How a brain dump can help clear your mind – and how to do it

Experts say downloading what’s on your mind through brain dumping can really pay off. Discover why, and how to do it effectively.

Research suggests we have more than 6000 thoughts and make a staggering 35,000 decisions every day, so it’s not surprising that our brain can feel full, cluttered or even fatigued at times.

“The brain loves to ‘tick things off’ – that’s kind of its job, to get things done,” says mindfulness expert Luke McLeod, who is also founder of Soul Alive: The Mindful Life app.

“So when there’s something that needs to be addressed and you are trying to ignore it or have more important things to do, the brain will continue to remind you of these other ‘to-dos’ that need to be dealt with – and it does this by invoking feelings of anxiety and stress.”

But, our experts say, doing something called a “brain dump” can help.

What is a brain dump?

Psychologist Tara Hurster describes brain dumping as “free writing”.

“This is where there’s no filter between your brain and the pen, and it’s valuable because it helps to clear up the clutter in your mind as you can only write one thing at a time, so you’re forced to streamline your thoughts,” Tara, founder of The TARA Clinic, explains.

“When you’ve finished writing, one of two things occur – you gain clarity or you see questions.

“With both outcomes, there’s something tangible to work with.”

How to do a brain dump

If you’re new to brain dumping, the following tips are a great place to start if you want to give it a try the next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Tip #1: Choose pen and paper

Rather than reaching for your phone or using a keyboard, take pen to paper.

“Some research has linked handwriting to better recall but, apart from that, I truly believe there’s magic in physically putting pen to paper,” Tara says.

Tip #2: Know it might feel awkward at first

Brain dumping may not happen naturally to start with, especially if you’re overthinking things or feeling anxious.

But Tara has a tip to overcome this obstacle: “I often recommend clients start by writing ‘Tara told me to start writing’, and then just keep going,” she says.

Tip #3: Don’t edit yourself

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to brain dumping.

“I’ve found what works best for me is to just write about whatever comes to mind – there’s no particular method or order to it, it’s literally a ‘brain dump’,” Luke says.

“If you try to organise it too much, this can actually add more unnecessary stress.”

Tip #4: Read what you’ve written

“When I go back over what I’ve written, I ask myself if there’s something I can do about whatever I wrote down or is it out of my control,” Luke says.

“This helps me determine whether I need to take further action or just let it go.

“I’ll usually do this just before bed too, which I find helps me sleep better.”

Tip #5: Keep a pen and paper by your bed

If you’re struggling to sleep, having a pen and paper handy means you can download your thoughts or any worries you may have.

“This allows you to give your brain permission to forget the issue,” Tara says.

“By writing it down, you know you can pick it back up when you wake up in the morning if you want to.”

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Written by Karen Fittall.