It’s not uncommon for people to struggle to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. For some, this may be a result of unused physical energy (that idea of your body being tired), while others may have a hard time turning their mind off and settling in. Thankfully both are (relatively) easy to rectify with a bit of action, but for today’s sake let’s focus on the mental side of things as this is where more people, in my experience, tend to struggle.
My favorite tool I have clients use to clear their mind, slow down their thoughts and find mental peace to make sleep easier to find is called a “brain dump”. It’s an unscientific term I use to describe the process of dumping everything that’s on your mind and keeping you awake, down onto a piece of paper. It acts as “save button” for your brain, allowing your mind to be at ease knowing that you won’t forget anything important that you’re currently focused on.
You see, the reason that your mind races and doesn’t allow to you sleep is because it deems the information that it’s dwelling on to be important. Things to do, bills to pay, checklists to cross off, these are all things that are important and thus your brain doesn’t want to forget them for fear of messing something up or missing something. To make sure that we reduce the fear, and simultaneously the thoughts tied to it, we use a brain dump to pull those thoughts out of our head and put them down on paper to review later. This gives our brain a bit of relief and can ease some of the mental thoughts and tension that otherwise would be there.
Similar to moving files off of your desk top (your brain) and into a folder (the piece of paper for your brain dump) brings you peace of mind, so to does the process of going through a nightly brain dump. So take all of those stressful, nagging thoughts and life’s annoyances, grab a pen and paper, and get to dumping them out to worry about later.
Here’s how you perform a brain dump:
Pull out a blank sheet of paper, notebook, etc
Grab a pencil, pen or other writing utensil
Write down the first thought that comes to your mind, something that has your focus, then follow it with the next thought and the one after that
Don’t try to work through the things you write out, figure out a solution or anything of that nature, just put it down and hit a figurative “save” button on those thoughts so you can pick them back up the following day
Spend roughly 10-15 minutes doing this (less if you have less on your mind) and reap the benefits of a peaceful night’s sleep
That’s the basics of a quality brain dump. It’s pretty simple and straight forward and is a very useful tool to help calm down your brain, clear your thoughts, and put yourself in a good position for a restful night of sleep. Sleep is a key component of health, arguably the most largely overlooked, so use this tool frequently to build quality sleep habits and ensure that you’re doing the most you can to improve your sleep and overall health.
Monday, I wrote a blog detailing the last few months of struggle in my life and how it lead me to embark on a solo adventure in Costa Rica on a whim. Today I want to switch gears, move away from the slightly heavy, slightly depressive talk about my struggles, and onto the beauty seen, lessons learned, and growth I achieved while traveling alone in a foreign country.
International travel by itself is a marvelous adventure where you not only learn a ton about the people, culture and places that you visit, but even more so about yourself. Add in traveling solo to a foreign country, and the learning and growth is increased exponentially. You learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine. Why you do or don’t do certain things. What makes you get up in the morning. And the things that truly bring you peace, and joy.
Solo travel may seem scary and/or lonely at first, but I promise you that once you embark upon that journey, regardless of where it is, you’ll understand it when I say that EVERYONE should take a trip alone at some point in their life. I grew more in the 8 days spent in Costa Rica than any other time in my life to date. I was challenged every step of the way, mentally and physically, and overcame each and every one of those. Below are some of those challenges and triumphs, lessons learned, and steps taken toward growth. After reading through them, I hope to inspire you to take more trips, traveling both with friends and on your own, and challenge you to live life reinvigorated with overwhelming excitement for what’s to come.
Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company
When I told people that I was traveling alone to Costa Rica, I received a lot of different responses. The two most popular responses I received were that it would be scary, and even more popular, that it would be lonely. Both of these responses are normal, as it can seem both scary and lonely traveling by yourself.
You’re all alone in a foreign country, with no one to reach out to for help or conversation besides yourself. That level of independence and self-reliability is difficult for many people, myself included at one point, to fathom. We’re not used to being outside our comfort zones. We aren’t used to being without the people, places and things that act as security blankets, and it can send our internal alarm systems into high alert.
Sometimes that alarm system is well intended and correct in causing you to pause and think about the journey ahead, while other times that alarm system can hold you back from experiencing life on a different level and growing to new heights. When it comes to traveling alone, I think most of that fear and worry is misguided.
That’s not to say that there aren’t inherent risks or things to fear, but that those risks are far overshadowed by the benefits that foreign travel provides. Traveling alone forces you to spend time with yourself, learn to rely on yourself, and grow comfortable in your solitude.
