For most of my life, I have been an easy-going person; unflappable. I prefer my days to unfold and find schedules to be anxiety-producing. Some would break out in a cold sweat thinking about an unscheduled or unstructured day. Some find solace in routine. I find it in flexibility.
However, after my children were born, I found myself living in a structured, scheduled daily routine. Babies like to eat at regular intervals and prefer sleeping routines that follow suit. And my life changed.
I discovered my mind would race throughout the day overwhelmed by the things I was trying to remember. My to-do list was growing longer and the anxiety was building.
At night, when I lay my head on the pillow, all I wanted was for my mind to stop…thinking. It felt as if my mind would explode trying to remember it all.
I was already using a calendar and I had a couple of systems in place. But my mind didn’t want me to forget. So it kept reminding me.
It was around this time that a friend introduced me to the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Allen’s system is a great step to productivity. But the concept of “Mind Dump” is the biggest takeaway that most people neglect.
Allen contends that the reason most of us experience insomnia is the inability to turn off our brains. And our brains don’t want to shut down because there is nowhere to put the information it is trying to remember. If we give our brains a safe place to store the information, then it can trust itself to rest.
The first step in doing this is called a Mind Dump.
Step One: get yourself a blank notebook or journal
Step Two: write everything that comes to your mind
- ideas you want to explore
- projects that need to get done
- appointments you need to keep or schedule
- errands you need to run
- people you want to talk to about something specific
- places you want to go or visit
- things you want to accomplish
- stuff you hate about your job, family, life, house, etc.
- keep writing until you run out of stuff to write
- put the notebook somewhere you will see it in the morning
- schedule a time/date on your calendar/phone to review it
- go to sleep
Step Three: you will need to keep that appointment (of reviewing the list) or your mind will return to reminding you of all the stuff
Step Four: at the appointment, begin to categorize the items on the list.
Step Five: create a “next step” for each category. If your mind knows there is a list you will review and the next step to follow, then it will allow you to rest. Follow through is the key to getting your mind to stop and rest though.
Since I have implemented the mind dump, I rarely have trouble falling asleep (unless caffeine is involved). On those nights, or even during the day, when I’m feeling anxious, I use the mind dump to clear my anxious thoughts. It’s one of the greatest gifts I have been given! Give it a try and you just might get some rest.