While some people may concern themselves with physical clutter (a messy desk or a disorganized room), mental clutter can be just as debilitating and distracting. You’ve likely experienced what a cluttered mind feels like at some point. Every time you sit down to get something done, you can’t stop thinking about another problem that needs solving. You spend most of your day lost in thought, unable to get any work done. You want to clear your mind, but you just can’t seem to do it.
This cluttered mindset is extremely counterproductive and often makes you feel worse by the end of the day, which in turn contributes to even more clutter the next day. It’s a vicious cycle that most business leaders want to stop. They’re sick of the constant stress and anxiety, especially when they have important business decisions to make.
So how do you clear your mind and put an end to this mental exhaustion? After all, doing so will enable you to become more productive, introduce peace into your life, and obtain a new level of happiness. It also helps you be a better leader, giving you the chance to show others how to declutter their mental space as well.
In this article, you’ll learn how to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts and embrace a more mindful approach to your life.
Why the Mind Gets Too Cluttered in the First Place
There’s no single reason for people getting flustered. Much of it may depend on what’s happening in your life at the moment. Or it might stem from new responsibilities at work or in your personal life. It might even be due to a lack of organizational skills. Dr. Craig Travis of the OhioHealth Grant Medical Center explains, “Anything that goes on in the mind is ripe to be ‘clutter’ if you haven’t learned how to focus and organize internally.” Travis goes on to say that when we fail to create boundaries, clutter inevitably builds up.
Even though the causes may be different depending on the person, some of the most common reasons mind clutter happens are as follows:
- Lacking self-confidence
- Trying to do too much in too little time
- Not meeting expectations
- Not effectively dealing with negative feelings about a subject or a person
- Consuming too much information in a short time
- Feeling the force of too many drastic changes at once
- Experiencing physical health problems
- Having mental conditions such as ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety disorders
Benefits of Clearing Your Mind
- Improved stress management: When you know how to clear your mind, you become more skilled at handling stress. This leaves you better prepared for any future instances where your mind may get overwhelmed.
- More restful nights: Who hasn’t been kept up at night worrying over what awaits them at work the next day? Clearing your mind means getting more out of the times you rest. Your sleep will feel improved, and even a nap can have long-lasting benefits.
- Better memory: When your mind feels cluttered with anxious thoughts, it can be difficult to remember important events and details. A clear mind leaves you with improved memory, one that can recall what you need at the moment you need it.
- Less cortisol in the body: When you’re stressed out, your body releases a hormone called cortisol to help calm you. Too much cortisol over a long period of time, however, can cause adverse health problems. When you learn to reduce stress, you decrease the amount of cortisol in your body, in turn reducing the health problems that might come from it.
- Better problem-solving: With a decluttered mind, you can better handle the problems life throws at you. Solutions come to you more easily, and you don’t get so frustrated when some problems linger.
- More creativity: An anxious mind doesn’t lend itself well to creativity. As you clear your mind and reduce work stress, you can get the creative juices flowing. This can also help in solving problems, as noted above.
How to Clear Your Mind: Try These 6 Effective Strategies
1. Focus on Your Breathing
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
Though it may sound simple, one of the best ways to clear your mind and improve your health is through breathing exercises. When your mind feels cluttered, often your body will respond with the classic “fight or flight” mode. Your heart starts racing, you begin sweating, and your focus narrows. Breathing deeply, however, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
When the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in through your breathing, that’s how you come out of that “fight or flight” reflex. You pull yourself out of the heat of the moment and calm your body down. It essentially prevents you from spiraling into more negative thoughts.
There are many breathing techniques you can practice when you’re feeling like your mind is cluttered. Here are a couple of simple ones you can start with.
- Breathe into your belly, then into your ribs, then your chest.
- Then go the reverse direction, breathing into your chest, ribs, and belly in that order.
- Repeat this motion as often as necessary.
- Breathe in for four seconds.
- Hold that breath for four seconds.
- Then breathe out for four seconds.
- Then hold for four more seconds.
- Repeat this pattern.
As you breathe, focus on the sensation of breathing. Concentrate on how it feels in the present moment. Notice the cool air as you breathe it in and the warm air as you breathe it out. Doing so will help you to clear your thoughts and replace them with peace and serenity.
2. Practice Mindfulness
It’s possible wherever, whoever you are, to inhabit, cultivate and discover the power of presence, whether you’re an elite athlete, a preschool teacher or an accountant.Jack Kornfield
When everything in your life seems like it’s going to overwhelm you, sometimes you need to take a step back. How often have we repeated a mistake we have made over and over in our heads? How often do we obsess about problems that might crop up in the future? When you focus on the present moment, you are practicing mindfulness, and it’s one of the best ways to clear your mind.
