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How Cleaning the Closet Can Change Your Life

How Cleaning the Closet Can Change Your Life

I’m spending my birthday cleaning my closet. Again. Why have I done this for the past three years, and why is it even necessary? Allow me to explain how a 20-minute exercise can change your life.

There is a difference between living life driven to get things done, marking off each task as it’s finished, and a life that leaves its mark on the world.

Socrates reminds us that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” asking us to look within to understand the true value of life. When we live with the end in mind, reflecting on what we might leave behind, our purpose is revealed from a Soul perspective rather than a list of meaningless tasks.

An examined life is one willing to seek out those barely perceptible places of the soul; an often tangled and undeveloped part of ourself that is very much like a pantry or linen closet. The doors are kept closed to hide the mess, but until you know what’s hidden inside, you’ll never know what you have to work with.

Souls are like closets–full of potential.

Not sure what is actually in there or how to find it, we’re afraid to even open the door in case everything tumbles out.

And sometimes life feels just that way: overcrowded and overwhelming. There’s no shortage of things to do, but it always feels like something is missing.

So where do we start? Let’s continue with the closet analogy to create a masterful plan, composed out of purposeful, meaningful reflection, based on where you want to end up and what you hope to leave behind.

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1. Empty the closet–start with a clean slate

If you were cleaning out an actual closet, you would first take everything out. An empty closet is a manageable closet. In the same way, clearing your mind of endless tasks, the “hurries and worries,” will allow you to inspect and systematically decide how to reorganize your life. You can then determine what’s currently working, as well as what isn’t.

Find time for quiet reflection. Schedule a minimum of 20 minutes of solitude without any distractions. Use a pen and paper to do this, not a tech device that requires tapping or typing. This is important: there’s something about writing things out by hand that accesses the more creative, soul-chasing part of your brain.

Set a timer. For 20 minutes write down everything that comes to mind that you would like to do, be, have or experience. Include relationships, finances, health, career, creative aspirations and personal growth.

Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do and experience? How would you like your relationships to grow? What would you like to learn?

Ask yourself what you want more (or less of) in your life. Give yourself a five-year window and brainstorm within this limit of time. Don’t think too hard, and allow yourself to dream. Focus especially on experiences and whom you want to share those experiences with.

2. Putting the closet back together–your priorities

Your previously cluttered, disorganized and unusable “closet” is now clean, freshly painted and ready to be put to good use. Next step? It’s time to put it back together, but NOT by stuffing everything back inside.

To restructure how we live, just like reorganizing a closet, will require letting go of what no longer “fits.”

The number 1 thing to let go of? The unrealistic expectations you have for yourself and others.

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Let go of the idea that it’s your job to save people from the consequences of their own choices. Allow them the grace to grow by learning from their mistakes. In turn, you will gain valuable time to pursue your own personal growth.

Let’s keep going.

Now take another look at that mindful and reflective inventory you have assembled and pare it down to your top 20 things. Sort them according to the following categories: Personal, Family/Relationships, Health, Career/Work, and Spiritual/Creative. I like to use different colored highlighters for each category. Under each heading, rank the items with Most Important at the top, and Least Important at the bottom.

Within each category, notice what catches your eye first; what makes your heart beat faster? What do you feel an irresistible pull to passionately pursue?

3. Master list vs. master plan–write yourself a story.

After you have ranked each item, turn your list into a narrative.

Write yourself a story, as if it is five years from now and you have done everything on your list. For example, you could write: “It is 2019 and this is what I have experienced/accomplished in the past five years…”

I am… I have…I live…I make…I do…

This narrative becomes your vision for all that you hope to do and be; it contains those secret longings that may have been squashed and hidden away for years, unrevealed and unexpressed until now.

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This will become your story–a story that will allow you to live on purpose. You will be focused, not simply driven; aware of what you are doing and even more important, why you are doing it. No longer are you checking off boxes on an ever-growing, meaningless list of things to do.

There are some things you need to hold on to indefinitely.

What to keep:

Projects that embody “process.” The process has to do with the entire journey of a project. It focuses on making memories and savoring moments. An example might be a family history project. If you are interested in genealogy, you could spend time alone and online, looking for records on Ancestry.com. From the process perspective, it could include spending time with family elders and recording the stories that embodied their lives. Yes, it will probably take more time, but you will ultimately have both a fuller, richer family history and have built stronger relationships.

Hold on to your legacy. Remember that what you create is what you leave behind. Photographs and images, letters written, meals infused with time and care, traditions kept and memories that result from them…the many savored moments carried in our hearts as a legacy of love, encouragement, inspiration and wisdom.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

Habits that nourish. The behaviors that build health, nurture the spirit, and warm our hearts are the activities that grow relationships with friends, family and community.

Room to breathe. Create space within these lofty aspirations of yours! Just as towels begin to smell musty if they are crowded, we also need breathing room. Lists rarely get shorter. There is always more than enough to do, but we also need down time to just be.

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And finally: Hold tightly to things that will slow you down. Children. Pets. Crock pots. Children are especially wonderful teachers as to what is truly essential in our lives. Eating yummy food, playing with friends, and plenty of sleep. They are also great at noticing the small, subtle flavors that adults so often miss.

To view the world through a child’s eyes is to pay attention. And when we do this, as Henry Miller pointed out, our world becomes “mysterious, awesome, and indescribably magnificent.”

It can be life changing, for there are some alleyways and doors that are meant for us alone, and we will miss them if we run too fast.

Joseph Campbell wrote,

“If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

In other words, they are your doors.

So slow down and enjoy the journey. And you can start by cleaning the closet.

Featured photo credit: Gretchen Rubin One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself/BK via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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