Let’s start with a brief introduction of the concept of a “brain dump journal”.
Imagine walking through a store, carrying a few items.
You didn’t grab a basket, because you only needed one or two things. But then, a few more things stood out as handy, or needed, or just plain fun.
And a few aisles in, you find yourself juggling (and almost dropping) more stuff than two arms can realistically hold.
If you’ve done this in real life, you will be familiar with the relief of dumping all those goodies into a basket!
It feels nice to “let go”. And it certainly mitigates the risk of accidentally dropping something, forgetting it.
This goes for tangible goods as much as for random thoughts, tasks, new ideas, appointments, chores, or anything else on your to-do list. (An allegory I’m sure you’ve seen coming from a mile away.)
Sure, we still have to pull or carry those things just the same, but at least there’s some overview and peace of mind knowing it is all together in one place.
Table of Contents
- What is a brain dump journal?
- Brain dump journal: Step by Step
- Brain dumped? Organize!
- Observe & Learn
- How often to do a brain dump?
- Brain Dump Prompts
- Conclusion: Do brain dumps work?
The impact on our mental health of having too many balls in the air is real.
Brain dumping doesn’t make those balls go away. However, looking at things on paper – instead of having them tumble around inside our heads – can work (little) wonders.
The term brain dump is pretty self-explanatory. The combination of doing that on a regular basis and keeping the results bundled as part of a journal adds up to: a brain dump journal.
Entrusting every single thought floating around in your head to the paper can be a valuable tool to clear some clutter, turn thoughts into action, and feel more relaxed afterward.
What is a brain dump journal?
Simply put, you can write down thoughts in your head on any piece (or scrap) of paper. Keeping a brain dump journal is when you choose to dedicate a specific journal to the practice of “emptying” your mind.
Most days, our minds tend to experience an overload of tasks, projects, concerns, attention-grabbing tidbits, wants and must-do’s than comfortable.
Throw in a few unexpected life events with the potential of causing deep-seated worry, and it’ll begin to feel like a heavy load for the brain to carry.
Now you certainly don’t need me to paint a picture of how all of the above has a tendency to turn even the most well-intentioned person into a less positive version of themselves.
Stress leads to exhaustion, and is generally bad news in terms of physical health. Mood-wise, when under a lot of pressure, we often don’t respond to things as your best self.
I want to make sure choose my words carefully here. Life is beautiful. However, adulting and the modern-day rat race our lives have turned into? It sure has a way of weighing you down.
Writing things down is a simple technique to alleviate some of the pressure.
It doesn’t solve anything. But transferring those racing thoughts to a two-dimensional medium takes them out of your head.
Even just making a list, or jotting a few things down helps. That’s something almost everyone does; a very basic and effective coping method to keep track of important tasks and and an easy way to remember them.
A brain dump or mind dump takes the idea a few steps further. “Dumping” implies that anything goes. It demarcates a judgement-free zone, where whatever thoughts bubble up will not be weighed or measured. Add it to the rest. Assessment comes later, if at all. That’ll depend on the nature of the thoughts.
The word brain dump isn’t the only term used. Some call it a mind dump, a brain download, or a brainstorm.
Brain dump journal: Step by Step
Here are some suggestions as to how to go about it. (Knowing that any other way that works for you is the way to go.)
Start with a blank page.
This can be a new page in a notebook or journal. Of course, any piece of paper will work. However, keeping a designated journal for this purpose is a great way to keep each brain dump session in one place. And if it turns out you derive something good from this approach, you’ll likely be doing mind dump sessions on a regular basis.
You may wish to take a moment to disconnect from the hustle and bustle before beginning.
Take a big breath.
If meditation is something you’re into, you’ll be familiar with quieting the mind. That isn’t exactly necessary; it’s more about bringing the right mindset.
One of letting ideas flow, not holding back, and of acceptance to let your mind go unhinged for a short time.
Writing down all those thoughts is what we’ll be doing, so don’t worry about clearing them from your mind before starting.
However, try to make the conscious choice to let your thoughts flow freely, without any judgment. (Oh, yes, we are often our worst judges, but you knew that already, right?)
