Words help us to think better
"My mind went blank!" Have you ever felt that way before? It might have been when something stumped you for a split second. An unexpected exam question, news that you won $100 in a lucky draw, a friend suddenly shouting at you - when anything takes you totally by surprise, you might really feel as though your mind has gone blank.

What is happening is that your brain is taking a few seconds longer than usual to think. And, at that point, words are not coming quickly enough to help with the thinking. Without words, it is hard to think.

The other extreme of a blank mind is one that is crowded with too many words. This month, kids have all sorts of thoughts racing through their minds: exam results, year-end activities, saying good-byes, holiday plans, next year's classes and whatnot. In which case, your mind is an overgrown garden of thoughts. Try using these five steps to take care of it.

Clear clutter
When you feel you have too much to think about, go to a quiet place and sort out the busyness in your head. Ask yourself: What are all the things I am thinking about right now? Calmly list them one by one by giving each a word label. This allows you to see more clearly all that is crowding your mind. Focus on the thoughts that are important and let go of the others for now. You can revisit them another day.

Kill weeds
Thoughts that put yourself down are not at all healthy for you. You do not need these weeds. Every time a put-down enters your mind, stamp it out. These negative thoughts get in the way of clear thinking and also make you feel small inside.

Plant new seeds
The opposite of put-downs are words that lift us up. You may already know how to use many English phrases to encourage other people. You need to give those affirmations to yourself as well. Use the ones that feel comfortable for you when you speak them out loud. Say them to yourself as often as you need to.

Allow wildflowers
In a garden, wildflowers may look like weeds because no one planted them there. The difference is that wildflowers do not choke other plants. They live and let live. In our minds, the wildflowers are the great ideas and impulses that suddenly pop up as if from nowhere. They add zest to our lives and so, simply enjoy using them.

Here is an example of a student, Jon, using these five steps to help him to sort his thoughts. Can you identify what he is doing at each stage?

Notice how Jon uses his own name while talking to himself. That may sound like a crazy thing to do. But, it actually helps some people listen better to their self-talk. Try it. And, using the metaphor of a garden for your mind may seem a little strange as well. After a few practices, you can experiment with other metaphors and settle for the one you like the most.