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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

        How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life How to Reinvent Yourself And Redefine Your Future Habits and Motivation: Master Both for Big Results How to Be Happy: Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Unhappy Embrace Your Obstacles to Get Ahead in Life

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        Published on April 16, 2019

        How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

        How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

        When was the last time you did something for yourself?

        Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

        Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

        However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

        And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

        So how can you make that happen?

        Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

        Listen to Yourself

        The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

        This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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        What is your purpose?

        Have you ever thought about this question?

        Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

        In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

        Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

        All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

        If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

        But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

        For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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        If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

        How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

        Seek Out Continuous Education

        Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

        It’s Super Practical

        Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

        You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

        When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

        Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

        You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

        You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

        You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

        Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

        With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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        In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

        Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

        People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

        We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

        “Knowledge is choice.”

        Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

        Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

        Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

        Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

        Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

        Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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        When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

        Habits Make Your Time a Priority

        How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

        It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

        This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

        Your Well Being Comes First

        We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

        If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

        The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

        Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

        Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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