Of course you will clear your desk, room and garage regularly of clutter. The space you free up is sometimes astonishing and you wonder how on Earth you actually put up with it. The mental clutter and chaos in our minds is not dissimilar. Once we manage to do a mental clear out, we are amazed at the liberating effect and it really can help us to live happier and more fulfilled lives. Here are 5 reasons to clear all the mental clutter at regular intervals and some tips on how to actually do it.
1. You need to detox.
There are too many things to look after and being super connected with a smartphone just aggravates the situation. We will look at methods of actually clearing it out but first you should consider how physical exercise will help you because the mind and body are inextricably linked. If you read Daniel Amen’s book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, you will realize that exercise, proper diet, and restful sleep will help you detox. Once you feel better physically, the mental clutter will begin to clear away. This is so liberating.
2. You need to let go of negative experiences.
Most experts call this closure. It means clearing out the grief, the resentment and the regrets about wrong decisions. These are occupying too much space and they are preventing you from concentrating on new projects and achieving objectives. You will need time for healing after a bereavement. Learn to let it go and walk through the pain. Simple meditation techniques are a great way to help the transition to positivity and hope.
3. You need to get your attention back.
Daylight robbery! This is what the Internet and the smartphones do with our attention. They steal it all the time. We are so districted that it becomes impossible to give projects and relationships our undivided attention. Distractions are useless clutter and compete shamelessly for our focus. These distractions are destructive in that they murder creativity and problem solving. They have been called continuous partial attention by one psychologist. You really have to make a conscious effort not to let them take over.
4. You need to let go of fears and worries.
These are great busybodies. The ‘what ifs’ are always present. The fears mount up. Yesterday, the train stopped on a high bridge over the motorway and the lightning was scary. I could not clear my mind of what might happen. Nothing did and I regretted that I was not disciplined or mindful enough to dismiss those stupid fears. Fear and anxiety are toxic and they cannot affect the outcome in any way. One expert believes that we can thrash up to 30% of our worries.
“How would your life be different if…You stopped worrying about things you can’t control and started focusing on the things you can? Let today be the day…You free yourself from fruitless worry, seize the day and take effective action on things you can change.”
—Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
5. You are in fight-or-flight mode.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”
All those troubles, problems and regrets are taking up an enormous amount of space. You are in a constant state of fight-or-flight. When you are in this mode you are always ready for emergencies so blood pressure and stress levels rise. Once you manage to get this into perspective, you will be able to “rest and digest” mentally which can help limit the damage and steer you towards mindfulness.
Tips to help you de-clutter your mind.
1. Try deep breathing.
Did you know that Navy Seals have to use this technique to help them cope with a stressful situation? They are told to use the STOP technique. ‘S’ is to stop what they are doing. ‘T’ stands for taking a deep breath, ‘O’ is for observing what is going on around them and ‘P’ stands for proceed.
“We win in our mind before we enter the battlefield.”
—Navy Seals motto
2. Become aware of the present.
As we said above, worries are pretty useless pieces of baggage and will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome. The best way to get a clear, calm and alert mind is to practise mindfulness or present moment awareness. One effective method is to give your mind the job as gatekeeper and tell it that certain thoughts are not to be let in. You can repeat the mantra “Now is the time to be aware of the present moment. I let go of the past and the future.” Then focus on sounds, bodily sensations and thoughts so that your mind is becoming more disciplined and tidier. As you do this you will become aware of your deeper breathing which is essential. Many people find great benefit in doing yoga and meditation in various forms to achieve this mental de-cluttering.
3. Get rid of regret.
But how do you do this? The US Army has one of the answers in that it teaches its soldiers to do the After Action Review. It is a simple technique to help them learn from the past mistakes and resolve to do it better the next time. Regret is useless so it is booted out pretty fast. The soldiers ask themselves about what was supposed to happen, what actually happened and then they ask how they would do it differently the next time.
4. Make a list.
This is a very important task. You have to make a list of all the situations and relationships which are occupying your mind with negative and useless thoughts. They no longer bring you happiness or contentment. As you look at the list, think of how you can make stronger boundaries in relationships. You may have to have a conversation with someone or you may actually have to de-clutter a physical space to help you gain mental clarity. It is also wise to prioritize certain items as they will need more systematic sweeping. Many of the items on your list can be crossed off as unimportant and they can be dealt with quickly. Promise yourself to come back in a month’s time and see what progress you have made.
5. Find time for unconscious thought.
Do you have an important decision to make or are you tempted to call in a colleague for a showdown? The best way to clear the decks is to give yourself time. Take time out and also make sure you do something completely different before jumping in head first. When you are in the gym, you start the process of what is known as unconscious thought. Your best ideas come from these moments. It also brings to the surface new approaches, techniques and ideas.
Now, how about some mental tidying up every now and again? Time you got back on track so your priorities are at the top of the list again and that you can think clearly without all that clutter.
Featured photo credit: 301/366: Headache by Gonzalo Malpartida via Flickr via flickr.com