Years ago I had a boss who used "The Brain Dump" on a regular basis. And since I was his secretary - I was usually the note-taker and organizer of this dumping process. At the time I honestly hated his Brain Dumps and always cringed when he'd warn me one was coming.
But now that I've developed my own version of The Brain Dump, I can more fully appreciate how helpful it was for him back then. Because I find it such a valuable tool for my WLS journey and other areas of my life, I'd like to share it with you.
So what is "The Brain Dump?"
The Brain Dump is a process where you allow all the cluttered thoughts in your brain to be written down on paper - to get it out of your head and in some type of tangible form that can later be tackled as a task list.
Why do we need a Brain Dump?
I'm a list person. I write everything on a list or add it to my Google Calendar. If it's not written down, I forget it. But that only applies to things that I know I have to accomplish right away - like this week's grocery shopping list or a reminder on my calendar to pick up the dry cleaning on Thursday. Stuff like that always gets put on the list. But it's all the other "stuff" that we'll discuss today.
A Brain Dump is for those jumbled thoughts that aren't really ready for a formal to-do list just yet but are getting too close to the surface of our mindfullness that they're causing problems with focusing on today's tasks. Or things that are so far buried in your consciousness that they just seem to live in a dark corner of your brain, but they need to be shaken free and released to give you some peace and also to give you a starting point for dealing with them.
A Brain Dump can be used in any number of ways
To make a goal list - or a bucket list - of things you want to accomplish.
To make a task list of how you'll accomplish a specific goal.
To purge jumbled emotional thoughts that are causing mental stress.
To create a list of "the mental stuff" that might be holding you back - whether past abuses or emotional hurdles you never crossed or body dismorphic issues or obsessive/compulsive tendancies related to your morbid obesity and food relationship.
To make a list of tasks that need to be done for a specific project or event (great for event planning or vacations).
Or you can combine all the above (and whatever else you can think of) into one huge Brain Dump list that has no specific theme or purpose... but is a jumbled mess of items that are cluttering your mind and need to be released. This is the most common type of Brain Dump and the one I like the best.
For instance: in the past few months since I've recovered from my rebellious streak , I've been thinking about all the goals I want to accomplish and things I want to work on in the coming year for my overall health. I have ideas for what I want to do when I finish writing my book and what my next big project is going to be. And remember my Comprehensive Holistic Wellness Plan from the beginning of my WLS journey? I still have goals on that list that I want to continue working on. I've been struggling with a few unanswered questions about relationships in my life. I'm about to embark on a new job, a new schedule for my life, new semester at college with new things to learn and I'm always thinking about new topics for my WLS support group meetings. If I didn't release some of those pent-up thought soon, my head was going to explode!
So this past weekend I had a major Brain Dump session that lasted about 3 hours and ended up giving me over 25 pages of bullet points that still need to be sorted out. But now my brain is clearer and I have much more peace in my life right now. The Brain Dump process is essential to me.
I'll share with you the steps I take for a formal Brain Dump, then you can adapt the process to your own preferences. After you do it a few times, you'll learn what works for you and what doesn't. But in the beginning, it's best to follow the basic outline I'll share with you and then you can adapt for your own needs.
For instance, even though I prefer to type my thoughts using a computer (I can type faster than I can write), I have found that I simply can't do a real Brain Dump at the keyboard. I must use paper and pen and I must be in a place where I'm not distracted by other people or activities. It took me several failed Brain Dumping sessions to realize that doing it on a computer was holding me back. So now I know that I almost must write it out long hand.
I have a notebook I created shortly after my surgery almost 3 years ago. It's the Journey to a Healthier Me notebook in the picture above (yes, that was me at My Beach this past weekend), and it's what I use for all my WLS-related musings and general emotional journaling. It's just a half-size 3-ring binder that I decorated to reflect the same theme I have elsewhere with my Journey to Health (recognize the pink flower? it's everywhere!). In this notebook I have a section specifically for Brain Dumps.
Let's get started. Set aside a couple hours of clear, quiet time and settle down with your notebook and a good, comfortable pen.
Here's how I do The Brain Dump:
There are no rules. Nothing is off limits. Write down anything that comes to mind without restrictions. No judgements or criticism. Write down everything that comes to mind even if it might be silly or stupid or unimportant or totally random -- during a Brain Dump, everything is essential, write it all down no matter what. i.e.: If you suddenly remember that you need to change the lightbulb in your closet in the middle of your Brain Dump list, write it down - because if you let it linger in your head it will just become a distraction, but writing it down removes it from your brain and lets you move on.
Only use bullet points. Do not use complete sentences or paragraphs. You should only use 2 or 3 words per bullet point. Write only enough words for you to remember the thought or idea you need to remember - nothing more. If you have a follow up thought, then make it a new bullet point.
One thought or task or idea per bullet point
Speed is essential. Write as fast as you can (but still able to read your handwriting) and get as many thoughts out as possible.
Do not organize your thoughts. Bullet points should flow one right after another in no specific order. If thoughts are coming to you in random order, then write them down in random order. Do not keep multiple lists for various thought processes. Just write everything down in one big long list down the page.
Write until your brain is clear and you can't think of anything else to write down. You should sit quietly for several minutes after you think you're done in case any additional thoughts come to mind. Do not rush this part... write for as long as it takes to clear your mind. Yes, it might take a couple hours.
Then close the notebook and walk away.
Do not open the notebook again for the rest of the day. Leave it alone. Put it in a drawer if you must. Don't you dare open that notebook.
If you happen to think of other things that need to go on the Brain Dump list you should write it on a different piece of paper and add it to your notebook later.
Set a date with yourself to review your list. It should be no less than 24 hours after the final bullet point was written. Preferrably you let it sit for several days.
After you finish the initial Brain Dumping process, something amazing happens.
You have peace. Suddenly your brain is not screaming at you with a million jumbled thoughts and ideas and goals and obligations. You've released all those thoughts and they are now down on paper - safely held within your notebook. You're not going to forget any of the things that used to clutter up your brain, they're all written down now. So take advantage of this peace you've given yourself. Be kind and pamper yourself with something nice (a bubble bath, a manicure, a new album by your favorite artist or do what I did and just sit and watch the sunset and enjoy the beauty of the day). Relax in the feeling of a clear mind.
Then the hard work starts. And I'll discuss that in The Brain Dump - Part 2.