How you write down thoughts is entirely up to you. They can go:
- top to bottom
- spiraling outward or inward
- in bubbles
- randomly on the page
- outward from a center, like rays of sunshine
- any other way or direction
|Tip: Does the paper suddenly look intimidating? Having a hard time making that first move? It’s called brain freeze (of the metaphorical kind, assuming you’re not also in the process of sipping a smoothie) and it happens. Gotcha. Check out the list of brain dump prompts below to get unstuck.|
After you’ve dumped every big, medium, and small thought on that paper, it is time for the next step.
What that consists of is up to you.
- Take a new page and turn the mumbo-jumbo into one or more organized to-do lists.
- Randomly pick off the items one by one, and bar them as you knock them out.
- Use , fluorescent markers, colored markers, gel pens, or colored pencils to highlight or circle subtopics. The brain dump journal page might turn into something artistic. 🙂
- Make a mind map, complete with arrows, thought bubbles, and lines linking related items. Mind maps are a really cool way to cluster all the items.
Next, we’ll dive deeper into organizing the result of a brain dump session.
Brain dumped? Organize!
An important step of mind dumping comes after the initial brainstorming.
You’ve managed to get the entirety of that brain tornado to land on the page? Most of it? Great!
If we leave it at that, chances are it’s all going to creep back into our head. Thoughts doing somersaults and dancing the cha-cha-cha, just like before.
Taking this next step has the goal to alleviate some of the pressure that leads to wanting to do a brain dump in the first place.
Some of the brain dump notes might be feelings.
Positive feelings – once out in the open and put into words – may lead to creative ideas. They can provide insights into where you’re at, and what you want or wish to pursue.
Or they can simply be interesting, without any further action needed. A journal is a perfect place to jot them down and perhaps elaborate.
Then there may be negative feelings.
How about taking a closer look at what exactly causes you distress? Maybe it can be remedied.
Perhaps you can come up with actionable steps to make the cause of a negative feeling less poignant. Again, that’s purely optional. This is your journal – you make the rules.
Some might be no more than clear-cut tasks. “Oh, I need to remember to do …” Knocking them out one by one is all there is to it.
So start by cherry-picking these concrete tasks from the brain dump and turning them into a to-do list. That cleans up a little… and creates space – both on paper and in your head. Okay, barred words on paper, perhaps, but space in the brain for sure.
Our brains seem to have a long-standing love affair with lists and bullet points, by the way.
Maybe your brain dump already looks like a list. If so, it might still benefit from some triage and organization.
Do you spot any half-formed ideas in the mix?
Budding thoughts on things you might wish to explore further?
They may be related to projects you are already working on. Or entirely new ones. Certain things on the brain dump list may even merit an entirely new brain dump of their own.
|Tip: Any fellow notebook addicts out there? If you’re not exactly thrilled by the idea of having yet another journal or notebook laying around, a hybrid journal works just fine. We don’t have to be so strict and there is no wrong way to go about this. Whether you’re taking note of special moments, keeping a bullet journal, adding art one day, and brain dumping the next… just start a new page and do what feels right. It is your journal after all, and every day is (allowed to be) different.|
Obviously, feelings don’t organize as well as clear-cut tasks.
In that light, it is more a matter of reflecting on what came out of your session. Maybe next time, you’ll observe some changes. Or on the contrary, notice how you keep bumping up against the same things. All of that and more can be insightful.
Observe & Learn
We all have our pet peeves, things we obsess over, and areas we tend to get stuck in more easily than others.
If you really want to maximize the positive effect of brain dumping, here’s how to take it to the next level.
Of course, a part of the result of a brain dump is likely purely practical. It’s a matter of dumping, churning out task lists, and knocking out those chores. But as you do this more often, perhaps you can see certain patterns. Themes that come back, whether they are practical, or outside of the material world.
Is there something you can change in your day-to-day life to make certain things less stressful? Maybe you can incorporate certain nagging tasks in your schedule on a daily basis so that they stop tumbling around in your head at random. It’s easier said than done – I know.
As far as the non-practical goes, I notice how I often have this nagging worry about the same things. So aside from doing the good ol’ brain dump, I’ll try to address those issues in and of themselves. They may be fairly minor life problems in the grand scheme of things. But if they take up more mental space than they’re worth, why not go head-on with them? One by one.
