Calming and Clearing the Mind

If the voice in your head were another person, what would you want to do to them?

So many opinions! So many judgements. On and on and on...

A calm and clear mind feel relaxed, peaceful, and safe. The chatter is replaced with the clearing our minds helps us be present in the life we're living.

It helps us process what's happening around us.

It helps us make wiser choices.

And gives us a sense of peace for when tough things come our way.

The chatter of the mind is replaced by (mostly) quiet.

How do I keep a calm and clear mind?

Most of us need ongoing, daily practice.

Some days, calm and clear feels natural.

Some days, it's tougher.

It can be challenging to get started, but know that sticking with it can change your life.

Here are a few ways to calm and clear your mind.

Idea 1: Deep Breathing

Take a few, focused deep breaths throughout the day. And anytime you feel intense feelings.

​Here are a few tips:​​

  • Try three deep breaths, in and out.

  • Gently focus on your breath

  • There are tons of breathing exercises. A simple one is below.

Some challenges:

  • Be careful not to get too intense with your breath. Sometimes you see people breathe with furrowed brows or crunched up faces. They're working so hard to bring their attention to this breath that they actually (ironically) stress themselves out.

  • Be gentle with yourself. You want a sense of ease, not stress.

Idea 2: Exercise

When your mind is busy, the fastest way to clear space is to move your body.

Here are a few tips:

  • Go for exercises where you are totally immersed.

  • Think: "Mind on my movement."

  • Or... "Mind on my muscle."

Some challenges:

  • Exercise can have all kinds of challenges. And sometimes, those are the point. Building comfort with discomfort is an incredible skill to help with life's inevitable ups and downs.

  • As always, talk to your doctor about healthy approaches to exercise for you.

Exercise has so many benefits. For tips on sticking with an exercise routine, see Move Your Body.

Idea 3: Sitting Meditation

Meditation is a practice that is thousands of years old. There’s plenty of books and apps and classes to help you get started.

Here are a few tips:

  • The most common approach is to focus on your breath: In and out.

  • Focus only on the breath you’re on right now. Don’t worry about future breaths. Don't think about breaths that you took earlier. Draw all attention to this breath,

  • When your thoughts wander (and they will), bring your attention back to your breath

  • Relax your eyes, relax your jaw, relax your shoulders and your hands. Let your body be at ease.

Some challenges:

  • Be careful that you don’t get too intense with your breath. You don’t want to become so intense about focusing on that breath that it becomes stressful. Sometimes you see people with furrowed brows, their faces contorted. They're working so hard to bring their attention to this breath, that they actually (ironically) stress themselves out. You want a sense of ease, not stress.

  • You'll get used to observing your thoughts without judging them. Without attaching to them.

  • Know that your thoughts will wander. Of course they will. The skill is in training your attention to not attach to those thoughts.

    • Maybe you think I’m out of milk... I need to go to the grocery store... I wonder if... At some point, you'll notice you've attached to a thought. Let the thought go and bring your attention back to your breath

    • Maybe a painful thought pops into your head, and you feel it. Once you notice, let the thought go and bring your attention back to your breath.

    • Sometimes, you’ll even think I've got this! I’m meditating. Wow! Notice and come back to your breath.

    • Be ready to catch your thoughts over and over and over. This is normal.

For people who practice regularly, this is a lifelong practice, and it’s one that helps to have a coach or instruction, especially as you’re getting started. One of our favorites is Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Sustaining meditation as a habit is a legit challenge.

Consider trying a group meditation.

When we want to develop (and keep) positive habits, it really helps to be around people who have similar habits.

Idea 4: Walking as a Moving Meditation

Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting. There are all kinds of moving meditations.

Here are a few tips:

  • Walks in nature can be meditative.

  • Walking, anywhere, can be meditative, as long as your attention is on your movement and breath. Pacing back and forth in the kitchen is a personal favorite.

Some challenges:

  • You can listen to music, but otherwise, all attention goes to the movement and the breath.

  • Know that your thoughts will wander. Of course they will. And the skill is in training your attention to not attach to those thoughts.​

Walking meditation is a great alternative, or addition, to a sitting meditation.

Idea 5: Yoga or Tai Chi as Moving Meditation

Yoga and tai chi are great moving meditations.

Yoga focuses on "calming the fluctuations of the mind."

Send your attention to the movement and the breath. Know that your thoughts will wander. Of course they will. And the skill is in training your attention to not attach to those thoughts.​

Idea 6: Hobbies to Achieve Flow

Hobbies that totally immerse us are a great way to calm and clear our minds.

There's something called flow, where you lose all sense of time. Your mind isn't wandering. You feel good. Times passes and you're in the zone.

Here are a few tips:

  • Lots of activities can create flow. Anything that is challenging enough that you need to focus (but isn't so hard that you get frustrated).

  • Some popular ideas are playing an instrument, making art, sports, gardening, cooking, reading, drawing, coding, even gaming.

  • Look for two traits: Activities that (1) need practice to get better--where you see yourself making progress over time, and (2) you do simply because you enjoy it.

Some challenges:

  • Know that some activities (like gaming) can become addictive. If your hobby is taking you away from your responsibilities for too long, then take a break and figure out a different approach. ​

Sometimes hobbies feel like a luxury. Try to recognize them as good for your mind and spirit.

Hobbies are a win-win.

Resources and Citations

  1. "Four ways in which a person can respond to someone else when something happens, including good events such as a raise at work: (1) Active-constructive responding--an enthusiastic response: "That's great; I bet you'll receive many more raises."; (2) Active-destructive responding--a response that points out the potential downside: "Are they going to expect more of you now?"; (3) Passive constructive responding--a muted response: "That's nice dear."; Passive-destructive responding-- a response that conveys disinterest: "It rained all day here." ... Couples who use active-constructive responding have good marriages. The other responses, if they dominate are associated with marital dissatisfaction. Although this research has only been done in the context of marriage, it may well generalize to other relationships." Sadock, Benjamin J., et al. Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry. United States, Wolters Kluwer Health, 2014.
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