GROW Coaching and Consulting

Clear the Space for Clear Thinking


In my leadership development programs, one of the techniques I teach participants is how to “clear the space” in their brains at the beginning of a session. This helps them clear away distractions and focus on our work together. It is a handy technique to use any time you need to harness some extra thinking power.

Imagine the thinking part of your brain, just above your eyebrows, is a stage. At any given time, without a conductor, there could be many musicians on this stage creating a cacophony of sound. It can make it difficult to focus.

The “stage” in our brain is the pre-frontal cortex. It’s where our best problem-solving ability lies. When we have a lot of things “on our minds” we are distracted and have difficulty focusing. A technique called “Clear the Space” can help you conduct the orchestra in your brain, so you can choose which music to focus on at a time. This technique clears out the distractions so you have an open stage from which to focus on what you choose.

It’s a simple 3-step process.

  1. Name the Distraction: You probably have thoughts about many issues that are causing distractions, however, just choose one for now. (With enough practice, you’ll be able to clear space more readily.) For example, “I’m upset that the dog ate my shoe.” Choose one word from the situation to signal to your brain that’s the distraction you are setting aside. In my example, I’ll use the word “dog.”
  2. Identify the Emotion: Next, tune in to the emotion associated with the situation. It’s the emotion that is causing your attention to be diverted – for whatever reason, a threat response is being triggered. Labeling the emotion will help the emotion calm down. Simply choose one word to label the emotion. In my example, I’ll use the word “angry.”
  3. Set it aside: Finally, tell yourself out loud that you will set it aside for now. A gesture of sweeping your hands to the side, as if you are sweeping the distraction off the stage, will send a clear signal to your brain that you are ready to focus on something else.

Here’s the sequence:

Distraction: Dog (one word for the distraction)

Emotion: Angry (one word to label the emotion)

Say out loud, “I’ll set that aside.” (Hands gesturing sweeping the thought to the side.)

So, the next time you find yourself juggling multiple priorities, use this technique to calm your emotion and conduct a symphony of clear thinking.

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