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How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

You’re sitting on the subway or bus, trying to read something. It could be related to a work project or it could even be for pleasure. A person comes and sits down next to you. They’re in the middle of a loud personal conversation about their friend’s romantic antics. Now, instead of focusing on your reading, you find yourself hearing parts about someone’s love life — and, in fact, you have to consciously focus on ignoring that conversation to get your own reading done.

Most people think it’s easy to ignore these little distractions, but it’s not. The brain has a limited amount of functions it can perform at a given time. Distractions and clutter that aren’t worth attention take up some of that space in the brain and reduce the space remaining for things that matter — and thinking overall.

Ignoring anything takes energy, and the brain becomes passive when it can’t control what to think about. Ignoring clutter around you (noise, distractions) often takes the same amount of energy as focusing.

The Unaware Distractions

In a physical sense, think of your desk at work. There are usually folders, pencils, and other nick-knacks all around. You know you shouldn’t fiddle with these — it’s not the point and it won’t help you focus — but as a day draws on and energy wanes, you’re often drawn to doing just that. It takes up space in your mind to ignore these little things.

Those are just physical things, too — the explosion of the digital world has made this even more complicated. Somewhere between 89 and 115 billion business emails are sent every day globally,[1] and many people do not have good systems for organizing their inboxes.[2]

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The same can happen with non-physical elements like friendships. If you’re in an annoying text exchange with a friend and you know (from your lock screen) that the latest, just-arrived text is completely annoying, you might tell yourself, “I’ll exit this conversation and just ignore it.” But you know the text is sitting there. You’re going to burn lots of mental energy trying to avoid that text.

This all becomes a problem because our lives have so much clutter, both physical, mental and digital. All this creates clutter and the need to ignore, which makes the brain work harder.

    Photo credit: Source

    Too Much Stuff Burns out the Brain

    Now imagine this situation, you hate reading, and you’re put in an empty room with a book. What’s going to eventually happen? You’re going to read that book.

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    But this isn’t the usual reality. Most rooms with books tend to also contain— or have nearby— TVs, smartphones, computers, and other potential distractions. Asking you to finish reading that book will take you a lot of mental energy to ignore all other stuff first.

    Even though you may think that you have got used to the stuff around and don’t find them distracting, all those things are constantly stimulating your thoughts unconsciously. “I know I should read the book, but maybe I should clean the TV set first.“, or “I know I’d better start to read this book, but the computer should be placed on my desk instead.

    To think about ignoring those thoughts, again, burns up your brain energy.

      Photo credit: Source

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      Take Back Your Brain Energy

      When you know your priority on what is important, you know what to remove from life and free up brain energy.

      In a work context, two-third of managers cannot name the priorities of their organization.[3] This often filters down throughout the organization, confusing workflows and burning people out on supposedly important projects that, in reality, aren’t tied to actual priorities at all.

      This happens in personal and relationship contexts as well. People are often unclear on what they want out of life and partners, etc.[4] They spend time away from priority, trying to manage/ignore toxic relationships, the curated social media lives of their friends, etc.

      It’s that your brain energy needs to be spent on legitimate priority tasks. That means value-add work, strong friendships, burgeoning relationships, friends, family, pets, career goals, and the like. It doesn’t need to be spent on low-priority, cluttered tasks.

      But because of how our brains work, and the energy we need to spend on ignoring the clutter and noise around us, we often spend a lot of time and energy on the low-priority tasks and events.

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      Begin by removing the “stuff” in your life that doesn’t truly serve a purpose. That can be very challenging for many people, but thankfully there is a formula to help you throw away stuff without regret: The Declutter Formula That Helps You Throw Stuff Away. Learn it, know it, and try your best to follow it.

      Only when you remove the unnecessary distractions and mental energy-zappers can you truly begin to re-focus your life. Every time when you see clutter around you, think about how much mental energy you have to spend on ignoring them.

      The first step is de-cluttering your life, both physically and digitally. Only then will you be able to focus your mental energies in the right direction.

      When you remove the unnecessary elements from your life, that’s when your energy can be used for those elements to really help you grow as a successful, well-connected person. It all starts with the elimination of clutter.

        Photo credit: Source

        Featured photo credit: The Gary Art Good via thegaryartgood.blogspot.com

        Reference

        More by this author

        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Last Updated on September 20, 2018

        How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

        How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

        People like to joke that the only thing you really “learn” in school is how to memorize. As it turns out, that’s not even the case for most of us. If you go around the room and ask a handful of people how to memorize things quickly and how to remember things, most of them will probably tell you repetition.

