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5 Reasons to Clear Mental Clutter Periodically

5 Reasons to Clear Mental Clutter Periodically

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.

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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.”

—Mark Twain

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.

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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

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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