How To Turn Off Your Brain

The occasional hallucation or two might not be a bad thing. But when I get a fever it often results in my brain’s inability to control my streaming thoughts. It’s like my brain’s filters are inneffective, and while trying to sleep a raging river of thoughts overwhelm me. Usually they’re tied to whatever I was thinking about or focused on before. Once, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about information products (sad but true!)…the thoughts aren’t clear or ordered, they’re like a waterfall.

Perhaps our brains are always controlling our thoughts like this; and things like fevers are able to short-circuit them. I’m far from a brain specialist. But, the point is that even when we don’t have a fever overwhelming our brains, our thoughts are very often torrid and noisy, and we need to turn them off.

This is particularly the case when going to bed. I do some of my best thinking just before going to sleep, but that also means I need a way of wrapping up and telling my brain “enough is enough.” I use a few techniques that have helped me reduce brain chatter.

  1. Focus on Something Simple. Have you ever read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins? There’s a character in it (a Japanese escapee from internment camps) who is part yoga-instructor, part philosopher, part spiritual leader (and there are a few other parts thrown into the mix, not appropriate for this blog!) He uses a “circular breathing” technique where he gets other characters to think of their breathing not as “up and down” or “in and out” but in a circular fashion. The character also tells others in the story that you should never fully expend all your air or fully fill your lungs. Is it all mumbo jumbo? Probably…but the act of focusing on my breathing, something simple, and remembering the information in Cowgirls helps to chill out the brain.
  2. Focus on the Inside Darkness. It’s hard to sleep without closing your eyes. So go ahead and do that. What I try and do is focus on the darkness inside my head. Try and “look” at the insides of your eyelids, or try and “look” inside a point in your head. This works the same way as the breathing exercises, although I find it’s easier to focus on this than breathing, which means it will relax you even more.
  3. Tell Yourself It’s Time to Shutdown. I think humans are masters at lying to themselves. But that’s a debate for another day. Once I’m in a more relaxed state, I find it’s effective to just tell myself, “Think and worry about it in the morning. It’s over for the day.” Don’t repeat this to yourself obsessively; you’ll just work yourself back into a frenzy.
  4. Give Your Brain One Final Instruction. Try giving your brain one last instruction as you “stare” into the blackness. Most often I ask my brain to wake me up at a certain time the following morning. “Ok brain, I need to be up at 6am to write this blog post, so please kick back into gear at that point.” My brain doesn’t always listen, but the act of focusing on a single thought in what now amounts to a vaccuum of darkness helps. It’s like your brain needs a little nugget of something to chew on before it says, “Ok, I’ll stop racing around like a headless chicken, you’ve earned some sleep.”

Click.

That’s your brain turning off.

We need to turn off our brains from time to time in order to re-energize, rest and recuperate. Sometimes we need to just “veg” in order to survive the intensity of daily living. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner, employee, student or anything else for that matter, your life is extremely hectic, chaotic and overloaded. Learning to turn your brain off is going to help.

Good luck!

[tags]brains, sleeping, getting rest, meditation, tom robbins[/tags]

Image by abanesta.

October 23, 2006 Posted in Personal Development, Productivity by

  • http://www.stylepatrol.blogspot.com MONICA

    Thanks for your valuable insights and for describing how I feel every night, Ben! I’m always attempting to shut down my brain and he insists in working overtime… I’m reading a very interesting book on the topic called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen where he talks about the importance of emptying your brain by writing all your thoughts down.

  • http://www.stylepatrol.blogspot.com MONICA

    Thanks for your valuable insights and for describing how I feel every night, Ben! I'm always attempting to shut down my brain and he insists in working overtime… I'm reading a very interesting book on the topic called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen where he talks about the importance of emptying your brain by writing all your thoughts down.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com Ben Yoskovitz

    Monica — thanks for the comment. I’m not sure I’d ever sleep if I had to empty my brain by writing everything done, but I know a lot of people enjoy GTD and David Allen’s thoughts on productivity and performance.

    Hope to see you around!

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com Ben Yoskovitz

    Monica — thanks for the comment. I'm not sure I'd ever sleep if I had to empty my brain by writing everything done, but I know a lot of people enjoy GTD and David Allen's thoughts on productivity and performance.

    Hope to see you around!

  • http://www.super-al.com Alan

    Thanks for your tips Ben, I have used similar techniques, one of which involves “filing” your thoughts in an imaginary filing cabinet, then shutting the door. This technique, though not always successful, has helped me on many occasions.

  • http://www.super-al.com Alan

    Thanks for your tips Ben, I have used similar techniques, one of which involves “filing” your thoughts in an imaginary filing cabinet, then shutting the door. This technique, though not always successful, has helped me on many occasions.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com Ben Yoskovitz

    Hey Alan – that’s an interesting way of doing it. A mind-cabinet…I may try that in the near future, although I can see my mind-cabinet overflowing to the point where thoughts are lying all over the mind-floor!

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com Ben Yoskovitz

    Hey Alan – that's an interesting way of doing it. A mind-cabinet…I may try that in the near future, although I can see my mind-cabinet overflowing to the point where thoughts are lying all over the mind-floor!

  • http://www.HelenO.myCTMH.com/ Helen

    I find that focusing on the inside darkness works for me. What I try to do is focus on the darkest part and then move into it. In other words, let that darkness fill my vision. Then do it again, and again.

    When that doesn't work, I learned a technique of tightening muscles from your toes up. Curl your toes. Really tight. Count to 10. Release. Repeat. Now move onto the next muscle up the leg. I'll typically fall asleep without finishing. This refocuses the mind and takes away the waterfall of thoughts.

    Now…if I could just stop my mind from racing during the day (without falling asleep).

  • MrHAw

    My way is much similar to yours I listen to my breathing and try to keep it slow and steady, then I try to focus my mind on moving my consciousness from my body this nearly always works, if I could just stop the snoring and wife kicking me to tellme I'm snoring. I'd get a good days sleep (night worker)

  • MrHAw

    My way is much similar to yours I listen to my breathing and try to keep it slow and steady, then I try to focus my mind on moving my consciousness from my body this nearly always works, if I could just stop the snoring and wife kicking me to tellme I'm snoring. I'd get a good days sleep (night worker)

  • Pingback: How to quiet your brain - Life Management. Life Toolkit

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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