I remember sitting at dinner the first night in Costa Rica, surrounded by a beautiful landscape, I was also surrounded by many groups of people. Couples, families, and friends were all around me. Everywhere I looked, somebody had somebody. And it started to weigh on me.
Who would I talk to? How would I make it through an entire dinner without anyone around? How weird do I look as the only person sitting alone in a crowded restaurant?
It was far too easy to get lost in those negative thoughts, drowned by anxiety for a situation I wasn’t used to, and rethink my decision to travel alone. As the sun began to set, creating an intense canvas of red, orange, and yellow hues fill with the shadowy outlines of palm trees dotting the rain forest, I realized how crazy that was.
Was it really that bad to travel alone? Did I really need anyone to keep me company or make me feel satisfied? Wasn’t it enough to simply take in the natural beauty around me, internalizing all that I saw and capturing that moment forever?
From that moment forward, being alone stopped bothering me. I didn’t question how much better the trip would’ve been with another person, or how “weird” it may look to people seeing me eating, hiking, and adventuring alone. I stopped caring about what was expected, or what was optimal, and started focusing on what was right in front of me: the natural beauty of the world around me. Pulling my thoughts away from what could be, to what was, allowed me to fully immerse myself in my travels and make the most of every single second.
I recently read a quote that said, “Solitude is the celebration of your own company.” Costa Rica taught me about solitude and the differences between lonely isolation, and enriching solitude. Traveling alone allowed me the opportunity to reconnect with myself and remember how good it feels to enjoy one’s own company. I challenge you to spend more time alone, free from distractions that make you feel less alone, and absorb the world around you. Take in the world’s beauty, analyze your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and start building a quality relationship with yourself that will bleed positivity into every other aspect of your life.
Viva la Pura Vida! Live the Pure Life!
Costa Ricans have a saying, “Pura Vida”, which translates directly to “Pure Life”. Pura Vida is far more than just a saying, and rather it’s a way of life for them. It means to take risks, enjoy the moment, live your best life, be thankful for what you have and the life you’ve been given. It means to climb mountains, traverse through jungles, and be one with the world around you. Pura Vida is a way of saying goodbye, hello, thank you and so much more.
Not only do they use that saying judiciously, they live it even more fervently. Everything that Costa Ricans do is done with a fervor and joy that is hard to explain. The people smile at you everywhere you go. If you say hello to someone, they will return the favor and likely spark up a conversation. The offers for rides and help, even though you’re a foreigner vacationing in their country. It just seems like they’ve got life figured out when it comes to being happy, joyous, and at peace.
Traveling through Costa Rica I quickly adopted this same mentality. It’s hard not to when you’re surrounded by so much positivity and energy. It gives true meaning to the idea that you pick up on, feed off of, and adopt the energy and mindset of those who are around you. The Pura Vida idea seeps into your soul and you’re unable to fight it, not that you would want to.
During my travels I realized how much of my life had been spent living without gusto, excitement and joy. I noticed how much of my energy had been wasted on negative thoughts and behaviors. I understood how easily I had fallen prey to living outside the moment, focusing on mistakes of the past or worries about the future.
As I traveled through Costa Rica, adventuring through the jungles, laying on the beaches, and hiking up its mountains, I realized that life was about more than external indicators of success and happiness and rather, it was about defining your own success and happiness and then creating it. For too long I had lived by the rules, ideas and values of others, forgetting that the ones that matter most are my own.
When you’re traveling alone, in a foreign country full of life you are instantly reminded of this. There’s no one to ask permission or come to a compromise on what to do or eat, you simply have to turn inward and ask yourself what you would like to do/eat. You have no one to rely or depend upon to make decisions, or help make decisions, for you, so you quickly learn to listen to yourself and trust what you hear.
Memento Mori: Remember You Will Die
I nearly died white water rafting in Costa Rica. That may be a bit of a dramatization, but it certainly felt like it at the time. Those 10 seconds I spent submerged under water, fighting to reach the surface and the air that would give me life, were 10 of the longest seconds of my life. Every sensation hit me all at once, not seeing, but rather, feeling my life flash before my eyes. Each time I reached for the surface, only to hit the bottom of the boat I felt death creep closer. When I finally reached the surface, the overwhelming joy and gratitude I had for the oxygen in the air around and my life in general was nearly too much to bear.
Nearly drowning during white water rafter was one of the scariest moments of my life, but also one of the greatest. After coming to the surface, getting back into the raft, and continuing down the river, a smile reached my face that never left.
