I recently read an article in Cooking Light magazine (Sept '18), of all places, on ways to clear your mind of mental clutter. Specifically, the things that trigger our brain to go into worry mode. You know, those thoughts that run on an endless loop that maximize stress, and minimize our ability to get things done.
The article talked about how when we are overwhelming busy, have a lot we need to get accomplished, or don’t know how something will work out, we worry in order to get certainty. Sounds strange, right? Not really. Our brains are like computers that search for ways to categorize things. Putting tasks we haven’t accomplished into a certain “group” makes it a known list and creates something specific and certain. The problem with that list is it focuses on what we didn’t do rather than what we did and that makes us feel more stressed and more worried! Hence the endless loop.
It went on to explain how we have the power to break that loop. Simply by telling our brain when we plan to complete even one of the tasks we haven’t done creates certainty and stops the worry loop in its tracks. This automatically lessens stress and overwhelm and helps us to think more clearly and creatively, which increases our productivity.
I first experienced this concept during my days as a radio sales manager. My boss would always tell us to “control the controllables” and that seemingly simple phrase worked like a charm in so many ways. It was particularly effective to remind me to shift our month end focus from how far away we were from budget to what we could accomplish over the remaining days of the month to bring in revenue.
These days, I repeat this phrase quite often as I apply the concept throughout all aspects of college planning. It comes in especially handy for seniors as they transition from summer to the fall application season.
Trust me, you are not alone if your teen went into the summer with the best of intentions to get ahead on their essay, application or studying for the SAT or ACT, only to find themselves at the beginning of September having completed less than they’d hoped. If that’s the case, let’s break that “worry loop” now, and “control the controllables":
1. Focus on WHAT you can accomplish
2. Focus on WHEN you can do it
3. Limit the amount of options
Students - take heed:
Are you signed up for the ACT this Saturday? Ask yourself “What's ONE thing I can get done today?" Do the same each day. ANYTHING you start to do now will be more than you did yesterday. And it will start to help your brain focus on what you can accomplish.
Are you stressed because you wanted to start your essays already? Sit down now and schedule in a half hour per day over the next two days to begin. Just by telling your brain when you will do something kills the worry loop. You’ve created the certainty of setting a specific time. (Then use that time to pick a prompt to write about, jot down some notes or just start free writing).
Do you have more than 15 colleges you want to apply to? Does it feel like you’re continually adding new ones to your list, which keeps you from starting even one application? Pick the top 3 colleges you like most and start there. When we have too many choices our brain goes into what’s called the “overwhelm of overchoice”. Setting limits helps to break that loop.
Just one of the three ideas above helps to go from apprehension to activity.
I wonder if Nike had all of this in mind when they came up with their tagline "Just Do It".