January is the biggest month of the year for decluttering. With a new year upon us, we are all eager to be done with the old to make room for the new. We declutter our closets, our pantries, our Tupperware cabinets and offices. But in all this decluttering activity, we rarely take notice of our cluttered minds.
How do our minds get cluttered? They certainly don’t start out that way. Think about it. When we’re kids, we live in the moment and we don’t think about the future very much. In fact, as children we play whole-heartedly. We create naturally. We trust completely.
Then something happens to our brains when we become adults. We gain responsibilities. We grow older. We lose our childhood faith that things will always work out. We replace playing with planning, creating with criticizing, trusting with worrying. We do this same cycle of plan, criticize, worry over and over again millions of times.
As a result, things build up in our minds, like plaque builds up on our teeth. Our minds become so full of stuff that there is hardly any room to create anymore. Like a computer that runs out of storage space from too much clutter, we need to clear the cache of our minds so they can function more efficiently again.
The Danger of Mind Clutter
The same way a hoarder packs everything into a room until she can’t move anymore, we can pack so many thoughts into our minds that we can actually feel unable to move forward. It’s called overwhelm.
I experienced it first hand a few months ago. One day I was sitting in my office staring at my computer screen, thinking about all of the things I had to get done in the coming month and the deadlines for each of them that were creeping up way too quickly and I literally became paralyzed with overwhelm.
My amygdala went into overdrive. The amygdala is the part of the brain related to detecting threats. When it has detected a threat it outputs a signal for your body to begin secretion of hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, in essence fear is induced.
My emotions began to spiral out of control. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t find a way out of my predicament of deadline driven paralysis. I was not being attacked by a bear. I was not about to make a public speech. I was simply sitting in my office, alone, when the overwhelm hit me.
Has this ever happened to you?
I decided to go for a walk around the block to clear my head and it worked. I was able to come back to my office and make a plan forward. Part of that plan involved decluttering my mind. Here is how I did it.
I grabbed my notebook and wrote down every single thing that was troubling me. Every thought that came to mind, I emptied it out on paper.
I decided to eliminate everything else from my to-do list and just focus on getting one thing done that day.
I remembered that I am not in control of my life and stopped what I was doing to pray. I realized God has a plan for my life, I just need to lean on Him and put forth my best effort. He will do the rest.
I took a few deep breaths and was able to re-focus.
The good news is that I was able to do this in only 20 minutes and you can too!
How to Declutter Your Mind in 20 Minutes
These activities are designed to be done in succession and can be completed in 20 minutes. If you do all of them, you will find your mind is free from clutter and you will successfully be able to avoid the devastating effects of overwhelm.
Take a Walk (10 Minutes)
Exercise for weight loss or body sculpting or health is awesome, but leisurely strolling around the block is mentally freeing. Artists and writers throughout time have often taken walks as part of their work in order to stimulate their creativity.
Not to mention, it relaxes you. According to a study in the American Journal of Cardiology, moving clears cortisol the “stress hormone” from your body and stops the never-ending stream of worries going through your mind.
It's the perfect first step to de-cluttering your mind.
Write it All Down (2 Minutes)
And I do mean physically write down the thoughts that are plaguing you, like with an actual pen and paper. The physical act of writing utilizes your right brain, which is the area of the brain responsible for creativity and calming us down. The very act of doing it focuses you into a moment of mindfulness.
Set a timer for 2 minutes and empty all of your thoughts out on paper until you can’t think of anything else. Brain dump every thought, every fear, every to-do, everything you’re afraid you’re going to forget, every single thing that comes to your mind, write it down.
If it is on paper, you still have it, your mind can rest knowing it no longer has to remember it or worry about it. From now on, the paper owns every thought until you decide to take action on them. Your thoughts are no longer spinning around in your brain trying to remind you to take notice.
Focus (5 minutes)
Part of the reason our minds become cluttered is that we have too much multi-tasking going on. Even when we think we’re focused on doing one thing, often our minds are busy processing lots of other things in the background.
Give your mind a break and allow it to focus on just one thing. A great way to practice this is to take some colored pencils and color a page from a coloring book. The activity of coloring in the picture allows you to focus on one thing and the completion of the coloring page allows your brain the satisfaction that comes from completing a task.
Pray (3 Minutes)
Once our minds have been decluttered of thoughts, it's time to renew them with good thoughts.
Anger, resentment and negative thoughts activate the limbic system of our brain that creates the fight-or-flight response. Conversely, prayer that focuses on positive ideas, gratitude or celebration deactivates the limbic system and helps you to experience more compassion toward yourself and others.
The science behind the benefits of prayer on the brain are fascinating. Dr. Newberg, Neuroscientist and founder of the field of Neurotheology (the study of the relationship between the brain and spiritual practices) has done brain scans which show that contemplative prayer increases activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, where positive emotions and compassion are generated.
With all the “love yourself more” focus on social media these days, the true secret to more love, according to science, is more prayer.
In conclusion, it is as important to declutter our minds as it is for us to declutter our living spaces. A cluttered mind leaves us vulnerable to the paralyzing effects of overwhelm. We can declutter our minds in 20 minutes by doing the following:
Decluttering your mind will help you avoid the overwhelm spiral that I fell into.
Next you should read WHY DOING NOTHING WILL BE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE THING YOU DO TODAY
Welcome to Honey & Figs! I'm Lisa. I love helping people with practical ways to live more abundant lives based on my own experience. You can click here to find out more about me.
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