You may have a clean, clutter-free home or office, but have you taken the time to declutter your mind?
If you regularly feel overwhelmed by your thoughts and struggle with stress and anxiety, it's past time to deal with the internal clutter that's causing these symptoms.
An inner thought monologue is constantly playing in your head and has become the background noise of your life.
Sometimes these thoughts are positive or neutral, but far too often, they are negative and self-sabotaging. And trying to stop them seems impossible.
Try it now. Try to stop the constant flow of thoughts going through your mind. It's hard, right? As soon as you curtail one thought, another one pops up behind it.
How to Declutter Your Mind
If you're not paying attention, your mind operates on autopilot and meanders through a landscape of mental clutter that doesn't always serve you well.
As I say in my book (with co-author Steve Scott), Declutter Your Mind . . .
Our powerful brains are constantly processing all sorts of experiences and analyzing them in the form of thoughts. Thoughts form what we perceive to be reality.
We can control and direct our thoughts, but it often feels like our thoughts have minds of their own, controlling us and how we feel. Thinking is necessary for solving problems, analyzing, making decisions, and planning, but in between the times of proactive mental endeavors, the mind roams like a wild monkey, dragging you through the brambles of rumination and negativity.
Your constant inner dialog distracts you from what is happening around you, right here and now. It causes you to miss valuable experiences and sabotages the joy of the present moment.
Fortunately, you can control your “monkey mind” and become more mindful of the present moment.
As you learn to manage your thoughts, you can also apply decluttering to other areas of your life to support a more mindful and conscious way of life.
By practicing the strategies listed below in each area, you'll enjoy some significant improvements in the overall quality of your life.
These mindfulness activities have a variety of science-backed benefits, including:
- Reduced worry, stress, and anxiety
- Fewer feelings of depression
- Better sleep
- Improved relationships
- Increased focus and concentration
- Improved emotional intelligence
- Reduced perception of physical pain
- Improved decision-making
- Better resilience and equanimity
- Enhanced creativity
Let's take a look at some simple actions you can take to declutter your mind, your relationships, and your life.
1. Focused Deep Breathing
A change in breathing is often the first sign that our thoughts are overwhelming and stressful.
When we feel anxious, depressed, rushed, or upset, we may experience rapid breathing or shortness of breath.
You may not pay much attention to your breathing and your posture, but by simply becoming more aware of how you breathe, you foster a calmer state of body and mind.
Start paying attention to your breathing and simply become aware of how you are taking in and releasing air throughout your day.
One of the best ways to detach from negative thoughts and gain control over your mind is through slow, deep, rhythmic breathing.
This focused breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing your heart rate, relaxing muscles, calming the mind, and normalizing brain function.
2. Learn Meditation
If you’ve never practiced meditation or you’re not familiar with it, you might be put off by the idea of sitting quietly in the lotus position and emptying your mind.
But don’t let the clichés about meditating cave dwellers prevent you from giving it a try.
The benefits of meditating translate to your daily life, helping you control worry and overthinking, and providing a host of health benefits.
The key to finding satisfaction with meditation is simply to practice. The steps for meditation are easy. The hard part is committing to it daily.
By making a daily commitment to meditation, you will improve your skills and discover how the mental, physical, and emotional bene ts increase over time.
3. Reframing Negative Thoughts
Critical thinking gives us the ability to solve problems quickly and effectively.
Creative thinking allows us to develop original, diverse, and elaborate ideas and connections.
But it’s the uninvited negative thinking that clutters our minds and often drains our enthusiasm for life.
Many people go through their entire lives victimized by their negative thoughts.
They feel they have no control of what thoughts take up residence in their brains—and worse, they believe the “voices” in their heads that tell them the sky is falling.
But you have the power to recognize this tendency and change it by building the reframing habit. The first step is to notice your thought patterns and interrupt them before they get out of control.
Become the “watcher” of your thoughts without attaching to them or judging them. See them for what they are — just mental noise.
Or you can interrupt your negative thoughts when you notice them by saying, “Stop!” out loud.
Visualize a heavy metal door slamming on those negative thoughts and keeping them silent.
Then distract yourself with something that will occupy your mind so there’s no room for the negative thoughts. Immerse yourself in a project that involves focus and brainpower.
4. Teach Your Old Mind New Tricks
You will always struggle with some amount of negative thinking. You can’t overcome millions of years of evolutionary wiring through sheer willpower.
However, you can manage the pain by being more proactive in what you allow to remain in your thoughts.
Interrupting cluttered thinking is only part of the process of retraining your brain and learning to disassociate from negative thoughts.
Your mind abhors a vacuum, so you need to fill the void with constructive thought so you don’t careen back into old patterns.
Try these ideas:
- Challenge a negative thought and replace it with a more positive one that better reflects reality.
- When negative circumstances are happening, practice acceptance rather than struggling against reality with feelings of guilt or worry.
- Rather than just ruminating, take mindful action that focuses on your values, goals, or priorities.
- Set a worry timer that allows you to worry for a set amount of time, rather than allowing worry to dominate your day.
5. Identify Your Core Values
One of the challenges of modern living is figuring out what’s truly important and differentiating those things from the obligations that seem important at first, but really don’t matter when you take the time to examine them.
If you’re like most people, you might find that it’s increasingly difficult to minimize, organize, or bypass the deluge of information you encounter on a regular basis.
