Here is a way of clearing your mind when it is crowded and full of nagging thoughts. I call this exercise a “resolution blitz.” It goes like this:

  1. Do a mental scan to identify all the thoughts, worries, issues, and concerns that are occupying your attention right now. Aim for a list of five to ten top concerns.

  2. For each concern, visualize a happy ending. If that issue were to get resolved speedily and favorably, what would such a speedy and favorable resolution look like? Your only job is to see this positive outcome, to imagine how it would look. You don’t need to believe that this outcome is actually going to occur, you just need to invent a story in which it does. And this story doesn’t need to be a coherent, well-argued story – you can fast-forward to the end when the good news is being revealed. It’s like you’re taking each expanding “line” of worry and putting a honey-covered cap on it to stop its growth.

  3. Perform step 2 on each of your concerns in rapid succession, so you can begin to imagine a fantasy world in which absolutely everything that you’re worried about gets resolved in a pleasing way and every single trouble that you’re thinking about reaches a delightfully happy conclusion. What would that extreme world look like? Try to see it all at once.

Although this exercise might sound like a “positive thinking” exercise, this exercise is not asking you to believe or expect anything. You don’t need to boldly declare that you are going to succeed at everything in life and attain pure bliss. You just need to invent a story in which all of the items that are occupying your attention right now get resolved in a good way.

So this is a storytelling exercise, an exercise in creating fiction, where your task is simply to envision, to hypothesize what a preponderance of ideal outcomes would look like – how it would feel if all this good news arrived at once.

But this isn’t traditional storytelling, because you’re creating these stories very fast and not lingering too much on the details. This is not about making persuasive, well-crafted stories. You don’t need to explain or justify or provide a narrative arc that leads to each of the happy outcomes, you just need to imagine the outcomes themselves. The aim is to do this for all of your troubles at once so that you can see everything being resolved at the same time.

Here’s an example of how this exercise might play out for me right now. When I do a mental scan, I find that I’m worried about:

  • Using the rest of my day well and being productive

  • Preparing for an upcoming performance

  • Responding to a relative about an important family engagement

  • Resolving a conflict at work

  • Getting more exercise and taking care of my health

  • Finding my next steps for a new creative project

  • Finishing this essay without getting sidetracked

If I visualize positive outcomes for each of these concerns, it might go like this. I see myself at the end of the day: I’m going to bed with a feeling that I used my afternoon and evening well. Fast forward and my performance goes well: I’m comfortable on stage and the audience loves what I’m offering. Talking with my relative is easier than expected and even though I needed to decline an invitation, we meet up later and have a great time. Things at work go well and I get what I’ve asked for and in turn I’m able to give more of my skills and talents to the company. I’m finding ways to build more exercise into my daily routine, and my new creative project gains traction and results in personal fulfillment. This essay gets done.

Why would I imagine such a uniformly, even oppressively rosy picture if I don’t believe that everything is going to work out like that? Why would I invent a fantasy like this if I’m not trying to make myself believe that all these good things will really happen?

The idea is simply to give my mind a momentary experience, a glimpse of pure calm, where I can safely forget about all the things that are demanding my attention because those things don’t need my attention anymore – they’re all resolved – not just one or two of them, but every single one of them.

When we’ve been worrying a lot, about a lot of things, we can easily lose track of what a good outcomes in each situation would even look like. We can arrive at a dark vantage point in which we’re only seeing bad outcomes in our mind and never imagining good ones even occasionally.

This exercise gives the mind a “taste” of something different. It shows the mind a scenario in which the mind no longer needs to “track” or “follow” all of the lines of thought and concern that it is currently managing.

Have you ever been to a restaurant where they gave you a steaming-hot washcloth to clean your hands and face before the meal? The heat of the washcloth will soon dissipate and the waiter will come around to take that cloth away after a minute or two. But the memory of how the streaming washcloth felt against your face will linger.

This storytelling exercise, this “resolution blitz” is similar to that washcloth. After you “use” the technique, you’re still going to have all of your same problems and concerns. But now you will be approaching those same problems and concerns with the memory of an experience of calm and relief. Like that steaming washcloth, this “resolution blitz” can continue providing a sense of calm and refreshment even when it is only a memory and no longer a present experience. 

In meditation, we approach a state of calm by observing our thoughts passively and non-judgmentally. Our aim is to notice and relinquish each thought rather than clinging to it or pursuing it.

This “resolution blitz” is a complementary technique – it’s more active than meditation. Instead of passivity, it demands visualization and creativity. But it can be used in pursuit of the same goal as meditation. It can be a lubricant that helps us make the transition from a busy, crowded mind to a calmer, emptier one. After you do this exercise, take a few moments to linger in that calmer, emptier state. ■

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