        That is so far from the truth, it’s running for office. If you want to memorize something quickly and thoroughly, repetition won’t cut it; however, recalling something will. The problem is that recalling something requires learning and we all learn in different ways.

        So how to memorize more and faster than others?

        In this article, you will learn how to master the art of recalling so that you can start memorizing a ton of data in a short amount of time.

        Before you start, know your learning style

        Before we start, you need to establish something: are you an auditory, visual, or experiential learner?

        If you’re an auditory learner, then the most effective way for you to grasp information is by hearing it. As you can imagine, visual learners favor seeing something in order to learn it. Experiential learning types are more akin to learning from events and experiences (or, doing something with the material).

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        Try out this quick quiz to find out your learning style.

        Most of us are a combination of at least two of these categories but I will denote which step is most favorable to your most agreeable learning style so that you can start to memorize things quickly and efficiently.

        Step 1: Preparation

        To optimize your memorization session, pay close attention to which environment you choose. For most people, this means choosing an area with few distractions, though some people do thrive off of learning in public areas. Figure out what is most conducive to your learning so that you can get started.

        Next, start drinking some tea. I could link you to mounds of scientific studies that confirm green tea as a natural catalyst for improving memory. Mechanically speaking, our ability to recall information comes down to the strength between neurons in our mind, which are connected by synapses. The more you exercise the synapse (repetition), the stronger it is, resulting in the ability to memorize.

        As we get older, toxic chemicals will damage our neurons and synapses, leading to memory loss and even Alzheimer’s. Green tea contains compounds, however, that block this toxicity and keep your brain cells working properly a lot longer.

        Step 2: Record what you’re memorizing

        This is especially useful if you’re trying to memorize information from a lecture. Use a tape recorder to track all of the acquired facts being spoken and listen to it.

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        If you’re trying to memorize a speech, record yourself reading the speech aloud and listen to yourself speaking. Obviously, this is most helpful for auditory learners, but it’s also handy because it ensures that you’re getting more context from a lecture that will help you learn the information faster.

        Step 3: Write everything down

        Before you start trying to recall everything from memory, write and re-write the information. This will help you become more familiar with what you’re trying to memorize.

        Doing this while listening to your tape recorder can also help you retain a lot of the data. This is most useful for experienced learners.

        Step 4: Section your notes

        Now that you have everything written down in one set of notes, separate them into sections. This is ideal for visual learners, especially if you use color coding to differentiate between subjects.

        This will help you break everything down and start compartmentalizing the information being recorded in your brain.

        Step 5: Apply repetition to cumulative memorization

        For each line of text, repeat it a few times and try to recall it without looking. As you memorize each set of text, be cumulative by adding the new information to what you’ve just learned. This will keep everything within your short-term memory from fading.

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        Keep doing this until you have memorized that section and you are able to recall the entire thing. Do not move on to another section until you have memorized that one completely. This is mostly visual learning but if you are speaking aloud, then you are also applying auditory.

        Step 6: Write it down from memory

        Now that you can recall entire sections, write everything down from memory. This will reinforce everything you just have just learned by applying it experientially.

        Step 7: Teach it to someone (or yourself)

        The most effective method for me when I was in school was to teach the information to someone else. You can do this in a variety of ways. You can lecture the knowledge to someone sitting right in front of you (or the mirror, if you can’t convince anyone to sit through it) and explain everything extemporaneously.

        If what you’ve learned needs to be recited verbatim, then do this in front of someone as well in order to get a feel for what it will be like to recite the text to the intended audience.

        My favorite method for this is creating tests for other people. Take the information and predict what questions will come out of them. Use multiple choice, matching and so on to present the data in test format and see how someone else does.

        All of this is experiential learning since you are actually practicing and manipulating the concepts you’ve learned.

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        Step 8: Listen to the recordings continuously

        While doing unrelated tasks like laundry or driving, go over the information again by listening to your tape recordings. This is certainly auditory learning but it will still supplement everything you’ve shoved into your short-term memory.

        Step 9: Take a break

        Finally, let your mind breathe. Go for a short time without thinking about what you just learned and come back to it later on.

        You’ll find out what you really know and this will help you focus on the sections you might be weakest at.

        Try these steps now and you will find remembering things a lot easier and you’ll memorize more stuff than a lot of other people!

        Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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