Do you ever plop into your bed, exhausted after another day of running around, only to find that you can’t fall asleep? It’s finally time to get some z’s, but you just can’t shut your mind off.
Life is busy and we have a gazillion responsibilities to juggle. Careers, friends, spouses, kids, chores, bills. Our minds are constantly going, even when we don’t want them to.
There is so much going on our in world that pulls our attention in a hundred different directions. Our smart phones are at our fingertips and the amount of information we consume at any given moment is overwhelming.
On top of that, we endlessly worry. We worry about the mysterious rash our toddler developed today and how we’ll find the time to get him to the doctor. We worry about how we’ll find the money to fix the hot water heater that unexpectedly broke. We worry about the well being of our friends and family.
It’s a wonder we ever get any sleep at all, let alone a full 8 hours.
Our minds are cluttered with so much STUFF. When this happens, it’s time to do a little spring cleaning in our heads.
You know those times when you actually get around to cleaning out that jam-packed closet of yours? It feels good, right? When you open the doors to a clean and organized closet, it’s easier to pick out your clothes for the day. It saves you time and frustration. You feel calmer.
The same applies to our minds. It’s inevitable that we’ll get to a point where we’re just storing too many things in our minds. It causes us to feel stressed out and unfocused.
When you find yourself feeling this way, take some time to declutter your mind. Doing this will help you to feel peaceful, allow you to be more productive, and in return, feel happier. You’ll be able to focus on the things in your life that really matter.
Ok, this all sounds nice, right? But how do you actually declutter your mind? Let’s dig in.
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How to Declutter Your Mind
Decluttering your mind can feel like a daunting task. Our minds are complex and it can seem like a lot to unpack.
However, taking small actions can lead to big results. Here are 13 simple ways to clear your mind. The more of these actions you take, the clearer your mind will become.
1. Get your priorities straight.
What are your priorities? If you’re about to say everything, it’s time to re-evaluate!
To do this, write down all of the different areas of your life that are truly important to you. The things that contribute to your overall happiness. These areas could be things like work, family, friends, volunteering, “me” time. Then identify the areas that need improvement. These become your priorities.
Then order them from most important to least important. Underneath each priority, write down the activities that are associated with it.
For instance, my top priority right now is focusing on my relationship with my husband. A couple of the activities associated with this include a regularly scheduled date night and taking time at the end of each day to stop and actually have a thoughtful conversation with him.
Once you’re crystal clear on what’s most important to you and how you’re planning on focusing on these things, it’s much easier for you to say no to things that will take up your attention and energy and provide little to no return.
What if you have too many priorities?
There’s a watch-out with this – don’t make too many priorities. It can be hard to narrow your focus down to 1-3 things and you may find yourself with a pretty long list.
So what should you do if this happens?
There are only so many hours in a day so be realistic about how much time you truly have after things like work, any critical standing appointments, and of course sleep!
Then look at the priorities you’ve written down and figure out which ones will provide you with the most benefit if you focus your time on them.
2. Get everything out on paper.
Take 10 minutes and dump everything that’s on your mind onto a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be in any type of order.
Just write it all down – no matter how small. It can be anything from important appointments coming up, to a situation that you’re stressing over, to needing to wash your hair.
Putting everything that’s on your mind down on paper relieves you of having to remember all of it. And once it’s on paper, you can make sense of everything and figure out what you can do about all of it.
Another great tip that someone gave me years ago is to keep a pad and pen on your nightstand. That way on those nights when your head is inundated with things you suddenly remember you need to do, you can jot them down quickly. That helps to quiet your mind down so you can more easily get to sleep.
3. Create a to-do list.
If you’re not a list person, like me, you may struggle to keep a to-do list. But I must admit, it’s a habit worth creating.
If I don’t write things down, I forget to do them and feel all over the place. Without a list of what needs to get done, I float through my days without much direction. While that may sound like a care-free approach to life, it’s not. It adds stress, chaos, and guilt for not being as productive as I could be.
Keeping a to-do list helps you prioritize what you need to get done and keeps you focused throughout the day. It reduces your mental load because you don’t have to remember as much.
You’ll also feel more productive as you cross things off of your list. All of this relieves you of a lot of the mental stress you’ve been carrying around.
Your to-do list doesn’t have to be anything complicated. You want your list to help you and not add more work to your plate.
And if you’re not a “list” person, simple is definitely best. I just write down everything I need to do on a small sheet of paper and cross things off as I complete them. If something is really high priority and must get done that day, I’ll put a star next to it.
Anything that doesn’t get done, just gets put on my list the next day.
4. Let your worries go.
Easier said than done, right?!
If you enjoy reading (or listening to e-books), then you must add How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie to your list. One of my favorite reads of all time, this book will teach you how to overcome worry. It’s insanely effective.
Some of the key points this book will teach you how to do are:
- Live in today, not the past or the future.
- Move on from mistakes.
- Effectively approach problems and take action to solve them.
- Quit sweating the small stuff.
Here are some strategies that you can implement right now to reduce the worry and clutter in your mind:
- Write down everything that you’re worried about and ask yourself if there is anything you can do about them. Recognize what you can and can’t change. If a situation is what it is, and there is nothing you can do to change it, learn to accept it by changing your mindset. If there is something you can do about it, then make a plan to act.
- When faced with a problem, ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen if you can’t solve it and mentally prepare yourself to accept it. Once you’ve accepted it, start working on improving the worst.
- Write down the problem, what caused it, and all of the possible solutions to that problem. Then pick the best one and act on it.
- Keep busy. Just make sure that you’re busy with meaningful and/or productive tasks. Grab that to-do list!
- Do your best every day. And remember that your best will look different every time depending upon a number of different factors. If you do your best, then you know you’ve done all you can and you can let your worry go.