Today, we have more information, data, and material possessions available to us than any previous generation, but this new way of life doesn’t come with instructions on how to manage it all.
Many of us feel so overwhelmed that we fail to step back and assess the impact of information overload.
Nor do we know how to prioritize it all.
We become reactors to what life throws at us, rather than carefully evaluating what is best for us.
Fortunately, there is actually a simple solution to cutting through the “noise” of modern society, which can help you make effective decisions whenever you feel overwhelmed by all the available options: Define your core values.
Your core values can serve as a measuring stick for all of your choices and decisions in life, keeping you focused on the person you want to be and the life you wish to lead.
6. Clarify Your Life Priorities
Once you’ve defined your core values, you should use this information to complete another exercise that will enrich your life.
Clarify your life priorities so you know exactly how you want to spend your time, energy, and money.
Without knowing our priorities, we allow the pressures of life to determine our actions and decisions.
When we don’t know the bigger “why” of our lives, there are no rules, no boundaries, no priorities to help us.
There are seven main life areas to help you establish your priorities and how you want to spend your time and money.
3. Marriage (or love partnership)
4. Spiritual/personal growth/self-improvement
6. Life management (i.e., home tasks, financial planning, budgeting, etc.)
7. Health and fitness
If you sleep 8 hours a day, that leaves 16 waking hours. Let’s remove 2 hours a day for personal hygiene activities and eating.
That leaves 14 waking hours a day or 98 hours a week. For the sake of simplicity, let’s round that up to 100 hours a week.
In an ideal world, how would you prioritize those seven key areas of your life?
How many hours of those 100 per week would you prefer to devote to each area (using your values to help guide you)?
To help you find your priorities, we recommend answering two simple questions:
1. How different is your current life priority reality from your ideal?
2. What are some actions you need to take to focus your efforts on what really matters to you?
We recommend you begin with the priority that can make the most positive difference in your life or where you feel the most imbalance.
You may find this area reflects one or more of your values that you aren’t honoring.
7. Be More Present in Your Relationships
One of the greatest sources of mental clutter can be relationship problems — with your partner and others in your life.
The practice of mindfulness allows us to be present with our partners, to be less emotionally reactive with them, and to more quickly overcome stressful situations in the relationship.
Relationship presence doesn’t just apply to romantic couples. You can practice mindfulness in all of your relationships.
What does it mean to be more present in your relationships?
Here are a few strategies you can practice:
Practice empathic listening.
Empathic (or active) listening is a willingness to step outside of your distracted mind and listen to the other person's words in a non-judgmental way.
You remain completely attentive to what the person is saying. Avoid interrupting, even when you have something important to add.
Also, ask open-ended questions that invite more from the speaker. Avoid coming to premature conclusions or offering solutions. Be sure to reflect back to the speaker what you heard them say.
Practice mindful speaking.
Pay close attention to what you say during a conversation, particularly in your love relationship.
Place a mental filter between your thoughts and words, recognizing the power your words have on one of the most important people in your life.
Resist the temptation to simply react to someone’s words or actions. Take a moment to choose your words carefully.
Speak in ways that are loving, compassionate, and respectful, and try to use a calm, non-threatening voice, even if the other person is agitated or angry.
Practice loving-kindness meditation.
A loving-kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of warmth towards others.
You can use a loving-kindness meditation specifically to improve your relationships with various people in your life in order to reduce negative thinking about them.
This kind of meditation cultivates our awareness of others as human beings deserving of compassion and love—even when they are being difficult — which can decrease relationship conflicts and improve your own well-being.
The steps for a loving-kindness meditation are simple to follow and help you develop a positive mindset about all of your fellow beings.
8. Simplify Your Activities
Do you find yourself running around like a chicken, mindlessly checking items off your list so you feel productive and worthy?
We get trapped on the treadmill of tasks and obligations, leaving little time for those things that allow us to be present and fully engaged.
There’s no doubting the fact that it’s hard to break free from the busyness trap. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that “idleness is the root of all evil.”
We’re not suggesting that working hard, being productive, and having an active life are bad things. To the contrary, they can contribute to a fulfilling, happy life.
But there is a diminishing point of return that creates the opposite effect, making you feel depleted and overwhelmed.
Cutting back and expunging non-essential activities can feel uncomfortable and even threatening at first.
That's why the first step in cutting back is embracing it as a worthy endeavor — acknowledging that busyness is contributing to your mental clutter and accepting that less really can be more.
Here are some ways to declutter your schedule so you can enjoy more of what’s truly important:
- Prioritize your daily activities by focusing on your core values.
- Purge your commitments and obligations by letting go of things that aren't serving your values.
- Focus on just three main daily goals. Don't overwhelm yourself.
- Allow for time to relax and do nothing, even for a few minutes.
- Leave work at work and avoid using digital devices at home to focus on work.
- Take a digital sabbatical at least one day a week.
Are you ready to declutter your mind?
When you neglect to take stock of your mental clutter, your thoughts and emotions remain freewheeling and capricious.
As a result, your experience of life becomes unpredictable and entirely dependent on the random nature of thought.
The less time you spend “in your head” with intrusive, negative thoughts, the more time you have to enjoy the present moment—and every present moment for the rest of your life.
Decluttering your mind is a lifelong endeavor, but one that pays off with profound rewards that can significantly impact your quality of life.