Blog Short #30: 12 Ways to Declutter Your Mind
When most people think about clutter, they think about stuff in their house or office or some other physical space. We don’t usually think about mind clutter, at least not in those words. We label it other ways such as overwhelm, or feeling scattered, or anxious, or just worn out. Mind clutter is a contributing factor to all these, so it’s good to address it specifically. Here’s my list for decluttering your mind.
Having running lists in your head is highly inefficient. Your brain has a limit on how much information it can handle at any given time. It’s like your computer’s hard drive. There are only so many gigs.
Emptying it of unnecessary thoughts or chatter opens up space so you can focus in on what you need to.
The best way to do this is to write things down and create a system to track your to-dos. Don’t make it elaborate. Make it easy, but do it.
Make at least one big list of everything you want to remember or need to do, and one shorter ongoing priority list that tells you what you have to do today or in the next few days. As you check things off, add new things from your big list. Review your lists once a week to make adjustments. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
The beauty is, once things are written down, you don’t need to keep running your lists repetitively in your head, which uses up your gigs!
#2 Journal your thoughts and feelings.
This is a different exercise than creating your to-do lists. It’s a way to identify and become aware of what you’re thinking about and what you’re feeling.
When you put your thoughts and feelings on paper, it helps you clarify where you are and enables you to gain insight so you can make changes if you need to, or simply become self-aware. The value is that you can prevent getting emotionally stuck and clogged up.
Journaling can also be a great way to keep track of creative ideas or goals or snippets of information you want to remember later on. I use it for writing ideas.
#3 Declutter your physical space.
There is a relationship between inside and outside clutter. When you need to focus on something, especially something requiring brain power, it helps to have a calm, organized space to do it in. Maybe you clean up your office and put everything away, or clean up the house, or a take a shower and clean yourself up.
All of these help create an atmosphere that’s more conducive to concentrating and staying focused.
Even the act of cleaning up your space begins the process of decluttering your mind as you remove distractions and organize your thoughts. What you’re doing outwardly is reflected inwardly.
Accordingly, if your outer space is super messy and cluttered, your mind is more likely to reflect that status and feel messy too.
Exercise is a great way to increase your serotonin and dopamine levels. These are the two neurotransmitters associated with mood stability, pleasure, attention and focus, overall sense of well-being, and happiness.
All types of exercise are helpful, but walking in particular has been shown by research to enhance mental clarity and creative thinking that you can use to solve problems or come up with new ideas. Something about walking loosens the tight grip you have on your mind, and allows some space in so that creative solutions can pop up.
#5 Make decisions.
Making decisions gets things off your plate. Part of decluttering is to keep things moving. It’s good to apply adequate thinking to any problem and objectively evaluate it, but once that’s done, it’s time to make a decision and move on. Perfectionism is a big obstacle that stalls you. Do your best thinking, and then take action and keep going.
#6 Get enough sleep.
This is an important one. Sleep deprivation negatively affects our ability to attend, remember, think, learn, and regulate our emotions. In her book The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington tells us that each night while we sleep, there’s a decluttering process that cleans up toxic buildup that has accumulated around our brain cells during the day. She likens it to running your brain through a dishwasher.
This only happens during sleep. If we don’t sleep enough, this process is hampered and we have brain fatigue with all the associated negative effects. Get seven to eight hours a night. Six is not enough.
#7 Talk to someone.
We all know talking to someone can help alleviate anxiety, or help solve a problem, but not everyone knows the exact mechanism that helps this process along. It’s called “containing.”
When you talk and someone listens attentively with interest, there is a transfer of your emotions to the listener. As you talk, he takes in your emotions and contains them for you. This allows an opening up of mental space which lightens your cognitive and emotional load. You’re able to see things with a little more distance and objectivity, and to become more aware of what you’re actually feeling.
In effect, you clean out your mental closet and organize what’s in there, especially your emotions.
#8 Attend to nagging tasks that hang over you.
Do them all in one or two days and move on. Set up a mini-marathon and plow through. You’ll feel great when you’re done!
#9 Curb ruminating about the past.
Use your past as a learning experience to propel you forward, not hold you back. This goes for your personal failures too.
Ruminating is useful sometimes when you need to work on a complex problem. You ruminate for a while, then distract yourself and do something else, and the solution pops up. But ruminating about your past without really working on it keeps you stuck.
If the past is problematic, do something about it. Seek therapy. Read up. Go to the source and work it through. Don’t just sit. Emotional clutter is particularly heavy.
#10 Limit your media engagement.
Do I need to say more? This one’s self-evident. Media of any kind is like mental food, and a lot of it is junk food. Too much of the wrong kind is bad for your mental health, and too much of any of it is overwhelming and creates mental clutter. Engage in it sparingly and selectively.
#11 Ditch multi-tasking.
We don’t do two things at one time. That’s a myth. The closest we get to that is doing two things that are so simple and automated that we don’t have to expend much energy on either one, like folding laundry while listening to music. Even with that, our attention goes back and forth from one to the other. It just happens so fast, we don’t notice it.
For tasks that require more focus, the shift from one to the other is more laborious and requires more mental energy which tires your brain. You break up your focus repeatedly which dilutes the depth of your attention.
By focusing on only one thing at a time and finishing it, you apply all your energy in one direction which means you expend less of it while also performing better. Do one thing at a time as much as possible.
I always include this one because I’ve done it for more than 30 years and there’s nothing that competes in terms of creating calm, handling stress, and regulating emotions. Try at least 10 minutes a day, but work up to 20 or 30 minutes. The time and energy you’ll save by developing this habit is much greater than the time it takes to do it.
There’s my list! I hope it’s helpful, and if you have something to add, please leave a comment below. Thanks!
Hope you have a great week!
All my best,