Do you remember back in the 90s—if you were around then—when computers were always running out of capacity and you had to try to add memory? The times I tried to add capacity really didn’t get me very far. In the end, I had to delete a bunch of files to get back to reasonable functionality for my 1991 Compaq. Those were the Model-T car days of personal computers.
We face a similar issue when we manage our mindspace today—the brain is the most amazing computer in the universe that we know about. As amazing as it is, it has limited capacity.
There is so much competition for the space in my brain. Every day I’m thinking about . . .
. . . How am I feeling? How’s my health?
. . . How are my kids doing? What’s my next step in helping them and keeping them safe?
. . . How is my job? What are the issues? How am I doing with my team?
. . .How’s my organization doing? Will I have a job tomorrow?
. . . Do those who loved me yesterday love me today?
. . . How am I doing financially? How will I pay the next round of bills?. .
. . . Who and what do I resent? Who am I feeling angry about? Who’s done me wrong?
. . . What’s threatening me right now? What am I dreading? What am I fearing?
. . . Where will all this end? What is my future and the future of those around me?
All these thoughts individually require huge mindspace—with only so much available. To stay on track we have to work every day to fill our mindspace with what matters—to ourselves and those around us. We can’t add to it significantly—and we have to systematically eliminate many of the things that occupy our mindspace.
Easier said than done, right? My thoughts assault my mind with the force of an army tank. These thoughts are like guerilla warfare with thought-snipers hiding in the back spaces of my mind. When I think they’re gone for good, guess what?—they’re back.
All of us experience a barrage of incoming thoughts and emotions, but we don’t deal with the same ones. It’s really worth monitoring your own mind for a few days, taking an inventory just like your mind is a storage unit—which it is in an important sense. What dominates your mindspace? Almost everyone spends a great part of their day brooding about something. Mike Bundrant cites “a study by Beneden Health in the U.K. that shows that people spend an average of 14 hours a week brooding over their weight, poor relationships, the cost of living, their children, and other stressors.” I think these numbers of hours spent brooding, worrying, and calculating are incredibly low.
So what are some ways to manage your mindspace? Here are some really important principles:
- Make Your Emotions Your Ally. When I was younger I was taught, “Don’t let your emotions get ahold of you.” Your emotions are in fact the very you that you are. Nothing could be further from the truth than what I was taught
My emotions are the first force that moves and motivates me. This principle has been validated in recent years by neuroscientists such as the renowned Portuguese American neuroscientist Antonio Dimasio who has established the primacy of emotion and feeling in human thought and consciousness. Emotions, in fact, are much more primary than your thinking mind, the part of your mind that’s reading this article and agreeing or disagreeing. Emotions are sudden and instantaneous. Emotions kept my ancestors alive to escape the onslaught of the lion and that’s why I’m here today. My emotions warn me of what could happen in my life—and that’s good.
The function of my emotions is to warn, caution, and correct me. The function of my thinking mind is to evaluate the dangers that my emotions presents to me. My emotions bring me guilt and accusation that are important for me to consider and deal with.
I no longer am at odds with my emotions. They are the initial driving force of my life. I ask my emotional self, on a scale of one to ten, how dangerous is the situation presented to me by my emotions? If my emotions bring me guilt or shame, what can I do to right the journey of my life? Making your emotions your ally will change your life and set you on a course where you will amaze yourself.
- Create a Life Agenda. Without a life agenda, your mindspace will become a chaotic blend of whatever pops up next. If you are a part of a meeting that has no agenda, you are a part of a meeting that has no point—the same is true of your mindspace. That’s why an agenda for yourself is the most important thing that you can do to manage your mindspace.
Carol and I have goals that we read each morning to create our agenda, which is key for us, but does not work for everyone. Your agenda can be your schedule at work and at home. It can be your religious community, your volunteer work, your civic organization. Creating an agenda brings positive elements into your mindspace and leaves less room for exaggerated thoughts of non-existent disasters. It leaves the mindspace for your best living.
- Don’t Let Media Dominate Your Mindspace. One of the most prominent ways that people cope with their own thoughts and emotions is to eliminate them with media. This is an effective way to opt out of life. We are all aware that we can eliminate managing mindspace by plugging our minds into electronics—social media, video games, TV, YouTube, news apps.
Once media takes over your mindspace there is no more mindspace to manage, your personality erodes and your ability to reason operates at a low level. When electronics become your major environment, growth and learning evaporates.
- Keep Moving—Moving Forward is the Key to Managing Mindspace. We live for the first time in a world where we are taught that disengaging from people and activity is the key to national survival. The long-term effects of social distancing in terms of its emotional and health impact will not be known for several years. In the meantime, if all you can do is to take a drive or a walk, moving around is key to managing your mindspace effectively. Don’t stop moving.
Managing your mindspace is essential to managing who you are. Albert Einstein was one of the most significant minds in world history. His Theory of Relativity laid the foundation for the world of today. What is often not said about Einstein’s success is that he focused on issues that no one had thought about in the same way before—and he famously ignored almost everything else. What was key to Einstein’s accomplishments are not just what he thought about, but what he would not put into his mindspace. Our mindspace is so often cluttered by the mundane and meaningless that we cannot think and create what we have to give to the world.