6 ways to calm down your internal chatter

It’s 3:00 am again. For the 5th night in a row, you wake up. Your head is swimming with the same thoughts, the same problem over and over again. Countless hours are spent going over the issue and yet no solution appears.

From the experience of my own sleepless nights, I know that it’s extremely difficult to solve the problem with the same thinking that created it.

This is because we get trapped in our patterns of thinking and reach for the most familiar answer. We view the issue with the same perspective and it seems impossible to get a fresh angle or new answers.

The problem remains and we continue to fret.

Instead of losing precious sleep churning over the same problem, again and again, try these approaches to solving the issue.

Step 1: Name it

Get a piece of paper and write your issue down. Get a specific as possible as this will help you be realistic about the issue. When we are thinking about our problems, especially at 3:00 am, we do have a tendency to blow them out of proportion. Writing it down brings it back to reality.

Step 2: Remember what it’s all for

Chances are you have a problem because you are reaching for something. A goal, a new business venture, a change in your business or life.

When we are stuck in the trenches ruminating about our problem, we forget what we are striving for. Take some time to remember what the big idea is.  This will help to put your issue into perspective and give you the direction you need to head in to find your solution.

Step 3: List out your solutions so far

Take all those thoughts you have been having as ways to solve the issue and jot them down. Clearing your head out will give you some space to think creatively. And when you see them written down, you might find the right answer!

Step 4: Consult Your “A” Team

To break your thinking patterns, imagine you have a fabulous, wise group of associates to call upon. Think about the expertise you need to help you solve your problem. Do you need a brilliant business brain, a marketing master, a confidence catalyst or maybe a wise sage?

Create a list of 5 people whose opinions you would respect. Maybe it’s people like Sheryl Sandberg, Vivienne Westwood, Hilary Clinton, Oprah, Ghandi, or maybe your mum. Or an old boss that you respected and learnt from.

Then for each person on your list, imagine what advice they would give you to solve your issue. Consider how they would view it, and what they would tell you to do. Take some time to work through your list creatively, without censoring any of their suggestions.

By taking someone else’s perspective, you break out of your own patterns of thinking and get some new solutions.

Step 5: What will you be thinking in 5 years time?

When we are stuck in the grip of an issue it can be easy to lose perspective. Considering what the implications of the situation we face now will be in five years time, loosens up our thinking and gives us a sense of how important this issue really is. Ask yourself “will the outcome of this be something I’ll be worrying about in five years?”

Step 6: Mediocre, Marvellous, Magic!

Imagine if you had three ways to solve your problem, an average solution, a good and then a great solution. What would the three different solutions be?

Use this approach to stretch your thinking from the first and obvious answers to explore far-ranging alternatives that may be even better for you!

If you find yourself waking again at 3:00 am churning through a problem again, say to yourself “Stop! I know I have a way to solve it and it can wait until morning”.  Take control of your thinking and choose to use your mind to think of something else!


Wendy Kerr

Director for The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Auckland University.The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the hub for the development and promotion of innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurial activities within the University.We create experiential programmes, workshops and events to unleash the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, to transform the mindsets of our students and staff to support the growth of New Zealand as a prosperous and creative nation.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.


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