Declutter Your Mind: How to Calm Racing Thoughts

Your thoughts are the beginning of mental clutter. This is where it all starts. Get control of your thoughts, and your mental clutter will be tamed. This is a major task, and not for the faint-hearted! It can be done, though.

There are several things that affect your thoughts, including:

  • Mental habits
  • Everyday stress
  • Making decisions, especially when there are too many options
  • Unfinished business
Mental Habits

Like your actions, many of your thoughts are habitual. You think about the same past experiences over and over. You daydream about the same imagined future over and over. These thoughts may be positive or negative, but they still contribute to mental clutter.

There are other mental habits that provide little benefit:

  • Guilt
  • Worry
  • Regret
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Gaining self-esteem by pleasing others
  • Mentally checking out when faced with stressful situations
  • Worry what others think of you
  • Expecting the worst
  • Thinking about the past and the future

Contemplate whether you struggle with any of these negative mental habits.

Everyday Stress

This is a big one. Your mind fills with clutter as your stress level increases. Your thoughts become less controlled and more negative. It’s not surprising that many serious mental health issues are often precipitated by stressful events. The level of stress that you face each day is relevant to the amount of mental clutter you have.

It’s often the accumulation of little things that have a significant impact. It’s traffic, late bills, a runny nose, an annoyed spouse, and a broken shoelace that can send your brain into a tailspin. Too many smaller stressors can be just as stressful as large stressors.

Decisions

Making a lot of decisions can really wear you out and create mental clutter. There’s a reason why Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Albert Einstein limited their daily wardrobes to just a few items – the elimination of choice.

When you’re faced with too many decisions, mental clutter grows. 

Studies also show that making decisions decreases your ability to make additional decisions. Eliminate as many possible decisions as you can each day.

This is one good thing about habits. Habits eliminate the need to make a choice. Stick with the same healthy breakfast and take the same route to work each day. 

Use habits to your advantage and save your decision-making muscles for important decisions.

Unfinished Business

Often the result of procrastination or indecisiveness, unfinished business takes up valuable mental space. It’s the phone call you need to make. It’s cleaning out your storage unit. It’s finishing your taxes. It’s getting the oil changed in your car.

These things can seem trivial in the short-term, but there’s a price to be paid each day. Notice how much better you feel when you complete these responsibilities.

Dealing with Thought-Based Clutter

There’s good news. All of your mental clutter is ultimately self-induced. Fortunately, that means that your mental clutter is under your control. It also means that you don’t have anyone to blame besides yourself.

The Breath is the Key

The process of breathing is pretty amazing. It’s the only bodily function that you can consciously control or have done for you automatically. You can breathe more deeply or more shallowly on command. Fast or slower isn’t a problem either. On the other hand, you can forget all about breathing and it still happens.

An adult at rest takes roughly 20 breaths per minute. That’s over 28,000 breaths per day. Most of those breaths happened without any intention on your part. You weren’t even aware of at least 99% of them.

Amazing.

Some might argue this arrangement is necessary for speech to occur. Maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the secret to managing your thoughts!

There are two ways breathing benefits mental clutter:

  1. Changing your breathing can change your physiology. Try breathing faster for a minute and notice how you feel. Now breathe very deeply for a minute and notice the changes. Changes to your breathing change your physiology. Changing your physiology can change your thoughts and your focus.

  2. Focusing on your breath can keep your mind in the present moment. Your breath is your thread to the present. No matter how distracted you are by your thoughts, focusing on your breath can bring you back to reality.

Breathing doesn’t seem too exciting, but it’s a powerful tool. What could be more simple? However, there is a skill component to using your breath in your clutter-reducing efforts. It will take time and patience to develop fully.

Use your breath to alter your physiology:

  1. Find a quiet place, if possible. If you’re at work, close your office door or head for the bathroom. The more solitude you can find, the better. However, the technique will work anywhere, especially with practice.

  2. Take a comfortable position. Seated is best. Ideally, you can assume a position that you can maintain for at least five minutes without moving.

  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Allow your stomach to expand. You’re not trying to breathe so deeply that you feel pain. Just take a full breath. Feel the air pass by the tips of your nostrils. Then relax and allow the air to expel naturally.
  • Avoid overcomplicating the technique. Full, slow, and easy breaths are the objective. Paying attention to your breath for just five to 10 minutes can be enough to feel a significant reduction in both your stress level and mental clutter.

This simple technique can be used anytime you’re feeling stressed or your mind is cluttered. This falls short of true meditation, but you can receive many of the same benefits. 

This focused breathing technique can be used in the car, during a meeting, or any time you need to gain back control of your racing brain.

Overcome Negative Thoughts

Are you plagued by mental negativity? Do you say negative things to yourself? Do you worry about the future? Do you criticize yourself and spend too much time focused on what you lack? That’s natural.

Scientists have a theory to explain all this negative thinking.

It was imperative to human survival. Unfortunately, it’s not helpful anymore.

There was a time when food was scarce. A member of another tribe might beat you to death with a club just for looking at his mate. There were dangerous animals. Those that were overly cautious and worried survived more often than those with a more relaxed attitude.

Now we have grocery stores, police, and most of the predators aren’t an issue. We have armies to fight our wars. 

Your negative thinking is something you inherited. However, it no longer serves you.

Deal quickly with your negative thoughts:

  1. Understand that your negative thoughts are hurting you. Ninety-nine percent of your worries and negative self-talk are harming you. Believe that simple fact and you’re halfway to freedom.

  2. Be observant. Your new meditation skills will be helpful. Notice when you’re having a negative thought.

  3. Distance yourself from the thought. When you think to yourself, “I’m not good enough to do this,” change it to “I’m having a thought that I’m not good enough to do this.”
    • This simple process puts space between you and the thought. You realize that it’s something separate from you.

  4. Replace the thought. Reverse the thought. Tell yourself that you’re good enough. Tell yourself that things will be okay. Is it true? Well, it’s no more of a lie than telling yourself something negative. At least you’ll feel better and be in a better position to thrive. Considering that things usually work out, it’s more accurate than your negative thoughts.

Clarify Your Purpose

Indecisiveness can be the result of a lack of clarity. If you’re unclear about your values and your goals, you lack purpose. You’ve been developing your values since childhood. They undergo modification as you age and develop new perspectives on life.

But you’ve probably never really given your values much thought. Now is the time to take a hard look.

Determine your values and make easier, more congruent decisions:

  1. Determine what’s most important to you in life. Ask yourself the question and see what pops up. A few possibilities include:
    • Tolerance
    • Success
    • Service
    • Discipline
    • Family
    • Generosity
    • This is just a small sampling. Make your own list.

  2. Reduce your list to just 6 values. Which are most important to you? What do those values mean to you? Take your time.

  3. Are you living your life according to these values? Consider these parts of your life:
    • Career
    • Relationships
    • Hobbies
    • Family life
    • Goals

Do these parts of your life reflect your values? If not, why? How would your mental clutter be affected if you changed your life to reflect your values?

By defining your values, it becomes much easier to make decisions and set appropriate goals. When your life is in alignment with your values, your level of mental clutter will decrease. Adjust your life and activities to match your values. The next step is to create goals that keep your values in mind. Know your desired outcome and create goals to support that outcome. When your values, goals, and life purpose match, the resulting synergy makes everything easier, and your efforts become more effective.

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