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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 2 million readers. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Decluttering Your Mental Clutter

Thinking

Those voices inside your head won’t be quiet. All you can hear is your boss telling you to have those reports done by Friday or your daughter reminding you that there’s soccer practice this Saturday or a parent’s voice telling you that they’re going to need you to help them drop off their car at the mechanic’s.

Most of us have somewhere to be each day, not to mention the everyday fire drills we get put through at work or at home. It can feel very overwhelming, and our minds can get noisy. Some of us even have echoes of voices from experiences of many years ago.

How do you deal with all that internal mental clutter?

Mental clutter is something I’ve worked on my entire life. I used to feel like, no matter what, I constantly had some sort of mental clutter—I always had something going on in my mind. If it wasn’t something new causing that anxious cluttered feeling, it was something from the past creeping back into the present to haunt me. Some days were worse than others, but it was there every day.

And then, after fixing several other parts of my life, I was able to cut down on the mental clutter…

Physical Health

Your mind and your body aren’t standing in separate corners of the the room. It’s much easier is for a physically unhealthy person to experience a poor mental state. The brain is a delicate organ and we have to treat it right. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen. I was impressed with this book’s in-depth explanation of the ties between the human brain and the human body.

For me, I notice I feel more anxiety when I have an empty stomach, have not exercised in over a week, eat junk food, and don’t get enough sleep. I discovered once I changed these things—once I focused on my body through diet and exercise and proper sleep—the mental clutter also began clearing away.

Improving my health was an important first step.

Circumstances

If you’re like me, the old me, then you’re saying to yourself that you can’t change your circumstances. And with that attitude, I was absolutely right.

But once I decided I’d had enough of the mental clutter, I had no choice but to to change my circumstances—I had no choice but to remove myself from circumstances that added to my mental clutter.

I stopped associating with certain people, I changed my spending habits, I downsized my possessions. I started with myself, and I changed my circumstances.

Over time, things change, and instead of letting them change on their own, I decided to change those things myself. Some of those changes were difficult, but the world didn’t stop spinning.

I stopped associating with a few folks who encouraged bad habits and the world didn’t end.

I was laid-off in September and I didn’t die.

I changed expectations with family on what things I did, and didn’t want, in my life and they supported me.

My circumstances are completely different now from a few months ago and I’m miles happier. Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying everyone needs to quit their job, or take any egregious actions, but please understand that your problems likely aren’t as bad as you think they are.

Don’t be fooled by anyone. You are in control of your circumstances. You are in control of you.

Past Troubles

This was one of my biggest issues: my haunting past. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve let people down, and I’ve made some plain old dumb decisions. But I’ve also been extremely hard on myself, unnecessarily hard on myself, neurotic about the mistakes and bad decisions I’d made.

Sometimes I’d fall asleep replaying my whole day in my head, every word and conversation looking for mistakes or ways to improve who I was.

Now, every time I feel anxiety caused from some past experience, I ask myself a few different questions: Is that situation relevant now? Was that situation even that serious? Am I blowing it out of proportion? Was that situation in my control? Does what that person/family member/friend said actually have any validity or are they just acting out?

To stop being so hard on myself, I had to learn how to discern the things that mattered and didn’t matter, and the above questions helped. I also had to learn what things were in and out of my control. If something was out of my control, I had to accept this fact so I could focus on the things I could control—the things I could change.

What Makes You Tick?

To find out what made me tick, I sat down and drew a vertical line down a piece of paper to mark down on one side “Bad Days” and the other side “Good Days.” For each scenario, “Good Day” or “Bad Day,” I thought of the foods I ate, people I saw, places I visited etc. I couldn’t remember every detail but it gave me a few places to start with when it came to my diet and relationships.

Then, I bought a few tools that helped me with my frame of mind. We all need the right tools to help get rid of the mental clutter. The book I mentioned written by Daniel G. Amen was a great place to start. The book Joshua and I wrote, Live a Meaningful Life, show’s how we replaced bad habits with good ones when it comes to diet and relationships specifically. I even invested money in a counselor for a few sessions to help me get an unbiased opinion on a few things. To get better, I knew I needed to have the right tools. Those tools can be different for everyone, but don’t expect to fix everything on your own.