The world keeps speeding up. If you're not quick enough, perhaps you'll get lost in the shuffle. If you don't make the right stock market trade, you can lose out on thousands of dollars. If you don't send that organizational improvement email to your boss, a competing coworker can beat you to the punch. If you don't ask out that girl you met at the coffee shop, chances are you'll never see her again.
Sometimes, the speed of the world can make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, tired, and confused. To get our energy, confidence, clarity back — we need to spend some time for ourselves. These are 10 activities for easily clearing your mind and gaining valuable insight.
Blasting music in some high-fidelity over-ear headphones
Daft Punk just announced their break-up three days ago…
A moment of silence, please.
For me, it's a bummer. It keeps sinking in harder that I'm never going to see them live. While I write this, I'm listening to the live album, "Alive 2007" by the duo.
I've cranked up the volume and noise-canceling is a full-tilt on my Bose QC35II's. The fidelity of the sound helps channel flow. Research notes that music and flow are interlinked. Coincidentally, when you're in flow — you are experiencing the opposite of blockage.
Doodling on a notepad
I remember learning about what "doodling" was after my fourth grade teacher-parent conference.
It was Mrs. Ceruali's class. My mom returned from the conference and told me the biggest note the teacher had about my performance was that I "doodle" a lot. I had no damn clue what doodling even was. I had to ask my mom. She told me it was sketches or drawings on all of my quizzes, tests, papers, etc.
I pulled the papers out of my backpack, and every sheet had something drawn on it. I wish in fourth grade that I could've told my mom that Harvard studies actually show that doodling helps improve focus and increases mental clarity.
You really didn't think an article with a title like this wouldn't include "bumping uglies" right?
I'm what the layman would call a "late bloomer." I didn't lose my virginity late, but I dealt with a lot of sex anxiety — especially in my twenties:
- Body image
- Not being able to please my partner
- Falling in love and subsequently having my heartbroken
Of course, maybe I should have been a little more active in my prime years because sex can yield a lot of mental and physical health-related benefits. According to The University of Texas at El Paso, sex provides several surprising health benefits; a reduction of stress being one of them.
Looking up at the stars during a spectacularly clear night
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff”.
– Carl Sagan
I live in Los Angeles. Before that, I lived in Boston. Before that, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I don't get that many clear nights to look up and admire the stars. But when I do, boy does it lay on a level of clarity that is hard to come by.
Last year, my girlfriend and I had the privilege of having several nights when we could throw our heads back and stare into the cosmic abyss. we got to see the stars of The Milky Way Galaxy at:
- Arches National Park
- Channel Island National Park
- The middle of nowhere, Arizona
- Vail, Colorado
- Joshua Tree National Park
It's hard to put into words exactly what you experience when the Earth is silent and you experience what the band Incubus was talking about in their song, "Wish You Were Here" when they wrote,
"The sky looks like a black canopy with holes punched in it"
Hanging out and playing with a puppy
Cat people: skip over this section. First off, how do "cat people" even exist? Perhaps it's the cosmic mystery that shall always intrigue dog people until the ends of days (and vice versa).
It's decently common knowledge that dogs help the blind. But did you know research notes that they also help reduce anxiety and stress (among other mental ailments)? I don't know what the stress-reduction multiplier is when it's a puppy (instead of a dog) but I'm sure it's through the roof. How can you not stop thinking about the stress, mental blockages, and problems of your life when you're playing with a puppy?
Short answer: you can't.
Chilling In A Hot Tub
I don't think I've ever seen a scowl, frown, pout, or eyebrow furrowed when someone is in a hot tub. I don't even think it's possible. In fact, the National Library of Medicine notes,
"Whole-body immersion bathing in warm water (~40°C) [… induces vasodilatation and increases blood flow, supplying more oxygen and nutrients to the periphery."
In other words — the study concludes,
"Immersion bathing should improve both physical and emotional aspects of quality of life."
