Back when the pandemic really hit and the kids were stuck in their rooms every day doing schoolwork, my daughter’s mental health took a hit. Her room got very little natural light, so we switched my brighter office with her bedroom and it helped a lot. Now that she is gone to college, though, it’s time for me to switch back. The back and forth has involved a fair bit of physical decluttering, and I feel so much lighter with less “stuff” to manage. The same principle works in your brain, too. When you clean up your mental clutter, your mind has more space to work and play in.
Some signs that your mental clutter is bogging you down are feelings of overwhelm or being over-stimulated, confused, and even disoriented when it comes to everyday life and decisions. Our modern world moves quickly, and with quick access to the internet and social media, it’s easy to become over-stimulated. Just as we need to take care of our bodies and the space we physically live, we need to take care of our minds too.
If your mind is racing faster than you can keep up with, it’s time to declutter your mind of the things distracting you. There are ways you can train your brain to slow down and focus, but you need a calm environment to work in; it’s time to clean up the mental clutter.
There are five kinds of mental clutter that can end up causing you to lose focus and keep you from success. As you read this post, try to determine which types of clutter consume your mind so you can take the next steps to release it.
1. Negative Self-Talk
We all have an internal monologue with a voice that chats to us all day. It helps you make decisions, speaks to you about what you see in the mirror, and is right there when you’re trying to fall asleep. The voice can be positive or negative, and definitely influences your self-esteem. The important thing to remember about this voice, though, is that it isn’t always right.
Your internal voice has been shaped by your childhood, religion, where you grew up, your socio-economic status, race, experiences, friends, and so on. Your internal voice is not who you are.
Since your thoughts affect your actions, decisions, and motivation, it’s important to challenge the internal chatter; especially if it’s negative. That negative voice can sabotage your efforts to reach your goals, by telling you that the goal is impossible or that you don’t deserve it. This mental clutter needs to go! Because when you believe the negativity, you’ll end up actualizing a situation where you end up failing. On the other hand, if you can cultivate positive self-talk, the results are much more likely to be good ones.
Negative self-talk ends up creating a negative mental environment that impacts every aspect of your life. Some common signs of this kind of negative mental environment include feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and even feelings of ugliness in your emotions.
If this hits too close to home for you, here are some great resources for you to switch the negative voice into a more supportive one:
The next type of mental clutter is worry. For some people, worrying can be chronic; and while it's fine to worry about things when warranted, too much “what if” thinking can take over your life. Many chronic worriers struggle to be out of control. It can be unbearable to live an unpredictable life where they aren’t in control of the outcome.
We know that logically, despite how much we want to be in control, the future is uncertain. For some people, practicing gratitude can help shift their mind’s focus to the more positive aspects of life and help to decrease this time of mental clutter. For others, anxiety may play a role, and counseling or other professional help may make better sense. If constant worry is holding you back from taking action toward your goals, the time to address it is sooner, rather than later.
Fear can be paralyzing, and clutters up your mind with dread. It will stop you in your tracks and prevent you from the things you want to accomplish. This sneaky type of clutter looks like the fear of the unknown, failure, success, and embarrassment, for example. Once you recognize this, however, you can start to take action and step into confidence, instead.
4. Guilt & Shame.
The next type of mental clutter is guilt or shame, which typically manifests in your mind when you're not happy with the decisions you've made or the results of those decisions. It’s even worse when the choices you've made in the past end up hurting people you care about or who trusted you.
Guilt and shame take up a lot of mental space when you cling to the feelings. It affects your self-worth and opens your mind to increasing negative self-talk, resentment, and anger. To move on from these experiences and feelings, it’s essential to see them as learning experiences and a lesson on how to do better. Once you can recognize these kinds of emotions in yourself, you can start to work on forgiving yourself and forming a more positive relationship with your mind.
Finally, we come to regret. It's essential to realize that every single self-defined happy person in this world has done something they regret. Making a bad decision is just one of the realities of being human. What matters most here is not the decision itself, but rather how you deal with the decision when the outcome isn't what you expected.
It's easier to focus on the result of a situation and less on what was learned from an experience. This keeps you caught up in the past rather than being optimistic about your future and how you can get there. Another part of being human is our ability to be objective; can you look at that regret and instead see what went wrong and how you can improve?
There's a common thread that runs through these five types of mental clutter that can be best described as an inability to let go. If you identify with any of these kinds of mental clutter, then the chances are high that you’re being too hard on yourself, which can block your ability to gain mental clarity. The ability to release yourself from the burden of knowing you could have done something differently is essential to moving forward.
Your mental clutter isn’t all because of your thoughts; what you put into your brain can also make things worse. By knowing what triggers clutter to accumulate in your brain, you can set limits for your mental health.
Most traditional news sources focus on violence, controversy, or negativity. It's what sells. But for many people, the daily news can be a huge trigger that fuels unnecessary worry, guilt, and stress. For example, a friend of mine was an early bird. She liked to get up early and read the news because she felt it was important to stay informed. So every morning before she even started her day, she would focus on the news. It caused her to become focused on all that wasn’t right in the world, which filled her with anxious thoughts.
She wanted to be more productive, so took my advice and changed her habit. Rather than reading the news first thing, she waited until mid-day and only read about certain issues for a limited amount of time. She not only became more productive, but she also felt less anxious.
The past becomes a source of mental clutter when you focus on it and let it define your future. We've all made mistakes, taken others for granted and done things we're not proud of. When you focus on these negative aspects of your past rather than the positive aspects, you're more likely to be overly hard on yourself.
Last week I was in a workshop, and many of the women shared that they felt that their past was holding them back. Subconsciously, they felt that because they weren’t successful before at something, they couldn't be successful in the future. These thoughts were stopping them from taking meaningful action toward their goals.
Try to see the past as a reference point, rather than a defining moment affecting who you are today. Take the lessons and move on. It will lead to a less cluttered mind when you're making important decisions for the future.
The last trigger that can increase your mental clutter is your current habits. It's entirely natural to get stuck in your current ways, even if your circumstances aren’t making you particularly happy. This can show up as an attitude of “I can’t change anything because that’s just the way they are,” or “that’s just who I am”.
If you feel stuck in this place, the first place to start is in your thoughts. More often than not, things aren’t just the way they are; you just need a fresh perspective. Here is a great post to help you challenge your habitual beliefs and thoughts that are keeping you safe and stuck: Challenge Your Thinking to Create Change.
Mental clutter can keep you stuck and stop you from enjoying the life you want. But with a little housekeeping up top, you'll soon feel open, clear, and ready to experience your Extraordinary Life.
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