Finished reading: How to Calm Your Mind by Chris Bailey πŸ“š


This book discusses different ideas for managing stress, cultivating a mindset for productivity, and several techniques to help improve overall well-being.

My Summary

The book, How to Calm Your Mind by Chris Bailey is about determining what causes stress in your life and taking action to reduce it. The opposite of Anxiety is Calm, so the more calm we have in our lives, the more tolerance we have for stress.

The book has a nice balance of storytelling, research, and actionable advice. Chris doesn’t get technical or ramble on pointless stories, either. It was an easy-to-read book with a few actionable takeaways.

This was my favorite of the books I’ve read related to this topic.

Key Ideas

Accomplishment mindset (p16)

A conditioned set of attitudes and beliefs that drive us to strive constantly to accomplish more.

Definition of calm (p23)

A subjectively positive state characterized by a low level of arousal, with an accompanying absence of anxiety.

Types of stress (p30)

  1. Acute stress - Temporary and often one-off. Things that come up cause stress at the moment but fade away.
  2. Chronic stress - Ongoing stress that does not fade away over time.

Productivity Hours (p35)

Schedule a period during which you are productive during the day. During the remaining time, chill. You can still do things, but don’t worry about being productive. This time should be scheduled daily to account for the variations in our days.

Stress Inventory (p41)

Write down the things that cause you to stress, whether chronic or acute. This helps you identify the causes of stress in your life so you can start to address the source.

Burnout Equation (p49)

To feel burnout, we need to feel exhausted but also cynical and unproductive. We usually only think of exhaustion as part of burnout.

Burnout Threshold (p56)

How much chronic stress can we take before we burn out?

Burnout Factors (p59)

  1. Workload
  2. Control
  3. Insufficient Reward
  4. Community
  5. Fairness
  6. Values

The mindset of more (p68)

A set of attitudes that drive us to strive for more at all costs, regardless of context.

Dopamine Anticipation (p76)

Dopamine is often referred to as a “pleasure” chemical, but it is not. Instead, it is a chemical associated with the anticipation of something pleasurable.

  • Serotonin makes us feel happy.
  • Oxytocin makes us feel connected.
  • Endorphins give us a sense of euphoria.

Engagement is the opposite of burnout (p84)

The polar opposite of burnout is engagement - Christina Maslach

When we’re burnt out, we’re exhausted, unproductive, and cynical. When we’re engaged, we feel energized, productive, and driven by purpose.

Make a list of things you savor (p91)

Make a list of the things you savor, and try to do as much as you can daily.

Superstimuli (p109)

A highly processed, exaggerated version of things we’re naturally wired to enjoy.

Examples include social media, pornography, YouTube, Netflix binge-watch, etc.

Dopamine Fast (p138)

Cut out as many dopamine-producing activities as possible for one month. This should reset your dopamine baseline to normal levels. Then you can introduce some things with limitations.

Hedonic Adaption (p144)

Having less of something makes us savor it more. When we overdo something, like social media, our baseline changes, and then we crave even more to get the same feelings. A Dopamine Fast (p138)|Dopamine Fast helps reset the baseline.

The advantages of digital (p158)

The digital world is valuable only as far as it supports us in what we intend to accomplish.

Analog gives us time to think (p163)

When our mind is allowed time to wander, it makes connections. This is why we often think more clearly when we write on paper because as we slow down, our mind is thinking ahead. When we write quickly digitally, our mind only has time to make the same connections. If you take your time digitally, you could get the same impact.

Meditation (p176)

Meditation gives us time to notice things. We often lose focus when trying to meditate, which is normal, but by refocusing, we’re training our minds to slow down.

Slow Breathing (p178)

Slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which connects the body to the brain.

A good slow-breathing technique is the 4-7-8 technique.

  • Inhale for a count of 4.
  • Hold for a count of 7.
  • Exhale for a count of 8.

Caffeine (p187)

Caffeine has been shown to increase cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) production. Try a caffeine reset, and if you enjoy coffee, try introducing it back into your diet as a treat rather than a necessity.

L-theanine (p185)

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea and matcha that reduces how much adrenaline your body produces in response to caffeine. It’s a great way to get caffeine without the spikes and jitters.

Eating and stress (p188)

Stress causes us to want to eat more and less healthfully. Our body craves and retains fat in response to stressful situations. This is how we’re wired from our primitive days. But today, we don’t use this additional energy like we used to, and it causes us to hold onto the fat we generate.

Attentional Space (p201)

Attentional Space is our working memory capacity … the more mental space we have to work with, the deeper we can think, the more we can process at one time, and the better we perform.

Measuring Productivity (p211)

The trick to measuring productivity is to reflect on how much you accomplish.

It isn’t easy to measure productivity in any other way. Gauging by the time spent or widgets produced is not a good reflection of whether we’re productive. We must reflect on our day and decide for ourselves if we are productive. Productivity is about doing what we intend to do.

Action Items

  • Define productivity hours
  • Make a stress inventory.
  • Make a list of things I savor.
  • Execute a month-long dopamine fast.
  • Incorporate movement daily.
  • Meditate daily.
  • Cut out or cut back on caffeine.