Ever feel like your neurons are stuck in a negative feedback loop? You’re obsessed with a relationship gone wrong, or stuck in an endless argument with your best friend, or you can’t stop thinking about that video game you spend too much time playing. Spiraling thoughts sap away productivity. You know you should stop, but like a bathroom scale that keeps pointing to 5 instead of 0, you can’t seem to get your thoughts in balance. Time to pull back, slow down and recalibrate your neurons. Here’s how:
1. Begin Each Day with the Things that Matter Most
Life is frantic. It’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of email, errands, hobbies and arguments… so much so that you collapse into an exhausted heap on your bed at the end of the day. Wrung out, worn out, you stare toward the ceiling as your thoughts spiral in guilty cycles. There’s so much you didn’t get done.
It’s a common pattern, but it’s not one you have to stay trapped in. Make an effort to start each day with the things that matter most to you. You’ll still have a huge list of uncompleted tasks by nightfall, but you’ll feel better if you’re confident that what you did instead was more important.
2. Remind Yourself of Your Priorities
Doing the “things that matter most” is all well and good – but it requires actually knowing what your priorities are.
The human brain is oddly distractible. Start playing a computer game, and within a few minutes, the scoreboard in the upper right corner becomes more important than the paperwork your boss is waiting for. Start weeding the flower beds, and that last, annoying little dandelion sprout can crowd out the needs of your family or children. Bit by bit, over days and weeks, these tiny maladjustments can add up to a severe distortion in our perceptions.
Take time each day, preferably in the morning, to remind your brain of your priorities. This may involve listening to a song by your favorite artist, reading scriptures specific to your religion, writing in a journal or pondering an inspirational quote from the previous century. Whatever helps you drag your brain back into a clear focus on your priorities – spend time doing it.
3. Seek Opportunities for Growth
A tree that is growing will move instinctively toward the light. It will dig roots that hold it firm against storms. It will adjust to changing conditions and compensate for shifting cliff faces.
A human being who is growing can do many of the same things. Seek opportunities to improve your abilities. Take a class. Read a book. Make an effort to improve your interactions at work or at home. At all costs, resist the temptation to stagnate.
4. Attend to the Physical
You brain is connected to the rest of your body. If you want it to function properly, you’re going to have to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Exercise daily. Learn which foods clear your mind, and which leave you muzzy-headed. Pay attention to your body’s response to sunlight, fresh air and freedom from constant, oppressive background noises. Everyone’s body is different, so the best way to discover what yours needs is through trial and error.
5. Surround Yourself with Focused, Confident People
We tend to become more like the people we spend time with. Seek out friendships and business contacts that build you up. Avoid social groups that make you feel uncomfortable, looked down upon or incompetent. Learn to trust your own inner compass. Cultivate the company of people who accept you for who you are and inspire you to improve.
Originally published on lifehack.org.