’s this lesson. I said this stupid thing to my boss. I really shouldn’t do that. in this situation, here’s what I should do.’
And then you ask… ‘Did I get the lesson right?’
‘Was that good?’
‘Do you want to keep going, or was that enough for tonight?’…
‘No, we’re done.’
Boom, sits down.
Then you go to the next… You start by thanking it for watching out for you. Assume positive intent. Instead of making enemies with your thoughts and trying to suppress them, you become partners with them, friends with them.
Now, you walk through one by one, each of the three or four or five characters that were playing videos or audio about stuff that happened that day that you are stewing about. You just walk around the table.
As soon as you’re done, as soon as the last person says, ‘Okay, I’m done,’ you feel this incredible calm… Because these guys are done.”
In Safi’s experience, these voices — like people — just want our acknowledgment. And when we take a moment, hear them out, and seek the lessons, the thoughts dissipate and we are better for having learned from them.
I was lying in bed the other night with thoughts racing and I gave this a try. To my surprise, I found it to be an effective, even enjoyable, way to acknowledge and organize the thoughts in my mind.
Taking this technique a bit further, I have found that writing is an incredible way of getting thoughts out of my head and onto the page. We built Reflection.app for that exact reason.
Beyond just being an oasis for your thoughts, Reflection.app guides you every month through a monthly review so you can identify patterns and set new intentions.
I like to think of it as a Vice-Chair to my Board of Directors :-)
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