How often to do a brain dump?
Some like to do this every day. Maybe in the form of a daily morning brain dump, or you might find the best time for it is in the evening. With a head full of thoughts from the day, this has my preference. Everyone is different, though!
If you already write in a journal every day, making it part of your daily journaling routine might work well.
Weekly or monthly are fine, too.
For example, you can use one page in your existing journal, sketchbook, or planner as a monthly brain dump page. Whatever lands on there can be recycled into tasks, action points, and more.
Others may prefer to only do a brain dump when their head feels really full. Whatever works for you is the right way. Experiment a little, to get the hang of it, and stick with what feels good!
Brain Dump Prompts
Start firing single words – either scattered over the paper, in list form, top to bottom, or one after the other like a sentence. (One that doesn’t make sense.)
Feel & Do
How do you feel? Write down all thoughts related to feelings on the left side of the page. What do you need to do? Write all tasks weighing on your mind on the right side. This is, of course, dumping and sorting at the same time but why the heck not? Whatever works.
Draw a bunch of (very simple!) flowers. Big ones, with a huge center. That’s your thought garden for today. Next, fill each flower with a thought as it pops up. More thoughts than flowers? No biggie! If anything, it means you’ve definitely got something going there. Write additional words, ideas, or phrases all throughout, in between the flowers. They can be the weeds.
|Tip: You don’t have to be a creative person to make your own brain dump garden page. Here are some quick ideas to draw a simple flower.|
Target Brain Dump
Nope, this isn’t where you brainstorm all the things you’d like to buy at Target’s. (But it can be, if you want it to, ha.)
Are you looking to accomplish a specific goal or project? Brain dump journals aren’t necessarily dedicated to personal well-being. How about brainstorming a specific topic?
The idea is hardly new – brainstorm sessions are used in many business and team meetings. Because it works really well.
Not every brain dump session needs to be as extensive. Even a very short period of time can be useful.
Doing a quick download before going to bed is one way I find most helpful. It makes it easier to relax to have a few important tasks laid out as a reminder for the morning. This isn’t the moment to do an extensive mind dump, merely to quickly skim the top of my mental clutter.
At night, with an uncluttered mind it is easier to wind down and fall asleep. First thing in the morning, with a few things lined out, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
The quick download isn’t limited to bedtime. If you do this during the day, no longer at the mercy of countless thoughts tumbling around, you’ll be able to focus better and be more productive.
Sparks of Joy
Now I’ve been referring to what goes on in the brain as clutter a few times, so you may have gotten the idea that a brain dump is mainly done to deal with burdensome thoughts. To park on paper what bothers our headspace.
It is useful that way. But a brain dump can also be entirely positive!
Challenge yourself to do a brain dump of all sorts of things that make you happy. For example, happy thoughts related to the weather, the time of the year, certain smells, animals, flowers, colors, nature, food and drinks, hobbies, music, places, travel, and so on.
The end result can be text only, or you can add some little doodles like these cute easy things to draw.
Sometimes I have so many awesome ideas bubbling up that they need to be jotted down… and fast, or they’ll evaporate into thin air, never to be seen again.
This one’s also very much on the positive side of the spectrum.
If you have a creative profession or project to work on, brainstorming is basically a must. In that case, you’re most likely already familiar with the approach.
For a fun hobby, or a creative side hustle you’re running, however, it works great, too.
Conclusion: Do brain dumps work?
I thought we’d save this part for last. Jumping right into the doing part is so much more fun.
Now, what are the different ways in which keeping a brain dump journal can help you and why does it work?
It’s fairly safe to assume we all want to be and feel less stressed. More zen. Feel more in charge of our schedule, and our life. Ditch thoughts that drag us down and seek out joy.
Emptying your mind on paper can be a powerful tool to take steps in that direction. Seeing thoughts written down helps you zone in on the most important things. That isn’t rocket science.
Also, journaling (in general, not merely brain dumping in a journal) has certain things in common with therapy. There’s confidentiality. Your journal is a safe place for you to vent and share your feelings. As humans, we do tend to benefit from that. Or at least feel like we do.