Our minds are constantly filled with “what ifs.” Those worries can mess with our productivity, our mental health, and our sleep. It’s really quite inconvenient. 

These thoughts are all part of the human experience. In fact, if our human brains didn’t constantly worry about things, our ancestors would have probably not survived the way they did.

Imagine, if instead of worrying about finding water and food, ancient humans just sat in their caves and made up dance moves. Not ideal.

But today, we want our minds to be clear and focused on the task at hand, not worrying constantly about every single aspect of our lives. 

So, how do you quiet the noise? 

Well, if you have 20 minutes and a pen, philosopher and author Alain de Botton suggests this exercise to clear your mind.

Our worries “take their revenge out on us for not giving them the attention they deserve. They wake us up in the middle of the night demanding to be heard or they give us twitches, and perhaps one-day illnesses,” De Botton explains. “They need to be unpacked and sorted out.”

To do that, simply take 20 minutes out of your day, find a pen and paper, and sit down and answer the following three questions. No need for complete sentences or much thought at all. Just jot down whatever half-formed ideas pop into your head: 

  • What am I currently upset about? 
  • What am I currently anxious about? 
  • What am I currently curious or excited about?

An exercise like this is called a “brain dump.” What comes spilling out of your mind isn’t likely to make a ton of sense. The idea is simply to unpack all of your worries, freeing up your thoughts for more useful and practical applications; focusing on your passions, getting your work done, or simply being present in the moment. 

If you would like to dive deeper into this exercise, De Botton suggests follow-on questions for each category. The entire list can be found here