How to De-Clutter Your Mind
As Sarah threw her handbag onto the passenger seat and buckled up, her mind was racing. She’d left work an hour late, but there were still a thousand things that needed doing. Despite her best efforts to keep on top of everything, she was in no doubt that her memory was getting worse, and more than that, her head felt foggy, as if a dark cloud was permanently encasing her brain, blocking the clarity that lay dormant underneath.
As she pulled out of the car park the piercing horn of silver Ford Focus rang out as its driver swerved to avoid a head on collision. The surge of adrenaline coursing through her body brought Sarah abruptly back into the present moment. Her heart was pounding in her chest and this was the first time all day that her mind appeared slightly clearer, a momentary respite from the cloudy mental haze that seemed almost ever present. With a stern look, the Focus driver pulled off with a screech. Almost immediately, Sarah slipped back into her haze. Keeping her attention in the moment was getting harder and harder.
There always seemed to be a million and one things to think about, between keeping on top of Tom’s difficult behaviour at the office, making sure she knew what was going on with the kids and their after-school activities, along with everything else that life threw at her. The constant mental churning was exhausting, and she found herself always thinking about the next six things that needed to be done.
Sarah’s performance at work hadn’t been great, little things seemed to derail her and knock her off track. She knew that she was snappy with the kids despite her effort to wear a smile. Life seemed like a fast-moving hamster wheel, there was never any time to reflect or even consider getting off, just a cycle of thinking and doing. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t function, it was more that she just didn’t feel great. There was always the lingering tiredness, a touch of anxiety here and there, and an almost constant feeling of overwhelm. For a while she thought she had it under control, but then she realised that the fatigue and overwhelm seemed to be there even on weekends, which brought its own set of worries. Was there something wrong with her, why was she finding it harder to cope with everyday life? She exercised pretty regularly, and her diet was on point, so surely she should feel fine?
For many of us, it can seem like there’s no escape from the constant mental churning that appears to be an ever-present companion in modern day life. The malaise that can accompany this can make life feel like walking through treacle. The painful irony of this predicament is that we believe that we have to think more to stay on top of everyday life and it is this constant rumination that is slowing us down, draining our energy, negatively affecting our performance, hindering our relationships, and leaving us feeling more miserable. So, what can we do?
Have you noticed that the more uncomfortable you feel inside the more your mind races? And, have you noticed that you think about the past, the future, and what needs to change ‘out there’ in life for you to feel better ‘in here’? The mind loops that we get stuck in are the brains attempt to solve our uncomfortable feelings. It seems perfectly reasonable because surely, we need to deal with life’s problems in order for us to feel better?
What if I told you that thinking about everything going on ‘out there’ in life in order to rationalise and solve your uncomfortable feelings ‘in here’ will actually make you feel worse? The very solution you are attempting to keep on top of life and try to feel better is exacerbating the problem. Simply put, the more you think, the more you’ll think. All this active thinking keeps your mind clogged which brings with it all the associated problems. Conventional ideas will have you change your thinking patterns from negative to positive. What those conventional ideas don’t tell you is that your negative thinking arises because of uncomfortable emotional feelings and excessive thinking. Wrestling your thinking and staying stuck in your head may give momentary relief, but in the longer term it’ll cause more harm than good.
The solution lies in thinking less and feeling more. In practice, this means spending a little more time in your body, in the present, acknowledging that you have feelings, recognising that these feelings are not a problem and don’t need to be solved. What I mean by that is your feelings may be prompting you to take some action in life, but the feelings themselves are never a problem and never need to be solved. We often get caught up in loops of trying to rationalise away our feelings, resist them, try to normalise them, judge them, or analyse ourselves based on them – “what does this mean about me?”. I’m inviting you to take a permanent holiday from all these exhausting mental activities. Your feelings don’t have to mean anything about you, they don’t have to be normalised, they don’t need to be judged, they are simply giving you a little nudge right now. In fact, you may have different feelings tomorrow or next week.
When your feelings are uncomfortable your thinking brain will want to run rampant in an attempt to solve them. Rather than getting caught up in thinking do 3 things; first, notice what you feel in your body; second, if there is some action you need to take right now then do so; third, if your feelings relate to something that needs to be done but can’t be done right now, note it down, either on your phone or on a piece of paper. Then remind yourself that your feelings are not a problem and settle back into the present moment. Let your feelings flow and watch as the hazy cloud of thinking begins to lift.
Kyle Davies BSc MPhil CPsychol AFBPsS is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, therapist and business coach. His book, ‘The Intelligent Body’ is available at all good retailers, including Amazon. Kyle works with individuals and organisations heling to optimise wellbeing and performance, overcome stress, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and pain conditions.
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