5. Set specific time aside to consume content.
Your attention is one of your most valuable assets and it’s scarce. On top of that, there is a ton of content fighting for your attention. Facebook, Instagram, text messages, missed calls, Netflix, and email, just to name a few.
And it feels like everything needs to be tended to right away. You HAVE to read that breaking news article, respond to a text from your friend, or like that new picture posted on Facebook RIGHT NOW.
And these little actions add up to a lot of time over the course of a day or a week. That means less time that you have to focus on your priorities which means more stress and clutter added to your mind.
Set a specific amount of time at the same time each day to respond to text messages, catch up on social media, and answer your personal emails. This will reduce the sense of urgency you feel to respond to distractions immediately and allow you to focus on what you actually want and need to get done.
Be careful about how much content you’re consuming and be aware of you what you’re consuming. A lot of it tends to be noise – not things we actually need to know about.
6. Make decisions.
Sometimes the mental clutter we feel is from going back and forth on a decision. We’re so afraid of making the wrong decision, that it prevents us from making any decision at all. We end up using a lot of our mental power to analyze our choices.
To further add to this clutter, we are presented with new decisions that need to be made every day. The more we hold off on making them, the more they accumulate and take up space in our minds.
If the decision is a simple one, then decide and move on.
For more complex decisions, you can make a pros and cons list and go from there.
For even tougher decisions, think about the decision that you really need to make. For instance, if you and your partner are fighting a lot, instead of thinking “Should I leave him/her?”, should you think “How can I work with my partner to reduce the amount of fighting in our relationship and make it better?”. That will relieve some of the weight.
Then get yourself to relax and objectively collect all of the facts. Make your decision and act on it. Know that there is always a chance you make the “wrong” decision, but that you can put a plan in place in case that happens.
7. Take a break.
There are times when there is so much going on in our heads that we can’t even think straight. That means it’s time for a break. Walk away from it all for a bit.
It’s ok to shut your phone off and go for a walk by yourself. Do whatever it is that helps you to relax. Grab a light enjoyable book to read, meditate, or sit outside.
Distance yourself from the noise until you’ve calmed down. Then apply one of the other tactics listed in this article.
8. Have some screen-free time.
Does your phone go everywhere with you? We’re so used to being constantly connected, that if we don’t have our phones in our hands, we feel anxious. But at the same time constantly being connected causes anxiety.
Make yourself put your phone in another room for a bit of time every day. Focus on the people in your life that are there with you at that moment, or on an activity that you really enjoy.
Live in the moment and appreciate the physical environment that surrounds you.
I try to leave my phone alone in the evenings between dinner time and the kids’ bedtime so that I solely focus on my family. Otherwise, I’m getting stressed out that I can’t focus on my phone because my kids are fighting for my attention!
Give your mind some quiet time.
9. Stop multitasking.
Being able to multitask is like a badge of honor in our society. But why? It’s impossible to give 100% to a task if you’re doing 5 things at once. That means mistakes are going to happen.
It also means you’re being pulled in all these different directions at once and it’s absolutely mentally draining!
I know you have a ton of stuff to get done, and sometimes it seems like multitasking is the only way to accomplish everything you have on your plate.
So I urge to you make your priorities and then focus on the things associated with those priorities. Follow them through to completion and then move on to the next thing. Your day will be so much calmer, you’ll feel better, and you’ll get more done.
10. Declutter your surroundings.
It’s truly amazing how much our physical environment impacts our mental well being.
When my house is a mess and things are all over the place, I feel tense. When my countertops are clear, my bedroom is free of clutter, and there are no dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, I feel less overwhelmed. This enables me to think more clearly.
Take the time to declutter your space and it will help you declutter your mind.
11. Slow Down.
Are you moving too fast? Is your mind racing?
Stop for a moment and breathe.
This happens to my husband sometimes. He has so many things going through his mind that his thoughts begin to race. In response, he moves way too quickly. In fact, one night his mind was racing so much which made him incredibly tense and he actually knocked our shower door off its track when he was getting out!
I had him sit down, take some deep breaths, and just relax – focus on one thing at a time.
12. Create routines.
While we certainly don’t want to live our lives on autopilot, there are definitely mundane, everyday tasks that we can work into a routine. By doing so, we get into the habit of automatically doing these things without thinking about it. That frees up space in our minds.
Think about the most chaotic parts of your days. Is it in the morning? I think it probably is for most of us. What parts of your morning can you move into your daily routines?
Up until this week, I was making my kids’ lunches in the morning before bringing them to daycare. Every morning, I would dread getting out of bed knowing that I had to do this (I really hate making lunches!).
This past weekend I decided to work this chore into my nightly routine. My nightly routine looks like this now – clean up dinner, load the dishwasher, wipe down counters, and pack lunches. I still don’t enjoy making lunches, but since I’m already on autopilot with my nightly routine, adding this extra step is a lot less stressful than having to do it in the mornings.
It’s one less thing I have to think about.
13. Journal regularly.
Have you ever stayed up at night replaying something painful or embarrassing that happened that day, or even 15 years ago? It’s like the memory just pops into your head and brings back all of those awful feelings. You just can’t stop thinking about it now!
Journaling helps with that. Taking time to write down what’s going on in your life at the moment is therapeutic. It helps you understand your thoughts and feelings and reduces the anxiety and stress that you feel.
It clears out mental clutter because you’re getting it out of your head and onto paper, and it also helps you gain insight about unpleasant experiences. This, in part, prevents that unpleasant experience from continually plaguing your mind.
We live in a fast-paced world and our minds are constantly collecting new information. We’re always on the go, thinking about the next thing that has to get done.
The next time it all becomes too much, try a few of the strategies in this article. I think you’ll find some peace of mind.
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