Do You Need to Free Up More Headspace?
Try this self-scan to help relieve mental overload.
Posted May 25, 2021 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Nobody sets out to relinquish valuable headspace. Yet most of us have moments when we feel like we just can’t think about one more thing. Here, we'll look at one possible way to relieve the feeling that your mental hard drive has maxed out.
Maybe you have over-committed at work or on projects or taken on more emotionally than you should have at the moment. We all know the feeling—you’ve spread yourself too thin.
Or maybe there is a single incident that has parked itself in the middle of your mind, and it’s difficult attending to anything else. In such cases, stress, anxiety, depression, and irritability can build without warning. Performance dips, and the whole mix can contaminate your work, relationships, and other areas of life. So it’s good to take notice and “come up for air” when you think you’re about to hit this mental wall. Regulating your attention can help you avoid getting caught in this glitch and keep your mind lighter and flowing.
When I started writing about attention decades ago, I had an anthem that became my first rule of attention training: Pay attention to how you are paying attention. By peering into a specific experience that you know ate up your headspace, you can identify underlying patterns regarding the way your mind spotlighted certain detail and ignored or rejected other.
For example, say you were at a meeting and you found it necessary to speak up about something you actually have no interest in—you just felt the need to speak. Let’s suppose you feel this way often enough for it to have become a patterned behavior, usually followed by a pattern of second-guessing yourself—“maybe I should have remained silent; maybe I should have listened more than I spoke”—depleting mental energy you could have used for things you're actually interested in.
Paying attention to how you are paying attention helps you discover whether the details you are focusing on are guiding great experiences or robbing you of them. You can spotlight any experience, from meeting with a supervisor at work to going on a road trip with family. Once you see the relationship between what you pay attention to within a situation and how that contributes to the way things turn out, you can start to regulate this network to help generate experiences closer to your desired goals.
Specifically, you can learn to spot and turn off patterns that throw you into a mental glitch and replace them with ones that lighten your load and keep you flowing.
A Self-Scan to Lighten Your Mental Load
- Create a quiet, calm space for yourself. Then recall a key experience from your day when you felt your mental space shutting down. Reflect on the experience, noticing where your attention was going. Ask yourself: What your goal was in the situation? Did you have it in mind at the time? Is there anything you might do differently next time around?
- If other individuals were involved in the experience, ask yourself: What did they think the overall goal had been? How did you being aware (or not) of those details affect what you did and did not attend to, and how did that contribute to your feeling of overload? Ask: Is there anything you might do differently next time?
- Consider any internal details that entered your headspace and inhibited your goal. Specifically, what thoughts, feelings, memories weighed in that got in the way? How did they interfere? Did any facilitate?
- Consider environmental details. Did any external detail enter your attention and decrease your mental space? How? Did any facilitate?
- Consider a short list of actions you could take next time you are in a similar experience to minimize dysfunctional patterns that shut down available headspace, as well as alternate actions that will facilitate a freer, flowing mind-state. Play the scenario in your head and see yourself engaging your new edited patterns, editing where necessary. Play the scenario often, until the new patterns ingrain.
This practice will encourage your new patterns to kick in next time you are in a similar experience and keep you flowing.