Why was I smiling when I nearly died?
I smiled because I realized what those 10 seconds had shown and taught me. Those 10 short seconds, where I wasn’t certain I was going to live, reminded me of how short life is. It showed me how much of my life I had taken for granted. And it quickly taught me that if I wanted to live a life of purpose, a life I could not only be proud of, but also enjoy, I needed to stop taking life for granted and start living with respect for this life.
If you’re like me, you spent a lot of your life living as though you were invincible and would live forever. You wasted time and energy on people, opportunities and situations that weren’t serving you or your life goals. You took risks, but not ones that would benefit your life.
Sometimes, you need a wakeup call to remind yourself of your own mortality and get back to living life in a way that moves you forward and helps you grow. This could mean something small, like getting sick, injured, or having a minor life crisis happen, or something more major like a debilitating/life changing injury or illness, death of someone close to you or major life crisis. I have never been one to pick up on the subtleties that life sends my way, joking that I could bang my head against a brick wall 10 times before realizing I’m not getting through, so it’s no wonder that my mortality hit me like a slap to the face that rang out across all of Costa Rica.
Maybe you don’t need to have a near death experience to make the realizations that I did. Maybe just reading this shook enough of something loose to help you start respecting your life, and as a result, living it to the fullest. That’s my hope.
And if not, I hope you do something about it. I hope you realize how short and precious life is. I hope you find a way to begin respecting your life for the gift that it is, and putting the quality, positive energy and effort into it, and yourself, that it deserves. I hope that you realize this before it’s too late. Before you’re on your death bed, wondering where all your years went and regretful for all that you missed out on.
Trust Your Harness
I did a lot of fun, exciting, awe-inspiring, and frankly, crazy shit while in Costa Rica. One of those “crazy shit” experiences was rappelling and canyoneering in the rainforests near La Fortuna. It was my first time doing either, and it was an experience that’s difficult to put into words. Bluntly put, it was cool as hell!
Imagine yourself repelling down 30, 50, and even 200-foot canyons and waterfalls, feeling like a bad ass special forces operator as you jump off the wall of the canyon and gracefully bound and rappel your way to the ground. Okay, so maybe I didn’t look exactly like a Navy Seal or Marine, but in my head, I was a total rock star living out a Mission Impossible fantasy.
The funny thing about the whole adventure is that the actual rappelling and lowering down the waterfalls and canyons wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was the initial set up process where you had to turn your back to the drop off, plant your feet on the edge of the cliff, and lean into your harness. As much as I knew that harness was sturdy and tested against weights and feats much greater than mine, it was still a total mindfuck to lean into it.
This is a lot like life. We tend to fear taking that first step, not knowing what’s over the edge waiting for us, and preferring the comfort of our feet safely on trusted ground. The problem is that if we lived our life this way, never trusting our harness and always choosing the safe route, life would get stagnant pretty quickly. We would never meet new people and make new friends. We wouldn’t be able to grow our careers and find success in them. And we would miss out on a mountain of opportunities that could bring us everything we’ve ever wanted and needed: a life worth living, full of energy, excitement and happiness.
What we tend to forget, or don’t realize, is that we all have a built-in safety harness. Our safety harnesses have been built and developed over the course of our lives as we have overcome challenges, adversity and dealt with everything that’s come our way. Your safety harness is your strength, perseverance, tenacity, grit, determination, emotional intelligence, problem solving, and every other skill, trait and characteristic that makes you you and allows you to continue moving forward despite what difficulties come your way.
If you’re like me and tend to play it safe in life, preferring the paths you’ve traveled endlessly, do yourself a favor and shake things up a bit. Take a new path, or better yet, carve one out that’s all your own. Don’t worry about what’s around the corner, over the edge, or through the woods, just trust the safety harness that you’ve built internally throughout your life and take that first step. I promise you that excitement, happiness, and internal peace are just on the other side of your fears, waiting for you to explore and embrace them.
Forget Doing, Start Being
On my final full day in Costa Rica, the power of being instead of doing culminated within me. I woke up bright and early at 5:30am, as I had been the entire trip. I looked at my plan for the day and built excitement for what was to come. I cleaned up, showered, and got ready for breakfast. During breakfast it began to rain. Not rain like a few drops here and there, but a torrential down pour that left the ground muddy and your clothes soaked.
This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I was staying right near the rain forest, so rain is a part of the program, but typically it’s a quick drench and then it’s over. I spent some extra time at breakfast, hoping for the rain to let up, with no such luck. After spending nearly two hours at breakfast I decided to head back to my room.
