It’s estimated that people have between 50,000-80,000 thoughts each day. That’s a LOT of thoughts, and I’d be curious how many are actually helpful or productive. I imagine most of us experience a plethora of unhealthy, or at the least meaningless, thoughts everyday. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing or contributing to mental clutter is a detrimental way. It’s more of what we do with those thoughts that I see as potentially problematic.
The problem with mental clutter is that we give a great deal of power and weight to our thoughts. They can become overwhelming and all consuming, eating up our energy and time. Our thoughts can also keep us stagnant and stuck as we convince ourselves that each and every negative thought or piece of incoming information is vitally important and must be processed or analyzed. It’s important to learn how to clean out your head trash, because like the other forms of clutter, that shit weighs on you.
It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of rumination. A thought passes through our mind, we latch onto it, and with each and every time we revisit that thought it the more true it becomes. Our brains are pretty good about recognizing information that confirms the belief we’re chewing on, and now we have evidence that what we are thinking is shaping into a fact as opposed to being an opinion. As our thoughts are reinforced and the neural pathways become stronger, it’s more difficult to open our minds to other ways of thinking about something. Until another source comes along with a new way of looking at something, we tend to use the same process over and over again.
Taking out Your Head Trash
Mental clutter can look different for everyone. Sometimes it’s just a lot of extraneous thoughts that don’t contribute to anything meaningful, sometimes it’s distractions that are taking away from a task or project that holds importance to you. Maybe you’re avoiding something that you don’t want to tackle and your brain finds other things to think about or starts making excuses. Oftentimes, it’s the voices of shame and doubt or fear that are in the background whispering that you’re not good enough.
All of those thoughts are really just head trash, and if I’m being honest I would guess 90% of our thoughts don’t help us in a real way. That doesn’t mean we don’t need our thoughts or they don’t serve a purpose, because I do believe part of the process can be sorting through all our crap. Minimalism is about figuring out what to let go of and what to let in, which applies to our thoughts as well.
You need a system in place to help you filter those thoughts, and figure out how to effectively let go of thoughts and ideas. By focusing only on things that bring you value and gaining confidence that you are in fact enough without your stuff, including your obsessive thoughts, you can finally be free.
I had a client with anxiety who’s first assignment was to write down her anxious thoughts, big and small, whenever she noticed them. She came to the next session with over 300 thoughts from the first day of the exercise, and she was shocked! She had no idea that she was having that many anxious or distressing thoughts, and it helped her to understand why she was feeling so overwhelmed and unhappy.
So that’s my challenge to you for how to get started tackling your mental clutter, you have to become more aware. Take notice of your anxious, unhealthy or unhelpful, and distressing thoughts, and write them down. It’s kind of like the first step for Marie Kondo in which she instructs you to put all your clothes on your bed. We need to see what we’re dealing with before we can filter through these thoughts.
This can be a very difficult process, and I’d encourage you to work with a mental health professional to find the best and most productive ways to look at your thoughts. It is important to note that some emotional distress may arise as you’re engaging in this exercise, and I want you to have the necessary support to cope with whatever comes up for you.
You Are Enough
Our feelings, insecurities, fears and doubts naturally come out in our thought processes, leaving us with a heap of shitty thoughts to cope with. It’s completely normal and ok for that clutter to exist. But you are worthy of having time and energy to devote to other things in your life far more valuable than the unhealthy and unhelpful thoughts that have piled up. Sometimes we develop at attachment with the voice that tells us we are not enough, and it feels vulnerable to let go of that idea. I’m here to tell you that you are enough without all your guards and your stuff and your defenses. Show up for yourself and it will be ok, show up minimally and eventually you will be full.