Our lives are full of clutter – piles on the kitchen bench, stacks hidden in the wardrobe – any spare space can become a dumping spot. This stuff we live with round the house is physical clutter.
Did you know that clutter clogs up our heads too? I’m talking about mental clutter, and it usually takes up more energy than the physical stuff.
Why? Because it’s always with us – we can’t get away from it. Mental clutter may sound like this:
- No matter what I do or how hard I try, it’s never good enough.
- The decisions I make usually turn out wrong.
- If people knew the real me they wouldn’t like me.
- Others are to blame (my boss, co-workers, my spouse, etc.) for my problems.
- I shouldn’t try anything new or risky because I’ll probably screw it up.
- It’s not safe to ask others to help me because I can’t trust them to do the job right.
- My opinion doesn’t really matter.
- What I do isn’t really important.
Sound familiar? Well it’s time to “clean house”, just as we do with physical clutter.
Mind clutter is sneaky though. It accumulates so quietly we may not notice it, even when it gets out of control. That’s when stress and worry take up permanent residence. Mind clutter puts the brakes on productivity and drains us of energy. Research is even starting to reveal that it kills brain cells and that a chronic worrier’s brain can start to look similar to that of an alcoholic’s!
Clear out the clutter
Just deciding to stop worrying won’t remove the clutter entirely. You’ve got to replace it with something. Here are some simple options:
1) Gratitude – “When you are grateful worry disappears.” Anthony Robbins
Have you ever reflected on the things in your life you are grateful for while holding onto worrying thoughts at the same time? You can’t do it! Gratitude impacts our lives in a whole host of positive ways, and pushing out negative thoughts is one of them. Practice gratitude on a daily basis.
2) The worst-case scenario – “Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” Swedish proverb.
When we look at the worst-case scenario and all the possible things that could happen we are then giving ourselves choices. That’s because we hone in on what is causing us concern, rather than the stories we make up or the shadows we create. When we step outside the foggy mental clutter then we make it possible to identify solutions.
When I lived in Germany, I would often take a two-hour crowded train journey from the airport to my village with carriages and aisles stuffed with people and suitcases. Very few people got off at my stop and I would worry and stress for the entire two hours about whether I would be able to make my way through the aisle and get off the train before the doors closed. On one trip I said to myself “what’s the worst thing that can happen?” Ok, so I would miss my stop. Solution? I could just get off at the next stop and catch a train back! All of a sudden my train journeys became almost completely stress free and I actually never did miss my stop J.
3) Accept you’ve done enough – “One of the happiest moments ever is when you find the courage to let go of what you can’t change.” Unknown
When you’ve done everything you can to deal with a situation, let it go. Other than worry and stress about it, you can do no more.
I recall an eight hour trip to Wellington to attend a surprise birthday. When I got there I realised I hadn’t brought the address with me, only knew a few of the people attending and only had contact details for the person who’s birthday it was … and I couldn’t get in touch with her without spoiling the surprise. All of a sudden the whole reason for being in Wellington disappeared. So instead of mulling it round and thinking of all I should have done and beating myself over the head, I made the decision to let it go and look at other options. I had a great time and the icing on the cake was that on the night of the birthday party one of the other guests called me, asked me where I was and promptly sent someone to pick me up and bring me there. All in all an even better weekend than I had planned, and without the stress.
Worry can give a small thing a big shadow. It clutters up our mind and prevents us from thinking clearly. It’s a really big energy drain, however, you always have choice and you can begin by training your mind to think differently.
Let me know how you get on with these three simple strategies and please feel free to comment on any other great ideas you have. We all need help with “cleaning house” at times!