Eliminate Mental Clutter

This is a guest post by Michelle Garrison Hough, a Buttoned Up fan and blogger (Meta Vie). Thank you Michelle for your wonderful contribution!

Many of us resolve to de-clutter our environments in the New Year.

We want neater closets, better organized filing systems and a living room that is truly feng shui. We want the spaces we live and work in to function smoothly so we can accomplish more and feel better. But clutter isn’t just an issue in the physical world; we all have a little bit of mental clutter too. So don’t stop at eliminating external clutter, work on eliminating in the internal sense as well.

An Avalanche of Thoughts

Try to imagine the mind as one more space requiring organization for proper function. It takes less time to make a delicious coq au vin in a kitchen where every ingredient and appliance is in its perfect place. Our minds are the kitchens that feed our careers and our relationships.
Right now, take a minute to examine your mind. What does it look like? Are there objects strewn all around or can you walk a clear path to your objective? The National Science Federation has estimated that human beings produce from 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day. In his article, Emotional Wholeness, Dr. Deepak Chopra cites scientific research upping that number to 65,000! It is easy to see how so many thoughts can add up to a lot of clutter. How many of those thoughts are negative or inconsequential?

Effective Techniques for Decluttering Your Mind

Fortunately, we have tools for gaining awareness of our thoughts and imposing some order. Our methods will differ based on individual preference. Many effective people already have their process down pat. Effective mental organization can be likened to the concept of “flow,” a term now widely used and introduced at the beginning of the 20th century by the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “a condition of heightened focus, productivity and happiness that we all intuitively understand and hunger for.” I personally think of flow as effective action in the absence of struggle with clarity of mind. Many of us have already experienced this state while performing a favorite activity: running, biking, yoga or even driving. Some people perform these activities before commencing an important project.
What does flow mean to you? How does it feel? Can you visualize it?

Uncluttered Mind - red scarf

Working parents in particular can benefit from de-cluttering the mind; there are fewer hours in a given day to accomplish what needs to be done. The task at hand may be writing a presentation, having an important discussion with a loved one or packing a lunch box. Each task is important and merits our full attention. Jenna Everitt, DPT, full-time physical therapist and mom of 11 month old twin boys runs to find her flow. When she is not able to incorporate running into her day, she notices the negative impact on her stress levels: “Running gives me some alone time to focus on me, and it gives me some much needed time to get my thoughts organized and keep me on an even keel between work and parenting. The days that I don’t get that time are definitely more stressful.”

If sitting quietly appeals to you more than physical exercise, you are in good company. The practice of meditation pre-dates recorded history and figures in most world religions. Hindu scriptures dating back 5,000 years give us the first recorded meditation technique. Since meditation has gained popularity among our over-stimulated generation, instructive books and classes are a mouse click or phone call away. I meditate every day, even if only for five minutes. When I first started meditating I was instructed not to try it for more than a few minutes at a time. To me, the most beautiful aspect of meditation is its simplicity: sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and let your thoughts float by.

Woman meditating
An effective technique for beginners is focusing on the breath. This is called “conscious breathing.” The world renowned Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh explains in his book, Peace is Every Step, “As you breathe in, say to yourself, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ And as you breathe out, say ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.’ Just that.” Sitting quietly, you will notice thoughts emerging in your mind, like clouds forming against the backdrop of a blue sky. Instead of grasping onto thoughts, try letting each one go as you focus on the clarity of the blue sky that is your mind. You may see a thunderstorm brewing, but you know the storm will pass irrespective of your conscious effort to release it. When you are able to consciously release each cloud, your clarity of mind becomes increasingly powerful and YOU become more effective in everything you do. This is the essence of eliminating mental clutter.

Regardless of your personal method, eliminating mental clutter can be simple…kind of like organizing that pile of shoes on the floor of your closet!