Tools for emotional/psychological clarity
February 9, 2022 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Hi. When you are absolutely inundated or overwhelmed by information, what tools do you use for guidance or clarity?

Open question. Anything from short tricks, tools, or techniques, etc. Thanks!
posted by firstdaffodils to Religion & Philosophy (22 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
For decision making, I tell a friend who knows me well. Verbalizing makes it clearer what I think even if my friend doesn’t offer advice - and as a bonus, often my friends’ advice is excellent.

If I’m writing and I know too much about the topic and am having a hard time with brevity, I forbid myself to research any more and just force myself to be brief by writing in a tiny space. I’ll open a Google spreadsheet and type into a little square cell. Or I’ll open a word counter webpage like “written kitten” and type in there so the word count is super prominent. You get a new kitten photo every 100 words. Makes writing feel much simpler.

If I’m trying to make visual choices like buying clothes or housewares and I can’t decide, I take photos of each option and compare the photos.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:21 PM on February 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Eisenhower Matrix: Divide tasks into 4 quadrants: critical / not critical vs urgent / not urgent

Something both critical and urgent: do now

Something non-critical but urgent: delegate

Something critical but NOT urgent: decide and schedule time to do it

Something neither critical nor urgent: can be safely ignored

And if you end up putting EVERYTHING into critical AND urgent, clearly you need to redefine critical and urgent. :)
posted by kschang at 10:29 PM on February 9, 2022 [5 favorites]

As Steven Covey said, begin with the end in mind. If you know where you want or need to be, and when, start working backwards from there.

And if you are your own worst enemy (i.e., thrashing, procrastinating, failing to maintain focus) then set up your schedule and/or environment such that productive/helpful habits are easier to form and distracting/wasteful actions are harder to continue.

No great wisdom, but thought it might help.
posted by forthright at 10:40 PM on February 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

I really like the mind map approach- you know, circles, lines, networked. I put me in the middle, then I put the things that I'm concerned about. So when I was teaching I'd do a circle for each of my classes and also other relevant boxes like my union activities. Then I'd write down the things I needed to do, grouped by class. I'd also colour code as needed or put in notes, or break down tasks into parts by adding an extra layer to the network.

Or when I was year level coordinator we'd go through each class and identify kids who we wanted to keep an eye on (wellbeing concerns, etc)

I find laying things out spatially helps me dump it out in my brain because I can add stuff to the right place as I remember it, in a way that writing a list doesn't.
posted by freethefeet at 11:19 PM on February 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

posted by The Toad at 12:34 AM on February 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

Walking generally helps me process and think through things, including being able to select and focus on just one thread of an overwhelming tangle for the duration of the walk. I find it even more helpful if I talk to myself while I'm doing it (fortunately, I'm well placed for long walks in the countryside, where nobody is likely to notice).
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:44 AM on February 10, 2022 [7 favorites]

I go on lots of walks.
posted by contrapositive at 12:46 AM on February 10, 2022 [7 favorites]

When I’m trying to make a decision I use Tarot cards to communicate with the situation.
posted by Balthamos at 1:14 AM on February 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

Good question. Huge fan of the good old fashioned BRAIN DUMP and also of, when my to-do list exceeds 15 items, taking a regular sheet of paper and writing items all over the page in boxes, like unevenly sized whatever, just filling the whole page with boxes and tasks, and then when I'm done I SHARPIE IN the box containing the task and eventually the WHOLE PAGE (maybe minus, like, two tasks out of 20). It's so so satisfying.

For life stuff, though, walks, getting to a big vista and looking out, tarot.
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:04 AM on February 10, 2022

I find writing morning pages is helpful. Even if I think I have nothing to write, once I get going I find ideas emerge and connections become apparent - and I think this happens because I am sitting with it and writing it down; I don't think it would happen without the practice of morning pages. I have also found that regular morning pages leads to more ideas and more connections between ideas and patterns.
posted by lulu68 at 3:09 AM on February 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Tarot cards. I have a couple decks I’ve used enough for self reflection over the years that I’ve built up associations with the images, and the reason I kept using them in the first place is that something about the decks spoke to me so it’s a lot of resonant personal symbolism with a randomizer built in through shuffling and different spreads and pull styles. I choose a spread depending on the issue, I take stock of my immediate visceral responses as I flip each card, then reflect further on personal previous and typically conveyed meanings, then do it again with changes and see how I feel each time. Sometimes it’s just a way for me to realize how out of sorts I’ve become and that I need to enact self care triage procedures. Sometimes it’s a way for me to step back from the specifics of a conundrum and remind myself of the randomness and largeness of the world and human experience. Sometimes it falls flat but it’s a break from feeling completely at sea, because I have a tangible visual focus for half an hour or so. Many times though it helps me narrow down what my brain is actually trying to chew on.
posted by Mizu at 5:43 AM on February 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

When I have a big project I combine several of the above approaches, in the following order:

- Brain dump
- Go for a walk, eat some food
- Transfer brain dump into mind map format
- Walk, eat
- Stare at mind map while playing with a fidget toy or listening to classical music or something
- Walk, eat
- Tweak mind map
- Walk, eat, maybe do something fun and completely different to give my brain a rest
- Turn mind map items into a to do list, tagging each item by priority
- Re-order the list, based on priority
- Take a moment for self-congratulation on having made it this far
- Do a little bit of deep breathing, drink some water, stretch
- Begin task one

The repeated walking and eating is really important for processing and digesting and having better ideas, ultimately. I don't necessarily spend that time thinking about the work. I will try to switch off and just let thoughts come to me if they feel like it. So the whole process takes several days, in an ideal world.
posted by guessthis at 7:13 AM on February 10, 2022 [5 favorites]

Long, hot shower
posted by lovableiago at 9:06 AM on February 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have a guitar theory book that says "Every strength is a springboard that can propel you on to the next plateau. When confused or in doubt, pick one strength to pursue, master it, and then move on!"

