6 Ways to Clear Your Mental & Emotional Clutter for Improved Focus
Spring is officially here. And with it comes talk of spring cleaning. Spring is a great time to clean out the closets, to donate the stuff in our garage that we no longer need, to tidy up our workspace.
We all know that clearing out clutter improves the feel of a space.
Physical clutter is easy to identify and we all generally know how good it can feel once we’ve cleared it from our surroundings.
But what if the clutter most needing clearing is mental or emotional clutter instead?
How do we go about clearing a crowded and unfocused mind or an emotional space that is full of old stuff that’s no longer serving us – and is likely even getting in our way and holding us back in our business, our work, and our lives?
Neuroscientists have determined effective ways that we can release or “declutter” thoughts and emotions that are getting in the way of what matters most.
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Clearing our mental and emotional clutter is incredibly powerful. It can help to eliminate distractions so that we’re better able to focus on what’s most important. It can support getting the most important things done in a more efficient and effective manner. Ultimately, with practice, it helps us to get out of our own way so that everything flows more easily.
How Mental Clutter Collects
After a busy month of travel, work conferences and events along with some personal health challenges, I noticed that when I sat down to do some writing for the blog, I was struggling to focus. I just couldn’t seem to quiet my mind. I felt antsy. My hectic schedule meant I hadn’t been taking the time I truly needed for the practices that help me to focus, to be more creative and to make better decisions.
This meant my focus was anywhere and everywhere except where it needed to be. As a result, I wasn’t able to hone in on my priorities, much less get clarity about what I wanted to write about or how to communicate it in a clear, concise way that would benefit clients and readers.
I found myself giving into what felt like a form of procrastination instead. I answered and filed work emails, tidied up my desk which had gotten overly cluttered. I cleared, cleaned and filed for the better part of the morning.
After organizing my physical space, it was clear that my mental and emotional desks also needed some cleaning. So I picked myself up, went for a lunchtime jog and then did a short meditation to release those mental thoughts and emotional clutter that weren’t serving me.
Once I finally sat down to write, I wrote my blog in record time. But that’s not counting the hours of de-cluttering I had to do first: on physical, mental, and emotional levels.
It’s easy for most of us to understand that an overly cluttered workspace impacts our focus and productivity. But we don’t always realize how much a messy mind or emotional clutter can have the same effect – or that there are equally powerful practices that can help us de-clutter mentally and emotionally so as to regain our focus.
How to Clear Your Mental & Emotional Clutter
The reality is that, as much as multi-tasking has come to be revered and even expected, our brains are not designed to divide attention in too many directions. Our minds need to be somewhat organized and at peace in order to be able to effectively filter information, make better decisions and focus in order to get our most important things done.
In order to get your mind and your emotions into that ideal state more often, it’s important to make space. You can do this by clearing your mental and emotional clutter. It helps to have a daily routine so that this type of clutter doesn’t build up. Personally, although I intentionally vary this day to day, my routine combines physical exercise (like yoga, jogging or swimming), silent meditation and visualizing the day ahead to get clear on priorities and customer needs. I also often listen to or read something that is inspirational to me, that energizes me for the day ahead. It has such an impact on my own effectiveness – and enjoyment – that I commit several hours each day to this routine before I start work.
6 Ways to Improve Your Focus Now
Do you have a morning routine that works for you? If you’re feeling muddled, try at least one of these 6 strategies. Give yourself the chance to refresh, refocus and get back on track.
- Write It Down
First you need to identify it: what consuming thoughts are taking you away from experiencing the life and the results you deserve and desire? What relationships are draining your emotional reserves? What else distracts you from being fulfilled? Take the time to sit quietly, see what thoughts come to mind and write them down. List your current projects, goals and to-dos. Jot down anything that comes up whether it’s a project you’re actively working on, something that’s been lingering on your to-do list or an idea in the back of your mind. Is there someone you’re holding a lingering resentment toward? Or a situation that’s causing ongoing worry and anxiety?
Repeat this process until your mind feels quieter. Once it’s done, you’ll usually find a sense of relief. You’ve just freed up some mental space since you’re not worrying about remembering everything anymore. And now that you have everything in one place, you can strategically choose what to do next instead of reacting to the next phone call, client request or email.
