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calming an active mind

My mind races a lot. It churns and turns over all the time. When I’m not directly solving interesting problems, I’m inevitably working through them in my head. It’s a constant chatter. Sometimes it’s something tech related, or it may be something related to economics, politics or other people in my life. I am a problem solver at heart. If I wasn’t doing it with computers, I’d be doing it somewhere else.

I joke around with my fiancé about her ability to fall asleep on-cue every night at her bed time. Without fail at 9:30PM, she can make her mind quiet and crawl in to bed for a good night’s sleep. This is a beneficial skill I’m always working to learn from her, but it comes with great difficulty for me. My rational mind tells me that if I don’t get my eight hours of sleep, I’m not going to be as happy or productive the following day. Yet in spite of this, my mind keeps racing. Just as I’m about to head for the pillow I think of something else to Google, something else to look up on Wikipedia, one more code change I could make and everything will be better.

But it never ends well. Before I know it it’s way too late, and I’m going to get way too little sleep for tomorrow. I’ve jumped into a new never-ending gopher hole that will only lead to more questions, more curiosities and more intrigues. This is just how I work.

The extra activity that zips around in my brain can be a blessing and a curse. It helps me to work out tough problems, and helps me gain clarity of mind for thinking. At the same time, I sometimes feel like my mind is caught in a continuous loop. I need tools that help me calm down. Something that can help me to ease my mind when I need it to be calm.

I’ve found two things that really help me. One is writing. I keep a small private journal where I can put all my thoughts to paper. This is a terrific way to temporarily stop my thoughts from spinning in circles. I know that when I let them escape to the paper, I gain peace of mind knowing that they have been expressed in a timeless way that I won’t lose.

The other thing that has helped me to calm is being genuinely engaged with people. I’m not talking about sending messages back and forth over twitter. Tweet people don’t work. I’m talking about having genuine connection with another human being. Sharing a laugh, listening to something important they have to say. Real engagement. This helps bring to focus the things that are important to them. It helps me to dwell on what really matters in their lives. Suddenly, with a fresh new perspective, my problems just don’t seem as important and I my mind is at peace.

Acting on these two ideas has made it easier for me to keep a calm and clear head. It’s made it easier for me to say, “Don’t worry, those problems you’re thinking about will still be there tomorrow.” It’s taught me patience. I don’t have to move an entire mountain in one push. In fact, at the end of the journey I often feel more satisfied if the mountain was moved with gradual and with a persistent effort.



about the author

Blake Smith is a Principal Software Engineer and leads the Infrastructure group at at Sprout Social.

Blake Smith

create. code. learn.