"Can you give me some advice?" she asked with a tinge of pleading in her voice. Without waiting for an answer, she said, "I have an interview today, and with the divorce and Mom's illness, I have so many thoughts racing through my mind I don't think I'm going to be a good interview."
I didn't waste any time. "You have meditated with a mantra before, right?"
"Yes. Not today, but I have. And I know I really should but I haven't had the time."
"No, no. That's not my advice. You know how when you meditate you've got a single word or phrase you repeat and come back to again and again? The reason that's so calming is that the mind tends to race from one thing to another. When you're meditating and you notice your mind racing, what do you do?"
"Start saying the mantra to myself again."
"Exactly. You come back to the mantra. And your mind runs off in another direction thirty seconds later. And you come back to the mantra again. Your mind starts to settle down because you have a simple focus," I said, "and that's what you need today. You need a simple phrase that will focus your mind on something helpful. While you're interviewing, it isn't helpful to think about your divorce or your mother's illness."
"No. Definitely not."
"What would be helpful? How about something that would relax you?"
"I've been trying to relax tense muscles lately."
"That's perfect," I blurted. "That could be your phrase. Every time you notice your mind is racing, say to yourself, 'Relax tense muscles,' and then relax any tense muscles you have. If your mind starts to scatter off again, notice it and relax your tense muscles again. That's a good one."
"I'll try it. That sounds like it could work."
I heard from her later, and it did work. It prevented her mind from drifting into counterproductive thoughts, and went further than that and put her mind on something that could actually help her situation.
This is a simple way to settle your mind. It keeps you from having such an overabundance of thoughts. The best thing to bring your mind to is a simple purpose. The woman had the simple purpose of relaxing tense muscles. Every time she felt nervous or upset, she had something to settle her mind on. Like a constant pressure on the back of a wild horse, the mind will eventually stop jumping around and it will settle down.
Don't use force. Be gentle. Bring your attention back just like you do in meditation. Notice your attention has wandered, and bring it back. Have one single, simple purpose — some short phrase — to bring your attention to, and keep bringing it back over and over. You've heard of unsettling thoughts? This is the way to have settling thoughts.
Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought, Direct Your Mind, and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.