This is a great time of year to do some deeper thinking.
Many of us are now signed-off from work. And away from the noise of the day-to-day, perhaps we’re enjoying the opportunity to spend some time thinking about longer-term goals or strategic projects.
For those of us still at work, we perhaps find ourselves in a quiet office and with some extra time to work on what otherwise keeps being pushed to the bottom of the list.
Wouldn’t it be great to have some trick we could use right now, to quieten our minds and really focus our attention on our chosen topic?
Here’s a useful technique, straight from the coaching toolkit, that I love to share around this time of year: just when we could do with something to help us capitalise on this quieter time.
Clearing the space
Competition for your brain’s attention is fierce. To give yourself the mental space to think deeply about a topic, try this simple 4-step process.
1. Notice your thinking
Start by simply noticing what’s in the background. What else is on your mind. Perhaps some preoccupation or recurring thought? Some issue or open-ended action? Notice it now.
Like so many thinking techniques, this isn’t about tightly grabbing hold of a thought; this is about simply and lightly noticing, without judgement.
2. Acknowledge your thinking
Next, acknowledge the thought to yourself. Don’t discard it – yet. Else it’ll still be there, interrupting your thinking when you want your attention on your chosen topic.
So instead, acknowledge it, as simply as you can: “right now, I’m thinking about x”.
3. Label the emotion
The crucial bit: label the emotion that’s attached to that thought.
We can’t have a thought without a feeling. And often, those feelings (especially negative emotions) can distract our thinking. Labelling the emotion – that is, giving it a name, in literally a word or two – has the effect of dampening our limbic response to it (especially negative emotions).
So: “right now I’m thinking about X. And the feeling there is anticipation”. Or whatever.
4. Park it, temporarily
Finally, in whatever way works for you: put it to one side, sweep it away, stick it in a drawer, put it on the shelf. Actually do the actions. And remind yourself: you’re not saying this is unimportant; you’re just putting it on hold, temporarily.
Essentially, you’re giving yourself permission to think deeply about something else. For now.
Repeat this process for every background thought: Notice, Acknowledge, Label, Park. At the end of each 4-step cycle, ask yourself: “what else is in the background, right now?” And keep going until you feel clear-enough to think on your chosen topic.
Take 2 minutes, clear the space, and think better for it.
The versatility of good thinking skills
This simple technique isn’t just for thinking about big goals and strategic projects. It’s a great way to bring your attention to a specific topic, whatever the context.
Perhaps you’re about to give a talk or presentation; or about to walk into an important client meeting; or need to knuckle down and concentrate on a task. Or perhaps you just want to park your thoughts about work so you can simply enjoy your time off.
Now there’s a thought.