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How to Do a Thought Download (And Why You Might Want to)

Recently, as I dropped our boys off at school, amid the usual scramble of putting lunch boxes and homework folders in all the right places, I noticed that our kindergartener had his shoes on the wrong feet.

This is just how this child rolls. Up until kindergarten, no underwear, a backwards shirt, and shoes on the wrong feet were practically his daily uniform.

But now that he’s in school he suddenly likes to have things on the right way (which makes my heart a bit sad, to be honest), so I offered to help him quickly switch his shoes.

He ducked his head in embarrassment and tried to shake me off, but for some reason I persisted, following him a few feet into the classroom and asking again.

He sank onto the rug among the other children, ducking his head again and avoiding my eyes, while his classmates looked right at me.

I left that colorful room with my heart at the base of my stomach, feeling like I had called attention to him that he didn’t want.

The last thing I want is to make all-day kindergarten (and a host of new social interactions) any harder for him than it already is!

When Negative Thoughts Start Swirling

On the walk home, feelings of failure began to creep in.

I was discouraged about that exchange with my son, but it quickly snowballed into how behind I was on the housework and my online work… how little energy I have every night when my husband comes home… how I always seem to tend toward depression and how I never, ever remember to schedule our dentist appointments.

{Related: 5 actionable steps to restore peace & order to your overloaded brain}

As you can see, my thoughts were going nowhere good—fast. (Renowned researcher Brené Brown would call this a shame spiral.)

Thankfully, I’m quicker now to recognize a downward spiral, so I shook if off, played a bit with my two-year-old sidekick, and started a load of dishes.

But sometimes, I know, it’s not that easy; sometimes our down thoughts persist. For years I’ve found it helpful when I’m in a negative spiral to write it all down in a journal. I make a quick list of all my thoughts. Seeing them (literally seeing them) seems to help me release them, and I find more space—more clarity—in my mind.

An Exercise that May Help

I recently heard this exercise given a name: a thought download.

Instead of letting your thoughts swirl around in your head like an ambiguous, looming cloud, why not write them down to help make sense of them?

4 Steps for a Thought Download

1. Write all of your thoughts—positive and negative—down. Don’t try to solve them or downplay them; just write.

2. Re-read the list and do some processing. Maybe you’ll notice that some of them aren’t as threatening on paper as they seemed in your head. Others may seem just as hard as you thought, but that’s okay. (You can do hard things.)

3. Choose ONE thing you can do today. Just one thing.

4. Shake it off however you need to, maybe with prayer or a mindfulness exercise, and move on with your day.

In case you were wondering, my son was bouncing with his usual enthusiasm when I picked him up from school that afternoon. I’m grateful I didn’t walk too far down that negative spiral.

Who’s got time for that when you have little hands to hold and people to love?!


If you’d like to go a few steps beyond a thought download, I think you’ll love my free resource for creating more peace and clarity inside that head of yours… 👊 I’d love to send it to you!

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