• Caitlin Evans
  • Wake Up: How to Break the Cycle of Mental Laziness and Brain Fog
Wake Up: How to Break the Cycle of Mental Laziness and Brain Fog
Contributor
Written by
Caitlin Evans
30 days ago
Contributor
Written by
Caitlin Evans
30 days ago

I have to start this one with a confession.

Despite being quite aware of the challenges that come with immersing myself in creative pursuits, I have let them get the better of me not once, but twice.

Twice have I been the victim of burnout, and although I was not quite sure what I was dealing with the first time around, the second time I saw it coming. And I knew it would be bad, yet I let it happen anyway.

Since then, I’ve found myself more often enveloped in a brainy fog I was not used to before, and my mind has become more often sluggish, slow, and simply lazy.

Sometime after Burnout no. 2 (and totally unrelated to that unpleasant episode), I started talking to a therapist about what I now know to be anxiety. As you do, we started veering off-topic at some point into our third session, and I spoke a lot about brain fog and my mind’s complete disregard for motivation and drive.

What she told me next has changed the way I look at said fog completely.

 

How our minds work

What a cliffhanger sentence that was, right? Didn’t mean to sound all clickbait-y, so I do apologize for that.

Steering back to the subject at hand: what I learned from my wondrous therapist is that our brains are the masters of the comfort zone.

They believe their main goal in our life is to keep us safe and alive. Which is why they come up with all sorts of coping mechanisms to protect us, which often do nothing but make our lives miserable and hinder our progress.

These mechanisms include anxiety and panic attacks, but they also pop up every time we try to step out of what our brain has accepted as the comfort zone, and try to prevent us from leaving it. Seeing the present state of comfort as desirable, and our consciously desired destination as unknown – and thus potentially dangerous, the brain does what it can to keep us stuck in the same place.

Enter brain fog, mental laziness, and all those times when you simply did not feel like getting up in the morning.

 

The tricks we play

Ever wonder why it’s so easy to keep watching YouTube or Netflix all day, but not as easy to sit down and write?

Even though you undoubtedly want to write, love to write, itch to write, ache to write, burn to write?

That’s just your friendly neighborhood brain, doing its thing, trying to protect you from the perceived evils that might be lurking out there in the yet unexperienced.

As my all-time favorite musical quote would say: comfort is the enemy of progress.

In other words, and to sum up this lengthy verbosity: if you mean to grow as a person, a human, a writer, you need to make yourself uncomfortable, wake up, find a powerful enough torch to wield through the fog, and teach your brain to be less lazy.

 

Mental laziness: three tricks to combat it

The three things I find to work well for the laziness aspect of my brain’s self-preservation gimmick are:

I teach it new things

And I do this gradually, without making it feel like a learning process. I find that when my mind is sluggish and I try to force it, it can exhibit the very unwelcome tendency to refuse all cooperation.

Being a writer and a total nerd for all things language (plus, anything language-related can only ever boost my writing skills, haha), I try to add new words to my vocabulary in fun ways.

I used to play Elevate every day, and it was fun up to a point, but then I sort of gave up. I also try to do a crossword puzzle on my phone every other day or so. And I’ve recently taken on learning Spanish words that don’t exist in English, which I feel broadens the way I use the words I do know.

I let it be

*Having recently seen Bruce Dickinson talk about his autobiography, I can’t help but sing that verse in his voice.

What I also find works well is meditating – and when I say meditating, I am referring to lying down on my back on the floor (it has to be the floor, don’t ask), and not thinking about anything.

Of course, I’m thinking about something, but I don’t force my mind in any direction and I don’t judge my thoughts – no matter how negative or how odd they may be. I just let them be.

This is a great way to let the mind do its thing for a while, and leave yourself some time to question your thoughts later.

I force myself to limit my escapist activities

Like I’ve already said, watching YouTube for a day can be a great way to combat anything – but it’s also a great way to give in to your brain’s desire to stay comfy, cozy, and not move a muscle.

Granted, I do have these kinds of days (usually around that time of the month, when the brain fog is killer), but I do force myself to limit them.

If I know I have a ton of stuff to do and spend a day not doing anything, I feel like shit, pardon my French.

If I’ve done a lot in a week, and feel I need to unwind, then I grant my brain its day off. But only as a reward – never as a means to escape what it needs to do. I.e., write. It’s always write.

 

Brain fog: three tricks to combat it

Being mentally lazy is not the same as having brain fog: the first is just your brain’s desire to switch off; the second is, well, brain fog. It’s like your mind has been stuffed with cotton wool.

You know what I mean.

For that, I have three other remedies:

I eat much better

Contrary to popular belief, and debunking the fact that a lot of brilliant work has been fueled by coffee and sugar, I try to steer clear of both as much as I can, and only use them to my advantage.

Sugar I eat after a workout to replenish myself, and when I’m PMS-ing very badly.

Coffee I take pre-workout, and only when I have a tight deadline I need help getting through. 

I try to eat a lot of fiber and fruit and veg that is good for the brain. It takes a bit of getting used to, I know, but once you form the habit, your body will work better, as will your brain. And it will stop firing those nasty cravings.

I work out

Running every day has probably made the biggest difference in my creative life.

I try to do it in the mornings, and I find that all the plots and all the difficult elements I was struggling with the day before solve themselves while I run. I don’t actually think about them; they just unknot themselves.

Running is also great for anxiety, not to mention heart health, and I find it definitely helps my mind work better. Probably due to the extra oxygen it keeps getting.

I reconnect with nature

There’s nothing like a hike in the woods to clear out the cobwebs of the mind and catch that feeling of humbled inspiredness. 

I don’t have the luxury of awe-inspiring nature at my doorstep, so every once in a while, when my brain aches for fresh air and calming silence, I make the half-hour ride to the closest national park for some alone time. And it works like a charm. 

I arrive in the early morning and set out on a path I’ve planned ahead. I anchor myself to the moment, follow my breaths, and pay attention to my surroundings – the sounds, the colors, the sharpness of air against my nostrils. 

This soul-saving ritual has led to a productive hobby: not too long ago, I started getting into outdoor photography, and it became a real passion of mine. 

At first, it was just a fun way to capture all the beauty around me. Slowly, as I learned to observe my surroundings, I noticed my perception was sharper and I was more observant even when I’m not taking photos. 

Now, this hobby-turned-practice-in-awareness is one of my biggest sources of inspiration.

I sleep

And finally, let’s just touch upon the importance of sleep and why we must start sleeping more and working less.

Modern society has been trying to teach us that we need to work harder in order to achieve greater things. And I agree. But working harder does not come at the expense of sleeping.

We’ve all done it (I’ve done it twice to the death). We give up sleep to get something done. Instead of sleeping an extra hour so we can get things done in half the time.

Only rested brains are devoid of fog and sluggishness.

So, next time when the choice between going to bed and having another Red Bull arises, choose the former. There is nothing in that can that can compete with your pillow.

 

Do let me know how you fight these two mental challenges – the banes of progress and the shipmates of procrastination. I, on the other hand, will go lay on the floor for a bit.

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