Mental Clutter Might Be Keeping You Stuck

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably heard of Marie Kondo, her book "The Life-Changing Method of Tidying Up", and her Netflix series "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo". I have been a fan since I learned about the KonMari method in her book years ago, and eagerly watched all episodes of her series. I owe an organized closet that sparks joy in my home to Ms. Kondo. I find the process of decluttering to be therapeutic and rewarding. When I look around at my upgraded physical space, I feel at ease, I am more productive, and I am happier because the space is more visually appealing. While we are used to the idea of clearing physical clutter so that we can be more organized and productive (and even joyful), clearing mental clutter is just as important. The spirit of reflection and mindfulness that Kondo encourages in her process is just as applicable to tidying up our mental clutter.

Internal tidying up

Mental clutter is anything consuming your mental or emotional energy that distracts you from your goals or is a barrier from you having the experience you want in any area of life. Examples include negative self-talk or limiting beliefs, toxic relationships, an overextended schedule, a to-do list that is misaligned with your priorities, etc. Clearing mental clutter is about turning down the volume on all the noise that keeps us stuck where we are, and making room for an expansive mindset of clarity, focus and optimism to help us make progress.

Are you tending to your mental clutter the same way you tend to the clutter in your physical space (home, office, car, etc.)? When you think about it, it’s easy to know what can be done with the clutter in our physical spaces, while the clutter within us is much trickier to tackle. The external stuff is simpler to confront because it is easily within our control. The internal stuff, however, can be intimidating because it often feels murky and intractable. In the past, I have definitely found myself not taking responsibility for tackling my mental clutter and overcompensating by looking well-put-together and organized on the outside. The trouble is, when the external facade no longer helps me gain forward momentum, I know there is something within that I need to clear up and clear out.

Clearing the clutter

There are three steps I recommend to clear out the mental clutter that keeps you stuck: reflect, exchange, and affirm. This process requires quality time with self, curiosity and self-compassion.

Reflect: Asking yourself the below questions will help you brainstorm all the places where your mental clutter might exist. I recommend writing down your answers in a journal.

  • Am I clear on my priorities in this moment?

  • Does my schedule or do my activities give me time to focus on achieving what I want?

  • What are common distractions that take my attention away from achieving what I want?

  • Does my attitude or do my thoughts about myself encourage me or discourage me?

  • Am I influenced by individuals who encourage me or discourage me?

  • Are worries about the future keeping me from being focused on what I can do in the present?

Exchange: Choose from the clutter you want to throw away and exchange it for something productive. I recommend starting with three that feel the easiest and most within your control.

For example, a writer who wants to complete a novel may step back from non-essential commitments so that she can block time in her schedule to focus on writing. Someone who wants to be physically fit may spend less time socializing with drinking buddies and more time with people who encourage him to stick to his fitness plan. Or someone who is changing careers notices each time she’s feeling discouraged about her job search, and picks herself up by writing a list of all the progress she’s made so far, what she’s learned, and what she will do to moving forward to set herself up for success.

Affirm: Use the mental space you have freed up to get in the mindset of believing in yourself. Meditation and mental rehearsal are my preferred ways of affirming myself so that I remain vigilant when mental clutter tries to creep back in.

  • Meditation focuses your awareness in the present moment. People who meditate regularly often experience improved clarity and ability to focus on the task at hand.

  • Mental rehearsal is a practice of visualizing yourself successfully completing your goal. It is used by Olympic athletes, public speakers, musicians, among many others, to put themselves in the mindset of achievement.

Out with the old, in with the new

Clearing the mental clutter of what doesn’t serve us takes work – we’re often breaking long-ingrained habits here. And clearing out isn’t just a one-and-done process. As we accumulate life experiences, clearing out is worth doing repeatedly, and it can look different in various contexts of our lives. All of this is completely OK. The point is to maintain an ongoing commitment to creating the head space to attain your goals and desires. Coaching is a great option if you are seeking one-on-one support tailored to your challenges, as it often takes an objective observer who is trained to help you recognize blind spots or patterns that keep you stuck and put you on an action plan to move forward. But in the meantime, the above tips will help you to be mindful of mental clutter so you can create your own sparks of joy.

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