In an ideal world our brains would feel as organized as the shelves in a designer shop, but the reality for many is more similar to a bustling souk. A cluttered mind leaves us more susceptible to stress and anxiety, and can distract us from putting energy into what we really want. Here are eight easy ways to let go of some of your mental baggage and start thinking more clearly...
1. Declutter your physical surroundings
When dealing with mental baggage, a good place to start is by minimizing physical distractions. There’s nothing like a tidy desk or even a perfectly organized sock drawer to make you feel more in control of your life. Start small, such as with a single drawer and gradually work your way around the whole house sorting things into piles: ‘keep’, ‘throw away’ and ‘donate to others’. Giving unwanted items a new lease of life with those that can make use of them can be a positive act in itself.
2. Put pen to paper
American poet Bill Copeland once said, “the trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” Avoid this fate by carrying around a notebook for jotting down new ideas, long term dreams and daily ‘to do’ lists. Your head will feel a whole lot lighter without the responsibility of trying to remember everything.
Much of the clutter we carry with us is in fact just delayed decisions. Once you have your ‘to do’ list, arrange it in order of priorities with the things that must be completed by the end of the day at the top. Decide how much time you want to spend on each thing and set a timer to help you focus. Avoid the urge to multitask as it can make you feel busy without necessarily being productive.
4. Keep the glass half full
According to research conducted by the National Science Foundation1 we have up to 50,000 thoughts each day and on average around 80% of them are negative. Next time you have negative thoughts, challenge them and ask yourself if they make logical sense. Making meditation a regular practice can help with letting go of thoughts that aren’t serving you well.
5. Enjoy exercise
Countless studies attest to the positive impacts of exercise. Not only does it flood your body with mood-boosting endorphins and increase blood circulation to your brain, it can also provide you with distractions from worries and opportunities for social interaction. The phrase healthy body, healthy mind has been proven right time and again. The good news? Doing 30-minutes of exercise just three times a week can make a significant difference to your mental and physical well-being.
6. Stop doom scrolling
In a study of students at Pennsylvania University published in Guildford Press Periodicals2, a group of researchers found that limiting social media use to 30-minutes per day significantly reduced feelings of loneliness and depression. Make sure you consume social media in a conscious way and avoid mindlessly scrolling. If you notice yourself having a negative emotional response or feeling an adrenaline rush while using it, it’s time to step away from the screen.
7. Revel in routine
It’s not the sexiest word but routine can really help with alleviating stress; when you stick to a daily routine, at least you know you’re doing something well. Leading minds such as Freud, Beethoven and Georgia O’Keeffe swore by them and bestselling novelist Haruki Murakami described his routine as his secret weapon in an interview with The Paris Review: ‘The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.’ Murakami’s routine includes waking up at 4am and running 10km a day, but you can reap rewards from engaging in simple activities such as 15 minutes of mindfulness, 30 minutes of gentle exercise and going to bed at the same time each day.
8. Decide to be decisive—and stick to it
It’s tempting to see being decisive as a character trait some people are lucky enough to be born with but it’s a skill that can be practiced like anything else. As anyone who is prone to procrastination knows, nothing clutters the mind like going back and forth over a decision, whether it’s as small as how to sign off an email or as big as whether to put an offer in on a house. Weigh up the pros and cons, ask people with more experience than you and commit. No matter the temptation, don’t allow yourself to look back.
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