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05 February 2018

Mental noting – a way to stay focused

An effective technique for countering brain fog, a common symptom of multiple sclerosis, is mental noting - the art of labeling thoughts as nothing more than they really are.

Cognitive problems are fairly common with MS. One of the most notorious and disruptive by far is the dreaded brain fog. In my experience, brain fog isn’t being unable to think of anything.

In fact, it’s the opposite. My mind is trying to think about so much that I can’t focus on a single thought, and ends up trailing off on some never-ending tangent.

One of my favorite brain fog countering techniques is called ‘mental noting’, and the concept is actually incredibly simple. Mental noting is the art of labeling thoughts as nothing more than what they are…

A thought

Next time you’re doing a simple task, something like brushing your teeth, just observe how much your mind wanders. You start off by thinking about what you want for breakfast, and before you know it, you’re worrying about that deadline at work next week.

You’ve lost all focus on what you’re supposed to be doing, and are now trapped in the tangled web of thoughts that you’ve created for yourself. You snap back into reality 10 minutes later, and realize that not only have you got toothpaste all down your shirt, but you’ve also burnt the toast, and are now late for work.

And this isn’t really your fault. These thoughts are sneaky, they distract you, sneak under the radar, and multiply, without you even realizing! You start thinking about something, and then you think about why you’re thinking about it, and then you try and stop thinking about it, which makes you think about it more…


This is where mental noting can help. The reason why mental noting works so well is that it allows you to recognize that sneaky little thought before it gets too big. All you really need to do to prevent your mind spiraling out of control is catch that first small thought. Instead of paying attention to these thoughts, getting caught up in them, or punishing ourselves for thinking them, we simply give them a label, or a note:


And that’s it. You’ve identified the thought. It’s no longer undetected, you’re fully aware that you’re thinking when you shouldn’t be. You’re now fully in control of that single thought, what you want it to do, and where you want it to go.

The reason why this works so well is that, by not acknowledging the contents of the thought, you remove all its power. The second you try and control what’s in the thought you create another thought, and then another, and another.

Simply labelling it ‘thinking’ gives it nowhere else to go. The thought just fizzles out, and your focus can get back to making sure those teeth stay pearly white!

Alex Safford

You can find Alex on Twitter @The_Ms_Press.