How To Get Your Mind Off Something: The Best Ways To Distract A Run Away Brain
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC
With so much information always surrounding us, it’s not all that surprising that distraction runs rampant among most of the people in the world. The growth in the use of smartphones and other electronic devices and the increasing prevalence of the media everywhere gives us ample opportunity to be distracted during the day. With increasing distraction comes increasing responsibility and stress for many people in the workforce or university. This combination is a recipe for a brain that can’t stop thinking!
While there are many distractions in the world and lots to think about, even in daily life, there are still plenty of ways to stop thinking so intensely. Thinking isn’t wrong, but when you need to focus on a project or a person, overthinking can be a detriment. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the best ways to stop thinking when you need to!
The Main Causes Of Distraction
Distraction comes from many different sources. It usually seems on the surface that distraction is a simple thing to remedy. Still, lots of people across the world in all different situations struggle with being able to concentrate. So why is it that you’re distracted? Here are some of the most common reasons why you might be having trouble focusing:
- High-stress levels – When you have a lot going on and are experiencing high levels of stress, it’s more likely that your attention span will be shorter and that you’ll have trouble focusing on the task at hand.
- Your environment – Is your workspace or home cluttered and confused? Do you have trouble finding what you need when you need it? This is a very likely reason you can’t stop thinking when you need to concentrate on a project or conversation.
- Poor diet – Eating a lot of junk food, not eating enough, or overeating can all be the root causes of distraction. Your brain needs a certain amount of essential nutrients to be able to focus and stop thinking. That’s why it’s important to eat well if you want to be able to focus on it!
- “Temptations” surround you – Do you often find yourself checking your phone, Facebook, or personal emails while you’re supposed to be working or spending quality time with loved ones? The constant stream of information coming from technology is a common cause of distraction.
- Lack of sleep – If you’re not getting enough rest and sleep at night, you’re going to be less likely to concentrate during the day. Giving your nighttime routine a little extra love and attention to ensure that you sleep well will make a difference in your ability to focus.
These are just a few of the most common reasons why most people find it difficult to concentrate from time to time. There are other reasons as well, and if you believe that you’re experiencing unusually high levels of distraction, consider contacting a healthcare professional or therapist for advice.
The Best Ways To Remove Distractions And Refocus
There are many ways to bring your brain “back down to earth” after it’s flown off into space, and you’re distracted. If you can’t stop thinking, the first step is to become aware that you’re being distracted during the day; the second step is to implement productive techniques to refocus and retrain your mind to concentrate more easily. Here are some of the best ways to refocus on a specific project when you need to:
So many people, when faced with distractions, try intensely hard to focus. What if you did the opposite? That’s exactly what inversion teaches. Inversion encourages you to distract your mind and indulge in and observe the exact activities that caused you to become distracted. This makes it possible to remove the distractions and focus more easily later on. When you find yourself getting distracted (even a little bit), ask yourself what you would do if you were going to try to fully and completely distract yourself. You might find that working someplace loud, having your family in the immediate vicinity while you’re working, or having direct access to your phone are all contributors to your distraction. Then, you make an effort to remove the distractions systematically so that the chances you’ll be able to focus are higher.
Make A To-Do List And Stick To It
If you’re distracted, one of the best ways to refocus on your tasks is by making a list of what you have to do during the day or the week. If you can’t stop thinking about something, but you need to concentrate and get things done, this is the best way to start your day off in a way where you’re most likely to be able to finish what needs to be completed (no matter what it is). Knowing exactly what you have to do and when it needs to be done makes a huge difference! Plus, many people find it satisfying to actively cross off a list item after they complete it, rather than just knowing in their mind that it’s done.
Take Short Breaks And Move Around Often
Working nonstop for hours in a row is an unrealistic expectation for most people. If you often find yourself opening up your phone or checking notifications, you’re probably reaching a point in your day/work cycle where you need to take a break. Instead of opening up social media or succumbing to some other distraction, take a 5-10 minute break to walk around your home or workplace, get a glass of water, or look out a window or go outside. Often, when you find yourself getting distracted easily, all your brain needs are a few minutes of rest to process and recuperate; when you come back to what you were doing, you’ll be more focused.
A 2011 study published in the journal Cognition showed that taking a short, 10-minute break once an hour dramatically boosted test subjects’ focus and productivity. The study demonstrated how prolonged mental stimulation could reduce productivity when a person doesn’t take a break. This same study effectively shows how taking a bit of time every evening to wind down can also make a difference.
Create A Schedule
Is your current “schedule” erratic and hard to follow? Even if you’re in a place where things aren’t set in stone and often have unexpected events and tasks that need to be done, creating a loose daily and weekly schedule can make a dramatic difference in taming a runaway brain. People who have busy lives and higher stress levels frequently can’t stop thinking about all of their various responsibilities, and scheduling can help create order amidst the chaos. Waking up, eating, exercising, and going to sleep at the same time every day is the bare minimum; having a flexible yet organized schedule will make it possible to prioritize tasks and justify the need to complete certain to-do list items.
Practice Meditation Or A Meditative Exercise
Developing a regular meditation practice or incorporating tai chi or yoga into your everyday exercise routine can tame your brain and refocus when it counts. As it is, being reasonably focused on a particular task is similar to meditation in that it requires that you block out all distractions. If you get into a habit of blocking out distractions while meditating, it will be significantly simpler to do so during the day when you’re working or having meaningful conversations with the people that you love. Meditation is a particularly great practice for people who can’t stop thinking because it encourages a method of mental stillness while also encouraging increased concentration abilities in daily practice. There are even apps you can use to assist in learning breathing exercises or meditation.
According to the Times, a 2010 paper in Psychological Science demonstrated how meditation was shown to improve a person’s ability to focus more intensely and longer periods when practiced regularly. The same study also uncovered the possibility that meditation can improve brain function in a more general way, helping people to retain information more effectively and interpret environmental cues more quickly and meaningfully. At a minimum, a practice of 20 minutes a day was shown to be quite effective for most test subjects.
Distraction isn’t anything unusual, and almost everyone will have moments during every day where they have trouble focusing on the task at hand. Knowing that you’re not alone is half the struggle; identifying the cause of the distractions and managing mental and environmental distractions is the next step.
Some people can’t stop thinking for other reasons and may require some form of assistance from a licensed professional. At BetterHelp, our highly qualified and educated therapists have experience working with clients who have trouble focusing and can provide advice, support, and resources to help you overcome distractions. Contact BetterHelp today to set up your first appointment and get started concentrating again!
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