There’s a statistic that’s been floating around for a few years that the average American consumes over 100,000 words per day*. Think about that for a moment. That’s like reading almost two novels in 24 hours (although I believe “reading” is a fairly fluid term in this case). In addition to the consumption of random internet information, most of us process about 85 emails a day, plan the logistics of at least three local trips, attend meetings, call and text, do the actual work we’re supposed to do to thrive/survive, and respond to all of the promises we optimistically made back when we thought we’d “have more time.”
And then there’s the holidays.
At this time of the year it’s like we can’t win in the peaceful, mindfulness department. Here lately, I’ve been feeling like my brain has been stuffed full in the same way I see my clients’ junk drawers – old batteries (are they still good or used up?), thank you cards never sent, broken pieces to things that will likely never get fixed, and dozens of scribbled notes. Oh, the notes. So many things to remember, buy, check off, respond to, deal with. The other day I headed to the store specifically to pick up stamps for some greeting cards. I came home with coffee, paper towels, and yogurt. You guessed it – no stamps. This is my brain on clutter.
I think a disorganized brain can be far more insidious than a disorganized space. For one thing, it’s easier to hide (at least to the outside world). It can also be tougher to control with so many “shiny object” bits of information on social media and in the news to take our attention. And worst of all, we don’t even realize the clutter is building up until it results in things like insomnia, short tempers, and overall exhaustion. Small wonder we over-eat, over-shop, and make lots of other questionable decisions at this time of year.
But I do have a few techniques I use to clear things out and open up some space among my jumbled thoughts. Here’s what works for me:
1. Meditation. Folks sometime get the wrong idea about meditation, although knowledge about its benefits is becoming more and more mainstream. If you’ve never tried it before, there are tons of resources from books to website to community groups. I personally use a meditation app to get a few clear moments each morning (there are several good ones out there). The timer keeps me on track, and the vast number of user-rated guided meditations ensures I have a variety of time lengths and techniques to choose from. Depending upon how you set it up, on mine you can get a lovely “Thanks for meditating with me,” message from other users around the globe. Affirmation is a good thing.
2. The book Five Good Minutes In The Evening by Jeffrey Brantley, MD and Wendy Millstine, NC was recommended to me by a sleep specialist several years back when my insomnia was at its worst. You have to love a doctor that prescribes a book, right? Part of the “Five Good Minutes” series, this one has 100 very short exercises to help you refocus after a hectic day. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed and can’t sleep, it always does the trick.
3. I do a serious “brain dump” by listing out every single thought that’s nagging at me – whether on paper or in an app like Wunderlist or Evernote. I don’t have to solve or ponder those thoughts, I just have to get them out of my head. Getting them down in writing somehow lessens their power over me. When I return to them later, most of them don’t seem like such a big deal.
4. I believe it was Steve Jobs who said, “Focusing is about saying no.” So hey, let’s practice that. No, I can’t make that party. No, I can’t volunteer for the committee. No, we don’t need a meeting. No, I can’t bring cookies. No, I don’t need that __________. Saying no more often, enables me to say yes when it really counts.
5. I pet my dogs. Not just a cursory pat on the head, but for like, more than five minutes. I scratch behind the ears, rub their bellies, appreciate those brown eyes. It’s hard to think about other things when you concentrate on your pup, and it’s been proven that spending time with pets reduces stress, can lower blood pressure, and keeps heart disease at bay. And of course, cat-lovers, it works with felines (and maybe even guinea pigs, ferrets and rabbits too).
So this holiday season, give one or two of these ideas a shot when you’re at your wits’ end. Or, if you have mind clutter hacks of your own, please share with us in the comments.
Wishing you all a Merry organized Christmas, and a Happy, productive New Year!