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Actively decluttering your brain!

Have you ever been studying or trying to work something out so intensely that your head hurts? I’m not necessarily talking about having a headache; I’m talking about those times when your head just seems too full and you cannot fit one more thing into it or having trouble getting information out of it.


I remember many years ago participating in a two-day strategic planning session for a primary school council. We were mapping out the school’s five-year plan. By the middle of the first afternoon I felt like banging my head on the table to try to fit more in. My head just seemed too full and was hurting from the lack of space.


Feelings like this actually result from too much disjointed information. I didn’t have a logical way to file it away while trying to retrieve other information. If only I knew then what I know now about releasing that tension in a way that fosters creative thinking.


It's like decluttering your wardrobe or office and freeing up space within it. It’s about creating a high-performance mind. Developing a high performance mind creates the ability to ‘be present’. Being in the moment, aware and present is difficult as so often we are thinking about what happened in the past, or what is going to happen in the future.


Developing the muscle strength to be present and in the moment takes practice. I suggest you incorporate two activities into your daily routine: an aerobic activity (like the Alphabet Chart exercise below) and some structured meditation. 


Alphabet Charts *

This is an exercise that can be useful in many situations to help ‘reboot’ the brain. The level of difficulty can be adjusted to suit different people’s experience and involves a drill that splits our attention.


I often use this exercise as an after-lunch activity in an all-day training session, as it creates a break between intense periods of work or learning activity to facilitate integration, and also creates mental alertness in that after-lunch lull.


The alphabet chart can also be used to break out of a strongly unresourceful or overwhelmed state. During my moment of feeling overwhelmed during the school council strategy session, I could certainly have used this exercise to create a more resourceful and useful state to continue functioning to the end of that day’s session. 

L stands for ‘left’, R stands for ‘right’, and T stands for ‘together’.


Alphabet Charts 

  • Stand in front of the chart.
  • Read out the letters of the alphabet in a steady rhythm out loud while simultaneously raising your right arm when you see ‘R’ below the letter you are reading, your left arm when you see ‘L’, and both arms together when you see ‘T’. Proceed through the chart from start to finish unless you make a mistake.
  • If you have made a mistake, shake off your present state, relax your body, and start again from the beginning.
  • Once you have made it through the entire chart, at the same pace and with no mistakes, make it a bit more challenging by speeding up your pace. Ideally, you should just be able to get through the chart without error.
  • As you practice this, to limit excessive familiarity with your chart, read it in different directions. Start from the end and work backwards, start at the right hand end of each line and work backwards, start at the top right and work to the bottom left, and so on.
  • Make a new chart with different combinations of L, R, and T. Once you are familiar with the process, go ahead and try them out on your own.


Spend as long as you can completing this activity. You will find after a while that your body will start to buzz and hum and you will feel invigorated. Fifteen minutes a day is a wonderful investment of your time to create a high-performance mind.


Sample Alphabet Chart  (write up the following letters on an A4 piece of paper and tape to a wall at eye height)


A          B          C          D         E          F

L          T          R          R          L          R

G          H         I           J           K         L

T          L          R          R          T          R

M         N         O         P          Q         R

L          R          L          T          T          L

S          T          U         V          X          Y

T          R          L          L          R          T


[*] Developed by John Grinder and Judith DeLozier. Adapted from Collingwood, C., & Collingwood, J. (2001). The NLP Field Guide, Part 1: A Reference Manual of Practitioner Level Patterns, Emergent Publications, Sydney.

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