Back in my room I became extremely antsy, beginning to feel the initial stages of anxiety kick in as I realized my last day may be spent in a small hotel room, watching the rain. As I paced wall to wall in my room, I couldn’t help but feel like my final day was ruined, like maybe I should’ve left a day early to avoid this. I’m not really sure what happened, but I finally stopped pacing, laid down on the bed, and just focused on breathing. Listening to sounds of the wind and rain battering against the metal of the roof like a therapeutic sleep song, I realized how absurd I was being.
So, what if it rained on my last day? Did that negate all of the beauty I had seen, the things I had experienced, or growth I had accomplished?
I realized that the issue wasn’t so much that the rain was throwing my day off, but more so that I had this deep, unending desire to be “doing” something because that’s the way life is in the U.S. It’s all about maximizing your time, fitting in as much as possible, and the idea to always be doing something. I felt like because I was doing nothing, meant that I had somehow failed at my vacation.
How crazy is that? How does one “fail” at a vacation?
You don’t but you can certainly feel that way if you get caught up in the nonstop go, go, go and more, more, more of life. I sure have been, but that last day in Costa Rica, and several other smaller, less apparent moments, I learned to stop worrying about always doing something, and start focusing on being something. Being myself, being with my thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and being alive and part of the moment.
Though it was the hardest lesson for me to learn, it was easily the most beneficial as it’s given me a peace of mind for my life and an ability to enjoy each and every moment as they come. I’m still working to fight the urge to always be doing something, I think that will always be a part of me, but I’m finding a balance between doing and accomplishing things and turning inwardly and learning to just “be”.
If you struggle with anxiety, or even just thoughts that life should be a constant series of doing and go, go, go, challenge yourself to slow things down, enjoy the moment, and be one with yourself. That alone will bring you a level of freedom and peace that many don’t experience because so much of their lives are driven by the act of doing.
Solo Travel = Growth Acceleration
Traveling solo is a whirlwind adventure that teaches you loads about yourself and the world around you. You learn to rely on and depend on yourself, expand and grow within yourself, and develop a respect for yourself and your life that you may not otherwise.
If you’ve ever thought about traveling alone, I urge you to take that leap of faith and trust in yourself to figure it out as you go. That’s kinda what life is about anyways, taking leaps of faith, trusting in your ability to figure things out, and following through on the journeys you embark upon.
If you have any questions about traveling solo, what to expect, or just want to work through some of the feelings you may be having toward it, please comment below or reach out via email at email@example.com and let’s talk further!
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you likely know that I spent 8 days traveling alone in Costa Rica recently. On Instagram I posted an endless amount of pics documenting the natural beauty of Costa Rica and sharing all the animals that I encountered along my journey (I’m a bit of a nature and zoology nerd). On Facebook I shared my reflections on my journey and the growth that inevitably came my way as a result of that journey. What you probably don’t know, regardless of if and where you follow me, is why.
Why did I travel to Costa Rica, alone and out of the proverbial blue?
The why for this trip has been a long time coming. The past year, hell even the past few years, have been really rough on me. That’s not to say that I’m unlucky, or life’s unfair, I don’t believe either to be true, but I have dealt with internal struggles that few people know about. The culmination of these struggles was self-admittance to the psychiatric ER after a bout of depression became too much to handle on my own.
I wasn’t suicidal, but I stopped caring about life and whether I woke up the next morning. It’s what they define as passively suicidal. I got to a point where life became extremely dark, like I was living in a hole, trying to dig myself out, but every time I dug the dirt just fell back on top of me. I was hopeless and apathetic, not caring about any of the things that usually matter to me.
On the outside you wouldn’t be able to tell. I was going to work and putting on a happy face. I was keeping up with physical appearances and hygiene, which is one of the key signs they use to determine someone who’s depressed. I didn’t miss any workouts, sleep in late, or any of the normal symptoms that we equate with depression. In short, I didn’t fit the mold for depression, but inside, I felt like I was dying. Like someone had taken a heavy, dark blanket and used to it cover my mind and heart. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel, and I couldn’t live on my own terms.
That loss of control in my life was nearly too much. Thankfully I had and have some very supportive and amazing people in my life and despite feeling alone in my battle, I never was. Those people helped me get through one of the darkest periods in my life and helped me keep from spiraling entirely out of control. Unfortunately, the depression wasn’t the only issue in my life.
