Simple tips to declutter your mind

It was a sunny, warm evening . People were out strolling with their dogs or going for a run. I longed to be outside, enjoying the beautiful weather. But I was stuck inside, trying to meet a deadline. I was feverishly working on my program which was due in another half hour. Just then,my kids came back from school,rushing through the door, bursting with excitement. My son wanted to talk about how fun gym was today. My daughter wanted to talk about the new thing they did in math that was so awesome.

I wasn’t done with my work yet. So, I keep looking at the monitor, trying to run my program and listen to my kids and make sense of both at the same time.

At the back of my mind a constant list of things that needs to be done was doing a slow scroll. Plan dinner, help kids with homework, drive kids to their classes, talk to the teacher about rescheduling her missed class.

And worrying about things that were already done. Was the program I sent out yesterday alright?, Did the package I send out reach safely? I should have packed it up more carefully, what if it broke?

Mom, MOM, are you listening? my daughter pouted, clearly put off by my lack of attention, as I tried to look at my monitor and her at the same time.

“OK give me a minute. I will listen to you.” I said, looking back at my monitor.

“But you are always working.” my son said, as he stuck out his pudgy little hand and hit random keys on my keyboard, all in a blink of an eye.

My program crashed.

“WILL YOU STOP THAT?” I screamed, loud enough for birds to flutter out of nearby trees.

“Why are you screaming?”, my daughter asked with tears in her eyes.

Is this a situation something you can relate to? You have so much going on in your mind all at the same time, that you wish there was an off switch, so that, there could be peace and quiet, for just a minute? Your mind is so loud that you have to yell, just so you can hear yourself over all that noise?

There are a few things wrong with the above scenario.

  • I was trying to multi-task.
  • I was anxious about the work that needed to be completed.
  • I was frustrated that I couldn’t get it done fast enough.
  • I was worried about things I no longer had control over.
  • I wanted to do everything.

What could I have done better? How could I have calmed down the constant chatter in my head?

Write things down.

This is the most important step. It’s like downloading your thoughts onto another medium, so that you can clear up space in your mind.

This goes for everything that needs to be accomplished as well as the mindless chatter that our mind likes to do. Like being anxious about the future, being frustrated about our past.

When everything that needs to be done is on paper, it makes things easier to decipher. Suddenly it’s not a whole jumble of things that needs to be accomplished, but a clear set of instructions that needs to be worked on one at a time. A lot more easier to handle.

In the above scenario, I could have written down,

  • Finish program
  • Help kids with homework.
  • Drive kids to class – ask teacher about missed class.
  • Plan dinner.

There were just four things that needed to be done. Everything else was just clutter. Putting down things makes everything more actionable. Now I can clearly see what needs to be done and what can be skipped or delegated.

I am talking about a specific case where I was overwhelmed with things that needed to be done. But the same goes for when our mind does that loop thing, where the negative thoughts go in loops, holding hands with more negative thoughts, until there is not one bright thought left in our head. Stop a moment and write down every single thing that is going on in your mind. It works like a charm every time.

Prioritize

This is where writing helps. A visual, helps you put your mind in order. Group the things that have to be done, no matter what. And then put them in the order that needs to be done. Add things to the list as they come up.

In the above scenario, I knew I had to get my program completed in the next half hour. I was trying to reach a deadline.

So, I could have explained that to my kids. Asked them to wait till I was done with my program and added ‘listen to kids’ to my list. So my list is now ,

  • Finish program.
  • Listen to kids.
  • Help kids with homework.
  • Drive kids to class – ask teacher about missed class.
  • Plan dinner.

Then, I could have got back to work. Completed it. Then, sat down with my kids with a hot cup of tea and given them my undivided attention.

Or, I could have asked my boss for an extension in timeline, and attended to my kids first and then got back to my job.

Either way, would have been more productive than what I tried to do.

Keep your promises

The solution above is simple, too simple. I have learned from experience, that when emotions are involved, situations are not straightforward anymore.

Prioritizing job or kids is a decision. But there are real people at the other end of my decision.

Whomever you decide to prioritize, finish the work and get back to the next person without fail.

My son’s outburst in the above scenario was the result of many broken promises. I would have promised to get back to them, and then mindlessly gone on to do my many other tasks that kept scrolling down my mind.

In a way I had lost their trust. This could happen with family or work.

Adding your promises to the list, forces you to take responsibility. When your kids see that you have put down “listening to kids” on paper, it becomes a written promise that can’t be broken.

If you promise to call someone back, call them. If you promise to finish the work in the next one hour, finish it. If you promise to get back to your kids after the work is done, get back to them and give them your undivided attention.

Trust is a form of habit too. If you do something consistently, then it becomes part of your identity.

If your kids trust you to get back to them, they will be inclined to be a lot more patient.

If the people in your work trust you to get the work done, they will be a lot more inclined to extend your timeline.

Just like habits, trust takes a lot of time and consistency to build up.

Get help

List the things that needs to be done, but can be delegated.

Getting help is something I need to work on, myself. I prefer to do things all by myself. That way I am less vulnerable.

  • What if I ask for help and the answer is no?
  • What if I catch them at a bad time and put them on a spot where they can’t say no to me?
  • What if I am not able to repeat the favor the next time they ask me?

This is one of the ways my monkey mind tries to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Well, if I hear a no, I’ll just have to ask someone else.

People are assertive enough to say no. So no, they wouldn’t be put on the spot. If they are, then it is a problem they need to work on. Everything is not your problem.

If I cannot return their favor next time, I will make time, the time after that. I will figure it out when the time comes. I don’t need a detailed plan including every minute for the next ten years.

In the above scenario, I could have asked one of my friends to drop the kids off to their classes, or maybe ordered a take out instead of cooking. I know I have been talking about making cooking a habit. Cook everyday at home for a healthier life and so on.

But habits are in place, so that you can get back to them when your life is back in order. It is a safe haven you can come back to. It is not to push you into a corner. Habits that cannot be broken, becomes a handicap, no matter good or bad.

Accept you can’t control everything and let go

You have 24 hours in a day and you try and make the most of it. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING, EVERYDAY. Some days are harder than others.

Learning to let go is a skill in itself.

Asking myself “so what” has been very helpful in most cases. It helps us let go of things we don’t have a control on.

“Was the program I sent out yesterday alright?”

So what if it isn’t? What is the worst that can happen? My boss will get back to me. I will fix it. It might lead to losing a little bit of trust, but I am usually good at my work. So what if I make a mistake once in a while? It’s fixable.

So what if the package was broken?

Can’t be helped. I just have to send another one. Nothing much can be done in this situation.

Life happens, life is unpredictable, you plan as you go and you embrace all of it.

When your mind is less cluttered, it becomes a much calmer space, a sanctuary where you can retire to be yourself, rather than a monster that needs to be put in place just so you can function that day.

Have you ever yelled because your mind chatter was too loud? What are the tricks you use to calm them down? Comment and let me know. I love to hear from you.

2 Comments

    1. Hello. Thank you for taking the time to read the article. I am sorry you are going through depression. I don’t have any informed or experienced advice to give you. Have you consulted your doctor about tapering off your medications? Have you looked at this article? Looks like there is a real movement going on.

      https://www.newscientist.com/article/2140106-people-are-hacking-antidepressant-doses-to-avoid-withdrawal/

      Good luck with your journey.

      Like

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