I'll be the first to say, with the state of the globe in 2021, this is generally harder to do with lockdowns, social-distancing, etc. But if you need to take a quick 10–30min break from the rigmarole of life and have access to a jacuzzi, I'd pull the trigger and take a dip.
Making Homemade Pasta
Okay, I have to be honest with you. I haven't looked for any credible, scientific evidence that corroborates the claim that making homemade pasta will help you gain more insight and clear your mind. Really, I'm thinking about all those old Italian grandmothers that will tell you,
"Make e di pastah — eetza good for di soul."
Furthermore, I made some ricotta cheese stuffed ravioli about a week ago (anecdotal evidence works, right?). I can report, having to work on a difficult but achievable task helps channel focus, and generally with focus comes clarity. Susan Biali Haas M.D., in an article published on PsychologyToday, notes how working with your hands can help elevate our psychological state,
"Using our hands may actually be key to maintaining a healthy mood, and the lack of this type of activity may contribute to feelings of irritability, apathy, and depression."
There — fine, scientific evidence for you…
A Chilly Dip To Clear The Mind
"Wait a minute, Jon. You just told us to take a dip in a hot tub… Now you're going to try and tell us to do something cold? Erroneous!"
Wait, baby, please — let me explain.
Yes, science shows that "whole-body immersion bathing in warm water" helps reduce stress. But so does cold therapy. Our friends over at The National Library of Medicine again tell us that,
"Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well."
In other words, exposure to cold activates the "feel good" neurotransmitters. Cold therapy was perhaps brought into the mainstream in the last decade or so by the "Ice Man", Wim Hof, and his cold exposure therapy and breathing techniques.
Need a moment of insight and focus? Slam that shower nozzle to cold for ten seconds right before you exit the shower. That will do the trick.
Dancing the Funky Chicken
It could be still in the shower, right before you give yourself the aforementioned cold therapy. It could be while you're cooking dinner. I don't care how or when you do it, but just dance.
A 21-year study led by Albert Einstein (yes, that Albert Einstein) published in the New England School of Medicine notes that regular dancing helped improve mental acuity in aging.
Unfortunately, the study doesn't go into specifically why dancing helps with mental acuity in aging, however, reasonable assumptions preclude that dancing involves making split-decisions and it entails play. Regular "play", as you might know, is necessary for the proper development of a human being.
It's one of the oldest methods of sharing and absorbing information. You probably knew or at least had a hunch, that reading helped with mental clarity and insight, but it's really rad to dig a little deeper and see how.
Reading poetry makes you more mentally flexible:
One study found that reading poetry helps you see examine abstract concepts from different angles,
“These findings suggest that reading fictional literature could lead to better procedures for processing information generally, including those of creativity,"
Reading a novel helps enhance brain connectivity and function:
There was a study conducted in The Creativity Research Journal in which participants’ brains were scanned before, during, and five days after reading a novel. The research found ongoing neurological changes. The results showed that there were changes in the brain’s resting state after participants had finished reading the novel.
What's even crazier about the study, when participants weren't currently reading but were receiving the same brain scans, the reporting showed that they were still experiencing heightened levels of brain activity.
I know for me personally — I probably read more than the average individual. I'm not trying to brag, just give some personal record of the increase in mental clarity and insight.
I find that reading is like exercise — it's hard to get started. Once you get past those first few reps or run that first half-mile, you get more into a groove. Then you string the days of reading (exercise) together and it becomes more habitual.
How to easily clear your mind and gain valuable insight
In a world where things move at light speed and getting what you want is generally accessible with the pressing of a button — sometimes we need to unplug from the quick-moving world and take a step back.
When you are completely enveloped in the task at hand, you can tend to lose sight of the "bigger picture."
Pulling away for a moment is something we can all use to gain insight and put our worries at ease.
These 10 easy activities can help you get there:
- Blast music with some good headphones or speakers
- Have sex
- Look up at the stars
- Play with a puppy
- Chill in a hot tub
- Make some homemade pasta
- Take a cold shower
Even if you can get to a handful of those in a matter of a few days, you will find your current mood, experience, and cognition elevated as a result.
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