About 6 weeks ago, my girlfriend of 2.5 years and the person I loved more than anyone outside of family, and I broke up.
A little over a week after my trip to the psych ER, something still wasn’t right. I still felt overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. I still felt like I had lost my vigor for life and was struggling to feel like myself. Standing in the shower one day, the emotions were too much. I collapsed, sitting down, letting the water pour over me, and cried. I cried because I was depressed, but more so, I cried because I realized what was necessary for me to be able to be me again.
Despite knowing how much it would hurt both of us, despite not wanting to in the least, I walked out of the shower and explained to my then girlfriend that things weren’t right. In my life, in my head, and in our relationship. Something was off, pieces were missing, and I couldn’t help feeling like we were going in different directions. I expressed that it had nothing to do with how I felt about her, didn’t detract from how deeply I loved her, but that we had been fighting an uphill battle, staying together out of comfort and convenience, rather than progress and growth, and it had become too much for me to bare. I wanted her to be happy and I knew that ultimately that would not and could not be with me, so I needed to let her go, allow her to grow on her own, and find happiness in herself and with someone else.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Deciding to give up something good, or good enough, for something better, great, and quite possibly amazing. To give up on someone and something that I had worked on and with, fought tooth and nail for, for the last 2.5 years, it broke me. I felt like I was quitting, and that’s something I take pride in not doing. I don’t quit, I don’t give up, especially when there’s no glaringly obvious reason for it.
We didn’t have the typical problems that plague most relationships, my previous ones included, like lying, cheating, or incessant arguing that usually precludes and makes a breakup easy to see and follow through on. We loved each other deeply, and despite that, it wasn’t enough. And that was the hardest part, realizing that despite loving each other, despite wanting to be together, it simply wasn’t enough, and it was time to move on for both of us.
I’m grateful and thankful for the 2.5 years I got to spend with that amazing person. We taught each other so much about love and life and helped each other grow in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had we not found each other. We supported each other through some of the most trying and difficult times of our lives, that we may not have been able to handle alone. For all of that and more, I am thankful, and I will always have a place in my heart for her and I hope that she finds peace, happiness and everything her heart desires in this life.
The most amazing part about the breakup is that it showed me that I could still FEEL. I still had emotions, I still had life and energy inside of me, it had just been lying dormant and slowly dying. Instead of just living free from emotions, or only feeling and living with anger, I could actually feel again. The world became a bit brighter, life became a bit more exciting, and the tears that I shed were not only for sadness at what I had lost, but for happiness at what I had gained: the ability to feel.
Shortly after our breakup, it dawned on me that that there was still work left to do. I had done a lot of adding and subtracting in my life, doing my best to get back to being me, but I still needed a spark, something that would ignite change and spur growth.
Less than two weeks after the breakup I found that spark, or rather, I created it. I booked a trip to Costa Rica on a whim, traveling alone for the first time. I knew that it would be difficult, as traveling alone gives you no one and nothing to fall back on but yourself, but I also knew it was exactly what I needed.
I couldn’t tell you exactly how I knew it was what I needed, but something in my gut was pulling me towards a solo trip, specifically to Costa Rica. I needed the beaches to soak up the sun and re-energize, the mountains to give me an elevated view and assess my life as a whole, and the jungles and rainforests to allow me to get lost, both in their trails and my mind.
Although it wasn’t the best time for me to be taking an international trip, or any trip for that matter, it was the right time for me. I needed to get away from the life and situations I was so used to, get outside my comfort zone, and really force myself to do some deep thinking, work on myself, and create intentional growth. And somehow, the trip to Costa Rica provided all of that and more.
It gave me an opportunity to breathe, think, and live clearly, not worrying about all the responsibilities and the life I left back home. By turning my life upside down for a little over a week, I was forced to assess my life and able to see it from a different, clearer perspective. Costa Rica will always have a special place in my heart for its natural beauty and wildlife, but even more so for the mental and spiritual journey that I went through on its beaches, in its forests, and upon its mountains.
If you’ve read this far, I want to thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more about me and support me as I navigate through all the struggles and triumphs that this life has to offer. If you’re interested in reading more, I will be releasing the second and final part of the this blog on Wednesday, detailing more about my actual journey in Costa Rica, everything I learned along the way, and how I am going to use that newfound knowledge and growth to start living my life in the way that I’ve always wanted.
Stay tuned, and if you have any questions or comments regarding me, my life, or the trip to Costa Rica, please comment below as I would love to connect with you and answer them!