This list alone will only get you so far. To go a step further, rank your to-do list. Challenge yourself to identify your top two or three priorities each day. It’s important to keep it limited so that you are truly prioritizing and not just creating another lengthy to-do list. This will help you to be sure you’re making progress on those things that really matter. Focus on impact over what might seem to be urgent. Having that difficult conversation with your partner may be the most important thing you could do all week and would rank over everything else on your list. When you actively identify something as a priority, you’ll be more likely to focus on it instead of delaying it for another day.
- Get Physical
If you’ve been inside all day, an afternoon walk or jog can leave you feeling much more clearheaded. This is not just in your head. A growing body of research indicates that we think and learn better when we exercise. Although the reasons are not completely understood, multiple studies have shown physical activity to increase memory, performance on tests, and even productivity in the workplace, not to mention leaving us in a more positive mood.
So if you need to clear some mental or emotional space, go for a walk or a jog. Leave your cell phone at home or, at the least, only listen to music – no texts or phone calls. The combination of exercise and the respite from interruptions can put you in a much clearer space on all levels. And, when you’re exercising at a capacity that’s challenging but not too challenging for your fitness level, you’ll tend to feel more energized afterwards – not depleted.
- Meditate or Reflect
When you have a never-ending list of things to do, it may feel counterproductive to spend time meditating or reflecting— you’re already short on time and more thoughts will just add to your mental clutter, right? But the reverse is actually true – charging ahead without taking time to reflect will often just make things worse. And studies show that the neural network in your brain is literally changing over time when you meditate regularly.
Taking the time to regularly review how you’ve been spending your time will give you insight into how you got to your present state, how to move forward strategically, and how you work best in general. You can do this through quiet reflection, meditation or even regular journaling. Consider what’s creating stress, when during the day you are most productive, why a particular project or opportunity might not be taking off the way you’d hoped. Where do you most need to adjust? With practice, you’ll find more clarity more easily as to how and when to move forward.
Reflection and meditation help you improve your focus and, with practice, enable you to pull your thoughts back when they start to wander. Remember, your mental and emotional state is intertwined with the quality of both your work and your relaxation or play. So take a few deep breaths, and do some mental and emotional tidying. Cultivating this habit will help you prevent some of the clutter from accumulating – and to identify and shift it more quickly when it does. In the end, you’ll be better able to get back in touch with what’s most important.
- Talk It Out
If your head is crowded with stressful thoughts or your heart is full of mixed emotions, talking it out can help. Find time to discuss your challenges with a trusted friend, coach or mentor to help you get clear on how to move through a tough time. Even brainstorming with your team can give you a breakthrough on a problem you’d been stuck with – and you may find that your team respects you even more for being vulnerable enough to bring it to them.
According to one study, simply being around your best friend during tough times can help alleviate stressful emotions. On top of helping you get more clarity when your thinking is muddled, the emotional support of knowing that someone else has your back can make a huge difference.
- Get Some Sleep
Sleep and brain function go together. Next time you feel that your brain is cluttered with too many thoughts and you’re experiencing mental fatigue, stop and take a nap. Really. Studies show that even a 10-minute nap can improve your alertness and increase productivity.
More importantly, if you’re not getting enough sleep at night, look for ways you can adjust in order to get 7-8 hours of sleep (if not every night then more often than not). This doesn’t mean being in bed with your cell phone, laptop or a good book – but instead actually getting some zzzs. Recent research shows that sleep literally clears out the clutter in our brains at a cellular level.
- Focus on the Happiness of Others
When we focus our attention – even briefly – on the happiness of others, our mind literally begins to feel more spacious. This means that we can experience more happiness and improve our focus. Consider a time when you were intensely focused on your own goals or say on delivering a project at work. And something pulled you to step back and focus on your family and loved ones. Did you notice that you experienced a shift in perspective?
For millinea, sages and philosophers alike have suggested that for lasting happiness, we must focus on the happiness of others. Now, there is scientific research to support that giving is indeed a pathway not only to greater happiness but also to our own personal growth through clearer focus, purpose and meaning. The key is to give in a way that energizes you and doesn’t leave you depleted.
Clearing Requires Different Steps Depending on Your Challenges
Remember, you get to decide what fills your mind and how you respond emotionally. And only you can clear your mental distractions and emotional clutter in order to focus on what matters most. A regular practice of de-cluttering can help you connect more easily with what’s most meaningful in your work and all areas of your life.
I hope that these techniques for clearing your mind and emotions help you. Give yourself permission to experiment in order to find what works best for you. Remember that what works best may vary depending on your circumstances. The next time you need to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts, consider your specific situation and give one of these techniques a try.
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