When we talk of de-cluttering, we usually mean getting rid of items we no longer need, or arranging items in order to give a neat and well-organised appearance. However, de-cluttering your mind is equally important and has many benefits.
"Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions" - Barbara Hemphill
When staring into a pool of water, you can only see the bottom of the pool if:
The Water is Clear: There are no sediments or impurities that are blocking your vision
The Water is Undisturbed: Even if the water is clear, ripples or any kind of movement of the water can also block your vision
Just as clear and undisturbed water makes it easier to see the bottom of a pool, a clear and undisturbed mind allows you to have a vision for the future. Therefore, getting rid of thoughts that don't serve you well enhances your ability to live a life that is accepting or positive about the present and optimistic about the future.
Now that you know that you must let go of thoughts that get in the way of your own progress, here are 3 tips for de-cluttering your mind:
1. Let Go of Regrets
"Rav had published his first book by the time he turned 30" - this sentence uses the past perfect tense. The past perfect tense is used to describe something that happened before something else. In this example, it is clear from the words 'had published ' that Rav published his first book before turning 30.
The reason for this mini grammar lesson is to illustrate the fact that such a thing as past perfect exists only in grammar. When it comes to life, the past is never perfect.
There is always something that you may wish had turned out differently, something you wish you had done, or something you wish you hadn't done. However, dwelling on such thoughts will only serve in ruining the present. And if you can't enjoy the present, your future will turn out the same way.
While it is important to learn lessons from the past (after all that's what life is about), it is also important not to dwell on the past. Learning lessons from the past and applying those lessons to the present will secure a much better future.
2. Let Go of Excessive Thoughts
"Think before you leap" is a well-known proverb. While it is recommended to think about the implications of an action you are considering, it is not recommended to go over the same thoughts again and again as this will just result in inaction. Decisiveness comes from clarity of vision. Overthinking clouds this vision.
Overthinking the Future
If you are thinking of doing something new but find yourself making excuses for not doing it or for "doing it later", you need to let go of thoughts that are blocking decisive action, even if it means deciding not to do it. Deciding not to do something is better than being in constant debate with yourself on whether to do it or not. If you find yourself overthinking a decision, try and distill your thoughts down to two questions:
Why do I want to do this?
Whatever you do, it should be for reasons that make sense to you and it should not be harmful to others. As long as you can tick both these boxes without any doubt, you are good to go.
What is the cost of not doing this?
Asking yourself what you have to lose is also a useful exercise that helps you prioritise in the event that you find yourself wanting to do many different things. Those that have a higher cost get a higher priority and you can stop thinking about the rest.
Overthinking the Past
If you find yourself overthinking things that happened in the past, then you should try and distill your thoughts down to this question:
Was I in control of the situation?
If you were in control of the situation and you did not like how it turned out, then you need to ask yourself "What could I have done differently?". This is the lesson that you must apply in the present and future.
If you weren't in control of the situation, you could ask yourself if there is a way to avoid such situations, how you would do so, and how you would handle it now if you found yourself in a similar situation.
3. Let Go of Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts are those that make you experience negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, sadness, or fear. Usually, anger, jealousy, and sadness are associated with negative thoughts about the past. Fear is usually associated with negative thoughts about the future.
As mentioned earlier, all you are really in control of is the present. Therefore, negative thoughts, whether about the past or the future, are just noise that affect the present.
Negative thoughts about the Past
Due to the linearity of time (or at least the illusion of it), the past only happens once. Therefore, if something unpleasant happened in the past, you should only experience that unpleasantness once. However, if you keep replaying the incident over and over again, you experience the same negative emotions that resulted from it again and again. You are basically subjecting yourself to torture using your mind.
Instead of doing this, you should turn every perceived negative into a positive by thinking about how you have grown as a person as a result of difficult experiences. Would you rather be the person you were before, or the more wise and experienced person you are now?
Negative thoughts about the Future
Negative thoughts about the future are usually due to undue stress or fear about something unpleasant that might happen. These usually occur when embarking on something new or anything that involves getting out of your comfort zone. While it is natural to feel apprehensive about such things, leaving fear out of the equation makes things a lot easier.
Spending time on introspective practices such as meditation helps in gauging yourself and discovering what your true values are. This helps you weed out any negative thoughts about the future as you will have a much clearer vision of what you really want. Once this clear vision is in place, you will find that fear takes a back seat in anything that you do.
Negative thoughts about the Present
Negative thoughts about the present are usually a result of self-pity where you keep convincing yourself that you are a victim of your current circumstances. While this may be true for those who are in a seriously helpless situation, most of us are lucky enough to be in a situation to make our own decisions. As long as that is the case, you are only a victim of your own thoughts.
In this situation, gratitude is the key to unlocking a mindset that takes you out of victim mode and puts you in the driver's seat. When you realise that you have a lot to be grateful for, you also start to realise that most of your complaints about your situation aren't that important after all.
In the words of Master Oogway, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift.. that's why they call it the present". So de-clutter your mind today and you will experience a lightness that lets you soar higher than you ever believed you could.