Overwhelmed? Take an Audit of Your Brain’s Real Estate
A 10-minute exercise that can help you get a handle on everything that’s happening in your life
There’s a drawing by New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck that I think about often. A cross-section of a woman’s brain reveals partitions containing everything from thoughts about the climate disaster and work deadlines to what to have for lunch and the prospect of kangaroos going extinct.
It’s funny because it’s true: Our brains comprise so much, from the utterly inconsequential to the terrifyingly existential, all day every day.
But when life feels overwhelming — and truly, when does it not?—I’ve noticed that my brain’s system for allocating real estate can go a little haywire. I will start to make space for way too many things, like shoving in more mediocre condos into an already too-dense neighborhood. When you’re overwhelmed, your brain can tell you the story that the way to get out of it is by doing more. When I sense myself doing this, I know it’s time for an audit.
The audit works like this: In life there are generally three categories. There are things you simply have to do, such as work, take care of your children, file your taxes, go to your annual physical etc. Then there are things you would like to do, like creative projects, personal development exercises, DIY projects, working on your garden, volunteering etc. Finally, there are things you need to do to stay somewhat sane, such as exercise, eat healthy, go to therapy, have some time to play video games on the weekend, or whatever your preferred methods are. The thing these things all share in common? They require some of your time.
You start the audit by making three columns. In the first column, write your “Have Tos.” This only works if you are really rigid here about what constitutes a have to. A helpful metric: If I stopped doing this thing, I would not be able to pay my bills, my physical health would be threatened, I would be in legal trouble, or I would lose a great deal of money. So no, going to the gym six days a week or re-decorating your living rom does not count as a have to.
The second column can be tricky. These are things that you ostensibly want to be doing, the “Want…