5 ways to declutter your mind
Before de-cluttering the mind, let’s think for a moment about whether your mind is actually cluttered? And what do we mean when we suggest a decluttering?
Let’s consider the analogy of an overstuffed wardrobe. You’ve got clothes in there you’ve forgotten you own. There are things you don’t like, and things that don’t fit. Honestly, it’s a bit dusty at the back and you can’t quite remember if last winter’s boots are there or have already been donated to charity. You can’t see the wood for the trees (or the blouses from the trousers) and even if you could remember that you have some lovely cashmere socks stuffed in a pair of trainers, you’d never have the time to actually find them!
The cupboards and draws of the mind
The mind is a bit like a wardrobe – it’s an organising system. In fact, we are doing it a disservice. We’re not talking about Sharp’s bedroom organisation. We are talking about the east wing of Amal Clooney’s private house, dedicated to dressing! There’s everything in there from everyday joggers (from Céline obvs) to Armani Oscar-worthy gowns – and that’s before we start on shoes, bags and jewellery! Your brain has deep draws too, or in this case different levels to its memory – short-term, working and long-term memory. Like a wardrobe, if you keep feeding it stuff, cluttering up your short-term and working memory with information, it becomes harder to find that fabulous jumper that you know is close by, but you just can’t pick out!
In the wardrobe analogy, you might have packed your summer clothes off into your long-term memory, knowing that you don’t need them for immediate retrieval (unless you get invited to a fabulous party, in which case, you know exactly where everything is stored). But for your short term and working memory to be optimum, a bit of Marie Kondo might be required – colour co-ordination, folding up, hanging neatly and generally keeping things dust free.
So, unlike getting the charity bag and duster out for your wardrobe tidy, what can you do to declutter your mind?
5 simple mind declutters
1. Write things down
When you start journaling or list writing you help declutter your mind by freeing up space. You don’t need to remember to take those five important work actions tomorrow, because you’ve written them down and they are right there, on a sticky note in front of you. You don’t have to concern yourself with being forgetful. You’re on it. Journaling doesn’t only help your mind be less anxious about forgetting, it also helps you process thoughts and feelings. Processing can help your mind decide whether to commit stuff to long-term memory or disregard it as unimportant.
2. Switch on autopilot
There are some things that if repeated enough, become automatic. If you know how to drive a car for example, chances are you don’t really think about the action of doing it. You can learn to declutter the mind, by switching to autopilot when it makes sense to do so. For example, you’ve been clogging up your precious time worrying about an upcoming exam. Truth is, you’ve been here before. You know the deal with exams – you know how the process goes. You know how you respond. You can train yourself to switch to autopilot when it comes to these considerations (which is not the same as not bothering to study and hoping for the best!). Which leads us to:
3. Letting go
It’s easier said than done of course, but when you can let go of negative language in your head, when you can slow your breathing and relax your mind, by osmosis you are going to be able to think more clearly. Your cluttered brain is suddenly freed up to organise itself.
When we stress and worry over things, our minds become very sensitised. Think of it this way – you keep telling yourself that you suffer with anxiety. You mentally note down everything that makes you anxious. Over and over again you tell yourself the same story, until automatically your brain creates a neural pathway that associates certain events with anxiety. Rather than labelling experiences like this, experiment with labelling things differently. Avoid giving them a generic negative label. Talk to yourself using positive language. This re-programming helps de-sensitise your thoughts and feelings, keeping you calmer, more relaxed and feeling in control.
5. One thing at a time
If you’re really feeling over-cluttered and can’t see the wood for the trees – slow down and work on one thing at a time. Constant multi-tasking can be taxing for the mind (even if you are good at it). Do one thing well and congratulate yourself on the achievement!