“Empty your mind, stop thinking about anything, simply be.” – Paulo Coelho
Like most people in modern society, you probably get overwhelmed regularly. Your brain gets overloaded because there’s so much happening around you. If you find yourself unable to think clearly and make decisions easily, there’s a strong chance you’re dealing with a serious case of mental clutter.
We’re all prone to overthinking, especially in today’s fast-paced, distraction-filled world. The Coronavirus pandemic may have escalated our overthinking. Diana Winston, director of the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Center said, in an interview, “I think we have economic considerations where people are stressed out. And I don’t want to underplay the role of social media, the internet, the overwhelm of information.” This suggests that we live in a time of unprecedented fear.
I know that my mind is cluttered if I find myself ruminating on the past, worrying about the future, or overthinking. My muscles stiffen, and I experience tension in my neck and shoulders. Like an angry parent trying to discipline a child, I used to berate myself for allowing my anxiety to spiral. On learning more about the intricacies of the human mind, I realized that it’s a trap that almost everyone falls into.
Just like we need to clean out our closets and declutter our physical spaces, we need to declutter our minds. We need to get rid of all the mental baggage weighing us down, preventing us from being productive, sharp, and motivated. But freeing up some headspace is not as straightforward as cleaning our physical surroundings. It’s not as if our thoughts are lying around to be picked up and put in the right place. Neither is the mind like an email inbox you can sort through, keeping the essential mail and deleting the rest.
To many, decluttering the mind is a daunting prospect. There’s just so much to deal with. The brain is complex with its many layers of consciousness, most of which are not within our ability to grasp. We might be holding grief, trauma, insecurities, and limiting beliefs below the surface of conscious awareness that could be affecting our moods and behaviors.
If we’re not conscious of it, we can drown in these phantom thoughts and block ourselves off from receiving the gifts available in the present moment. We can increase our quality of life by slowing down and choosing where to focus our attention. In the Bhaddekaratta Sutta, an early Buddhist scripture, there’s a verse that encourages us to let go of the past and the future, remaining in the moment:
“You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future.
What is past is left behind. The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present you clearly see [vipassatī] right there, right there.
Not taken in, unshaken, that’s how you develop the heart.”
Being grounded in the present is an entry point to decluttering the mind. Grounding is an essential energy management habit, especially for highly sensitive people and empaths. This practice calms a frazzled nervous system and harmonizes our energy fields to create a better flow. This nourishing spiritual practice includes any activities that allow you to have direct contact with Earth, in nature, and around plants, trees, and animals. You can even use Earthing products to achieve the same effect.
When there’s less happening in our minds, it’s easier to monitor our thoughts and stay cognizant of the undisciplined mental patterns that are sabotaging our happiness. By being aware of them, we can replace them with healthier ones that move us forward on our journey. The process of decluttering and simplifying our thoughts is easy if you’re willing to build certain habits into your routine. Making little changes in how you think and behave can make big changes to the trajectory of your life.
Here are five things you can do in combination to declutter your life:
1. Get clear about your priorities and focus your attention accordingly: If you’re anything like me, you probably have an endless to-do list, and your mind is brimming with ideas. But we have limited energy and a short attention span that needs to be taken into consideration when planning our schedules. Avoid brain clutter and fatigue by accepting that you can’t do everything. Focusing on doing a few things well will serve you best. Pick certain areas, whether that be relationships, creative projects, or wellness and commit to them fully, eliminating everything else that sidetracks you. This will help you stay organized and on top of things.
2. Create a system and avoid multitasking: Creating systems simplifies your life. When life runs on autopilot, you have more mental space to focus on complex and unstructured tasks that require more deliberate thought and creative thinking. Activities that you do on a routine basis like meal preparation, exercising, cleaning up, or taking your dog for a walk can be systemized by creating a standard weekly and monthly to-do schedule. Avoid multitasking by devoting yourself exclusively to one important task at a time, pushing everything else to the side.
3. Organize your space: Physical clutter causes mental clutter. Having papers strewn everywhere, and having essential items such as keys out of place causes the mind to work extra hard. A messy and disorganized environment can cause stress and mental exhaustion, which reduces efficiency. You also lose time trying to find things that are lost in the mess.
4. Manage your information diet: In today’s information age with flurries of headlines, tweets, and social media posts vying for our attention, we have to be careful about how much of it we consume. Too much information can overwhelm our senses and overstimulate our brains. Only take in things that you know you’d put to good use, and that will benefit you in some way. In the same way you must be conscious of your food diet, you have to be aware of your information diet. It’s essential to moderate how much you take in every day from social media, web surfing, blogs, newspapers, magazines, and TV. Avoid the equivalent of junk food in the media world like random click-bait articles, celebrity gossip, and other ‘trash’ content that doesn’t add value to your life.
5. Make time to reflect and relax: In addition to avoiding the distractions that overwhelm us, we should adopt practices that can help us unwind and slow down. Popular practices like mindfulness and meditation are considered to be effective in achieving this outcome. There are plenty of meditation tracks available on YouTube, and apps that can guide you through the process of building a practice.
Many spiritual luminaries have compared the human mind to water. When it’s turbulent and murky, we have less clarity, and everything about life becomes difficult to see. Decluttering our minds will calm the waters and clear away the murkiness, making it easier for us to see our current reality for what it is and build a magnificent vision for our future.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: How often does your mind get cluttered? How do you manage it?
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