I started teaching myself guitar in the summer of 2020 and even now I barely understand one goddamn thing in the book, but I had a little epiphany when I read that sentence. It's really good advice that applies to lots of things. When you're overwhelmed or confused, pick something small and learn about that until you understand, and then pick another thing, etc. I'm trying to apply this not only to my self-led guitar training, but also to my other hobbies and work tasks that seem too hard at first glance. Slow progress is still progress.
posted by something something at 9:46 AM on February 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

I need things to be logical, to understand the flow, and to have a foundation of knowledge to build on.

Currently, I am trying to learn a process at work that has a lot going on, and the person training me wants to tell me everything about everything all at once. I'm finding it difficult to follow because every step of the process has an exception which requires lengthy explanation, but I don't yet have a mental framework to integrate all the exceptions into. I requested an outline of the ideal path of the process... I want to know what it looks like in its simplest state, with none of the exceptions spelled out. What is it supposed to look like, ideally? (When I mentioned this to my software developer husband, he immediately said "we call that the 'happy path' and all the exceptions are 'edge cases'.") So, a person familiar with the process wrote me an outline of the happy path. This is helping me get the foundational knowledge I need in order to make sense of all the edge case information to come later.

Someone above mentioned mind mapping, and I know it helps a lot of people, but that process drives me insane because it isn't obvious to me where the bits of information are supposed to go, or how to make sure I notice them all when I go back for reference, or how things are supposed to flow timewise, or what if I run out of room? My brain just locks up. Lots of people find it freeing and intuitive, I guess, but I need more structure. For me, an outline format is the most intuitive way to begin making sense of information. So any time I'm trying to make sense of a lot of info I usually start by making a list of the important points, and begin to create an outline so that all of the sub-points related to an important point are right there underneath it. MS Word makes it super easy to move things around, add sub-items, change the order, etc. I find this a very comfortable way of seeing and processing information.

I can also remember in college when I'd need to write a paper using a number of sources, that I would write out bits of information, quotes from books, etc. on 3x5 index cards. Then I could arrange and rearrange them into the order that seemed to flow best for my paper.

Flow charts are another way to make sense of information related to a process. There is a bit of a learning curve to understand how to use a flow chart but once you understand how to put one together it can map out your process in a visual way that makes it very easy to follow. There is software you can use to easily create a flowchart.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:16 PM on February 10, 2022

Ok, I didn't read the title and that you were looking for emotional/psychological clarity. This is something I also find the outline format useful for. The sup-points under the main ideas get a little more wordy, but it gets my thoughts and related info onto the page in a way that makes sense and helps lead me to conclusions, clarity, and "ah ha!" moments.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:44 PM on February 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

If I have a decision to make, and I have researched lots to the point that I am feeling overwhelmed by information and not getting any new information, but I still cannot decide between options, then it is because there is no clearly correct option to choose (based on the information available to me at that time). So it is then totally acceptable to decide based on gut feeling, because a) it is now well informed and b) the two options are probably closer to being optimal than I initially thought.
posted by quercus23 at 1:37 AM on February 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Meditate for 5-20 minutes and then pull a tarot card asking, “What do I need to hear right now?”
posted by spindrifter at 4:26 AM on February 14, 2022

I found out about Creative Mornings' virtual field trips on MeFi, so I'll give back and share what I learned from the field trip called "Unlocking Self-Awareness and Reaching Your Goals with Self-Coaching" and found really helpful. Take about 15 minutes or so to answer these questions:

What did you want to talk about today (what's the subject)?
Is there anything else (what's the real/deeper subject)?
What seem to be the real problem or barrier/what do you want to focus on?
In an ideal world, what is the solution/what does success look like?
What's an action you can take to get there?

The slides from the workshop.
posted by BeBoth at 8:31 AM on February 15, 2022

I keep a todo list. When I have free time, and not a lot to juggle, I update it, which is maybe four times a year.

The rest of the year, it is an absolute shitshow, but everything's *in* there, so worst case it gets remembered too late, but nothing gets forgotten. The intent is to ease the stress, not to get it all done perfectly.

Higher level, setting the bar for success for myself at 90% instead of 100% has worked absolute wonders. We are not robots, we should not try to be robots, and mostly-done-calmly is far better than an unachievable perfection.

(Heck yeah, tune this up and learn how to do better, but don't hold yourself to an unreachable standard, too.)
posted by talldean at 5:31 AM on February 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Morning pages. Worth buying the associated book just for the chapter explaining this alone (and a lot more, it's a great book/tool).
posted by sickinthehead at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2022

Honestly, if I don't know where to turn, I just read texts I think might help me. Reading consistently puts me a mode of thinking that is hard to stick to otherwise. A tool is only useful when you use it, so finding the tool that feels right is important.

I hate positive thinking and always come back round to different Buddhist or meditative practices. Insight Timer is free with a plenty of resources. I just read "The Antidote" by Oliver Burkeman, which was really good and gives a 10,000ft overview of different practices--stoicism, Buddhism, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, etc.
posted by galennaklar at 1:00 PM on April 6, 2022

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