“Brain Dump” Your Way to Better Sleep & a Happier Mind

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:

  1. Pull out a blank sheet of paper, notebook, etc
  2. Grab a pencil, pen or other writing utensil
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
It doesn’t have to be neat, organized, color coded or anything else, just get those thoughts OUT

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.

Getting Lost to Find Myself: Part One

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!

Make the Most Out of ANY Situation to Live Your Best Life

My heart is pumping, my energy is electric, and my ears are still ringing. I just got out of a concert with my girlfriend and had an absolutely awesome time. The atmosphere was great, the music was pretty solid, and I got to spend time with the person I love and see her completely in her element, which brings the biggest smile to her face.

Admittedly though, the concert wasn’t something that I was overly excited about. It was for a band that I don’t really know, besides listening to the odd song (or twelve) in her car, and from what I do know, the music is not something I enjoy. In fact, I’ve been know to use the hyperbole, “this makes my ears bleed” in reference to the music on several occasions. Sound a bit dramatic? Well, I never claimed not to be, so as they say, “sue me”.

In addition to not being excited about the music itself, I also wasn’t very enamored with the idea of waiting outside for nearly 45 minutes in freezing cold weather. I’m not a concert goer, and didn’t realize this was a part of the process, so while I had on a jacket, let’s just say I didn’t dress appropriately (neither did she, choosing to look good rather than feel good, but that’s her choice). During this 45 minute wait, my patience wore thin and I began to get a bit grouchy. Realizing that this night wasn’t really about me and understanding how much it meant to her, especially the fact that I went with her, I did my best to put on a good front, but by no means was it easy. It helped to be able to physically see her excitement: a beaming smile on her face, abounding energy, and the literal jumping for joy that she did as we realized the line was moving and we were heading inside.

The concert as a whole was pretty damn amazing. The music was great, the atmosphere was killer, and there are few things more enjoyable than live music. If you’ve never been to St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, or another small, intimate venue for a concert, I highly recommend it (here I go recommending concert venues when I just said I don’t frequent concerts). I even loosened up enough to do some head banging and move around a bit (I wouldn’t call it dancing, because we were shoulder to shoulder and the music wasn’t conducive to my “stripper hip” style dancing, as my older brother calls it).

All-in-all, the entire experience got me thinking about how easily I could’ve had a terrible night, and even worse, ruined her night as well, but didn’t. In the past this likely would’ve been the case. I’m headstrong, I like what I like, and I have a tendency to be a bit of a curmudgeon when in a situation I’d rather not be. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, and somewhat wiser, (those things never move at the same pace), I’ve learned how to open myself up to almost any situation or opportunity and make the most of it. As a result, my life has flourished, I’ve experienced more in the past few years than I have in most of my life, and I’ve grown immensely as an individual. I think this is a very powerful mindset to adapt, and I wanted to share some tips with you on how you can make the most out of any situation, find joy in everything you do, and live your absolute best life as a result.

Be Open to Opportunities

While you don’t have to be Jim Carrey in “Yes Man”, it’s important that you’re open to opportunities when they arise. You don’t have to say yes to everything, or get outside your comfort zone in everything you do, but you should be mindful of the mental blocks and barriers that may be holding you back from experiencing and enjoying life.

We all have those barriers. It’s a defense mechanism against change which the body can internalize as a bad thing, and does in most cases. That’s why situations outside your comfort zone make you nervous or feel awkward, your body is sending you signals to resist change, but change is growth and growth is truly the key to long-term success, happiness and fulfillment. Become aware of those thoughts, be vigilant in battling them, and remember that sometimes that bit of nervousness or fear (not the “someone’s about to murder me” type fear), is actually a really good thing. It’s a sign that you’re stepping into the next level of your self.

Embrace the Moment

Not only do you need to be open to those opportunities to actually embark upon them, but you also need to be open to embracing the moment itself. That means putting aside any preconceived notions or judgments you may have, and opening yourself up to the experience itself. It means being present and tapping into your inner child: that youthful, open-minded and excited for everything person that still lives inside all of us. Remember when you were a kid and anything could be fun if you tried hard enough? (Like going to the grocery store and playing hopscotch on the tiles). That’s how you should approach each and every moment if you want to experience new things and live your best life.

Maybe you don’t like the music at the concert, the sport that you’re watching, or the movie that’s playing etc., but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something enjoyable in the situation. There is always something to take away from and enjoy about a situation, but you will never be able to find it if you venture forth with a closed mind.

Challenge yourself to try new things and to do so with an open mind. Maybe it’s a new food, a different event, or an entirely new environment that you decide to stretch your boundaries with, regardless, make sure you are doing it free of judgment, bias, or preconceived notions. This will give you the opportunity to truly experience whatever it is you are doing/trying/seeing, and grant you the ability to objectively decide if that new experience is something you’d like to do again, or something you will pass on going forward (it’s important to say no to things, just make sure you’re saying no from a place of open-mindedness and understanding).

By opening myself up to and embracing the experience (that was going to happen regardless of if I enjoyed it or not), I was able to find joy in the moment, and even found a few songs that I liked! You never know what will come of experiences until you embark upon them, but I promise there will always be positives if you choose to find them.

“Fake It Til’ You Make It”

If nothing else works, “fake it til’ you make it”. Sometimes simply acting like you enjoy something, and buying into the process will give you a chance to enjoy something you never thought you would. In the case of the concert I attended with music that I never listen to, both the band and the genre, I was totally out of my element. I didn’t know how to dress, how to act, how to “be”. This easily could’ve put me in a place where I was closed off and unable to buy into the experience.

What did I do? I faked it. I watched and picked up on the vibes of the people around me, and did as they did. I moved to the music in a way that they did, bought into the energy they were putting out, and as a result I found myself far more engaged in and enjoying the music than I ever thought I could. It’s actually pretty amazing to think about, considering just a few hours prior to writing this I would’ve liked nothing more than to avoid ever hearing the bands music, and now, after the fact I am realizing I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect and moment of the performance.

If you’re at a concert, dance. And if you can, sing along. If you’re at a sporting event, join along in their chants and revelry. If you’re in a fitness class, turn up your energy and give it your all. No matter what you do, if you buy-in to the process, and even if sometimes you have to “fake it til’ you make it”, you’ll give yourself a chance to experience it as it should be, and you’ll find that more times than not, you find something enjoyable about the experience.

My hope for you is that you never shy away from experiences, just because of what you’ve heard or how you feel about that experience. While it’s certainly important to be able to say no and filter certain things out, I think it’s equally as important, if not more so, to be open to saying yes and trying new things. While you may not always find a new band you love, hobby you enjoy, or food you just have to have again, you’ll find more times than not that the experience, regardless of the outcome, is always worth it. Open yourself to new experiences and opportunities, embrace the moments when you’re in them, and if necessary, “fake it til’ you make it” until you buy-in to the process and experience itself. Doing so is going to open up endless opportunities for you to flourish and grow, and you’ll learn things about yourself you never knew.