How To Be A Lean, Mean Thinking Machine

“Watch out! Oh no, you’re gonna screw up, you’re gonna screw up, you’re gonna screw up.” That’s what’s usually going through my head during a piano performance…..right before I screw up.

Here’s what’s going through my head when I’m in the flow and playing my best:

Yep. When it comes to thinking, less is definitely better.

In the first few five or so years of life, our thoughts are simple and focused on the present moment: “I’m hungry.” “I’m sleepy.” “I want that toy.”

Once we’re adults, however, the average person, according to Dr. Eric Klinger of the University of Minnesota, Morris, has 2,000 – 3,000 thoughts a day — 60% of which are mental chaos — redundant and revolving around anxiety and worry. No wonder we feel stressed and overwhelmed. We’re thinking too much!


Champions, on the other hand, like children, do very little unnecessary thinking. They have approximately half as many thoughts — 1,100 to 1,300 thoughts per day – and they hold each thought longer.

Tired of the chaotic traffic inside your head? Here are three ways to ease the mental congestion:

Make a distinction between functional thinking and ego-driven commentary.

“That’s hot, I won’t touch that again,” thinks the five-year-old. “This guy has a fast serve. I’ll swing quicker,” thinks the champion: These are functional thoughts. Most other observations — “What’s the matter with me?” “I‘m so stressed!” “How am I going to get this all done?” – serve no purpose and are pointless.

Find a different thought.

You can’t control or repress your thoughts. But you can decide which ones to hold on to. When I feel my head awhirl (or, more accurately, when I feel like a headless chicken), I find that one-word commands cut through the cacophony: “Focus.” “Quiet.” Or, “breathe.” (Yeah, pretty much like talking to a dog.)

Regulate with music.

Although scientists are not yet sure how, numerous research studies have shown that listening to music brings order and structure to neural functioning and affects brain waves. The effects, not surprisingly, depend on the kind of music. Don Campbell, who wrote the Mozart Effect, says slower Baroque music, such as Bach, Handel, or Vivaldi, can create mentally stimulating environments for creativity and new innovations. Classical music, such as Haydn and Mozart, often improves concentration and memory when played in the background.

What works for you to quiet your mind?


  1. Greg November 3, 2011 at 11:06 am

    A simple yet effective mental exercise tool that strengthens and supports
    i. in a broad spectrum of life performance areas is Open Focus.
    They are attention/mindfulness exercises developed primarily by a Dr
    les fehmi and an easy start in his small book The Open Focus Brain.

    1. Renita November 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks for sharing that reference, Greg. Dr. Fehmi makes interesting distinctions between effortful attention and relaxed attention and objective focus and narrow-objective focus. Fascinating!

  2. Jenn November 3, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Simply the word “GO” works for me when in my work environment. To quiet the mind for relaxation: breath control along with environmental sounds, i.e. rain, wind etc..

    1. Renita November 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm

      I like “GO,” Jenn. I’m stealing that!

  3. Saul Simon November 9, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I appreciate the timely email, I find Yoga slows the world down & i focus on my breathe & quieting my mind 🙂
    Thanks for sharing


    1. Renita November 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      Yoga, yes! Takes discipline and patience in the beginning but the peace and quiet is so worth it, isn’t it. Thanks for stopping by, Saul.

  4. Pingback: 45 Very Small Epiphanies That Will Change Your Outlook On Everyday Life :: Dopedom

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