My recent article on de-cluttering made many of the people who know me smile. I could certainly not be called minimalist; I have an abundance of books, old emails, memorabilia from both my, and my offspring’s past, clothes, shoes, material, art and craft ‘stuff’ that will someday be useful….. you get the picture.
Researching and writing the article proved to be cathartic on a personal level. As I wrote I looked around my environment and thought, ‘I seriously need to practice what I am preaching here!’ So, I started, I looked at the desk at which I was sitting and reread what I had just written ‘physical clutter overloads your senses, you feel stressed and your ability to think creatively is impaired’.
I realised that this was what was happening to me in that very moment, I felt overwhelmed by the piles of reference books piled high on my desk, swamped by the piles of papers surrounding me, paralyzed by the stream of emails in my inbox that constantly demanded my attention. I started to ask myself the questions I was asking my readers, I became conscious of the voice inside me that craved orderliness, an empty desk and in-tray, space to think, to write, to be.
This time as I sat down to write at my newly defragmented, organised, responsive laptop (thank you Ben) at my ultra tidy desk, surrounded by beautifully tidy bookshelves, it was a completely different story. It felt less crowded, more expansive, calmer somehow, this seemed to make it easier to think. If this simple act of organising my immediate environment had such a profound effect upon my state of being how would it be if I were to take these same principles and apply them to my mind? Maybe the tidiness of our environment really does have an effect on our ability to meditate every day!
One definition of clutter is ‘a confused or disordered state’, so if we are talking about mind clutter we must be describing thoughts that are confused or disordered.
We think a lot. There is an abundance of controversy as to exactly how many thoughts the average human has per day, however the consensus seems to be somewhere between 50,000 to 80,000, that is a whopping 2,100 to 3,300 per hour.
Many of our thoughts originate in our subconscious mind, the super computer of the mind, which takes care of all of our regular patterns of thinking, producing habitual thoughts that occur without our conscious awareness. The conscious mind receives data from the subconscious mind, which is processing millions of bits of information per day, received through all our senses. You are not aware of the majority of these thoughts because the conscious mind, that is able to evaluate them, has no access to them until the subconscious mind pushes the results of the thoughts into our conscious awareness. The ideas we hold about ourselves can emerge as mental clutter, thoughts about ourselves re-emerging into the conscious mind charged with attitude that the subconscious has attached to it.
The thoughts we think are often linked to emotion, the subconscious cannot distinguish between past present and future, so when we feel the thought it feels as if it is happening right now. This mental clutter can relate to many different scenarios and situations we have been in, might be in or are worried about being in. They cycle over and over in our minds, making us feel frazzled and pulled in many different directions.
So, what can we do, right now, to release the clutter, to create mental space and ease? Here are 5 top tips:
1. Become aware of your thoughts.
Listen to your inner voice, take notice of what it is saying and become consciously aware of what you are telling yourself. Most of what you are hearing is not true, it is unhelpful, is a replay of an event from years ago or it is a worry about something that has not yet happened. Listen to the thought and consciously decide whether it serves you or not. If it does not repeat a simple affirmation to yourself, such as: ‘I love and accept myself’ over and over again, until the thought has passed. It is impossible to think more than one thought at a time, by repeating a positive affirmation you replace the negative thought with one that is life affirming.
2. Meditate or Breathe.
Taking just 10 minutes a day to focus your attention inwardly can be enough to clear your mind of excess clutter. Set a timer for 10 minutes, sit or lay in a comfortable position, close your eyes and visualise all the muscles in your body, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, softening and letting go. Repeat to yourself the mantra ‘I love and accept myself’. If your mind wanders just notice the thoughts and let them drift off, stay detached from them and their emotion. Continue to bring your awareness back to your breathing and your mantra.
If you don’t like the thought of meditating just take 10 minutes of time out to concentrate on breathing. Breathe deeply and notice the sensations of the air entering and leaving your body. If your mind wanders just bring your focus back to the breath.
Both of these techniques slow the stream of thoughts being processed by your conscious mind. As you slow down the input you have to focus upon, you will be able to concentrate more fully on what you are doing without distraction.
3. Write your thoughts down.
Write everything down, all the things that are in your head. If you enjoy writing you might take this a step further and try journaling. Stream-of-consciousness journaling is a great way to get your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper, especially if you’re getting distracted by thoughts about a particular person, situation or event. Take a blank sheet of paper, or open up a blank screen and simply allow the words to flow, without censorship.
If journaling doesn’t sound like fun try carrying out a ‘core dump’. A ‘core dump’ is a term devised by David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, which is one of the most popular productivity systems in the world.
When you carry out a core dump, you write down everything you can think of that requires you to do or remember something, and then organise these items into individual tasks and projects. The more information you store in your head, the more cluttered your thoughts will feel. Transferring these to-do items from your head onto paper or screen frees up valuable space in your mind so you can focus on other things.
At least once a day take 15 minutes to stretch. Do whatever feels comfortable to you, yoga is my favourite. If you don’t have access to a class try ‘Yoga With Adriene’ on Youtube, she provides tutorials for all levels of ability and has a beautiful heart centred approach to connecting with the body, mind and spirit.
5. Do less and slow down.
You don’t have to do half as much as you think you do. This is a personal favourite and one that I have to constantly remind myself of. It is impossible to maintain a clear, uncluttered mind when you are constantly chasing your tail. Forcing yourself to keep going when you are exhausted and overwhelmed is a recipe for disaster, your physical body will rebel, making you ill, forcibly shutting you down if you continue to push yourself. Listen to the whisper, don’t wait for the full blown bellow, respect yourself, be kind to your magnificent body, rest, say ‘No’, delegate, be selfish (just a little bit), take time out for you.
In your moments of peace ask yourself ‘What really matters to me? Where do I really want to place my attention?’ Then ask yourself ‘Am I focusing my time on these things?’ Listen for the answer, be still enough, for 10 minutes a day, to be present and hear the answer. Only then can you decide whether you want to take action to make changes in your way of being. Only through stillness will you find the peace lying beneath the clutter.
So right now I am tackling my emotional clutter, I am practicing what I preach, let me know how it goes for you.