Psychologist and teacher Jack Kornfield has devoted much of his life to this practice. He says that the key is to quiet and center yourself so you’re not thinking about things outside your control at the moment. In a way, he describes this practice as almost like a conversation with your brain. As he puts it, “You see all the stories that the mind tells you and you become the mindful witness. The kind attention that says, ‘Okay, mind, thank you for trying to correct me and protect me. I know that’s what you’ve been doing. You’re so busy. Thank you for all that hard work. I’m okay for now in this moment.’”
Kornfield says this is a process you can repeat as often as necessary. No one is perfect, and everyone will experience mind clutter and restlessness from time to time. Always have the determination to start again and give yourself another chance.
How you can practice mindfulness:
- Take the time to rest in silence
- Get in touch with your inner self
- Explore how you’re feeling
- Dig deep into those feelings
- Pinpoint where they hurt in your body
- Describe what the core of the feeling is like
- Identify the color of the feeling and what substance it is made out of
- Determine when it seems to occur more often
- Identify a pattern from these findings
- Explore what that pattern is and see if there are ways to avoid it in the future
3. Meditate for 15 Minutes, 4 Times a Day
Your goal is not to battle with the mind, but to witness the mind.Swami Muktananda
In addition to breathing exercises and mindfulness, you should also meditate to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts. Meditation is all about gaining greater control over your thoughts, feelings, and emotions instead of letting them control you. As you meditate, you gain greater clarity over what might be affecting you. Doing so introduces more peace into your life.
What happens in our lives often leaves our minds filled to the brim with anxiety, worry, and stress. That makes it hard to think straight. It also makes us feel out of control. Meditation puts everything in the proper focus so you don’t feel like you’re getting lost under a heap of unneeded worries.
The trouble with meditation is that it can be difficult to find the time to do it. Ideally, you should meditate for a whole hour every day, but few people have a schedule flexible enough to make that work. If you fall into this category, try breaking up your meditation sessions. One effective way to do this is to schedule four sessions of 15-minute intervals. That will get you to the hour you want.
To start meditating:
- Find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down
- Begin practicing mindfulness, becoming aware of how your body, mind, and soul feel
- Dig deeper into uncomfortable feelings instead of repressing them
- Visualize your troubles healing or dissolving
- Become the watcher of your thoughts—let them pass through your mind like clouds in the sky
- Imagine you’re in a safe, protective bubble where you feel only peace and serenity
- Know that you can return to this more calm state of mind at any given time—you have a choice
Another helpful tip is to listen to relaxing music while you meditate. Certain frequencies of binaural beats can calm your body and mind.
Here’s a quick rundown of the different types:
- Delta beats: connected with relaxation and deep sleep
- Theta beats: connected with relaxation, less anxiety, REM sleep, and meditative states
- Alpha beats: connected with more positivity and less anxiety
- Beta beats: connected with better concentration and improved memory
4. Make Journaling a Habit
As there are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.William Makepeace Thackeray
Sometimes, it helps to write down your thoughts. In a way, it’s like pouring out your cluttered mind onto paper, freeing it up so you may be at peace. Journaling is essentially a way to write through what you’re thinking in order to confront the emotions you’re having. You eliminate the negative, leaving room for the positive to fill your mind.
As Ernest Hemingway once advised, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Don’t hold back as you write. You may feel like this would be a bad thing to do, especially if you’re not a writer, but skill doesn’t play a factor. Simply write down what’s on your mind. As you practice journaling, you’ll notice improvements in your mental health, a strengthened immune system, less stress, and even a better mood.
A few tips on how to start journaling:
- Pick the right type of journal that fits who you are and what you want it to do
- Schedule out time each day to write
- Make a habit out of it
- Use writing prompts to help you write
- Commit to your journaling for as least three months
5. Live With Purpose and Intention
Having a sense of purpose is having a sense of self. A course to plot is a destination to hope for.Bryant H. McGill
When we live our lives without a purpose, we can often feel overwhelmed by the lack of direction. That can easily lead to more stress and unhappiness. Finding that purpose and living a life intentionally should then become the priority.
When you have a true purpose in your life, you can put your mind at ease. Think of it like going on a road trip with a firm destination in mind. Sure, you may hit a few bumps along the way, and you may even take a wrong turn now and then, but the destination is always there. You know when to course correct. Suddenly, those bumps in the road aren’t so jarring because you know you’re on the right path.
Start this process by creating a vision for your life. This will help you live more intentionally because everything you do will be centered on that vision. Here are some tips for how to create a vision.
- Ask deep questions about your future
- Think about what you would like to do to improve the world
- Discuss solutions to these problems with others
- Call upon other people to help you with your mission
- Create a vision statement that you can share with others
- Set reachable goals and strategies that will allow you to accomplish your vision
6. Take Time to Unwind, Relax, and Unplug
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes . . . including you.Anne Lamott
There are times when even the above tips don’t result in the clear mind you want. In such cases, you are likely suffering from work burnout. This could stem from constant problems bombarding you every day, or it could be an extension of imposter syndrome. Whatever the cause, there’s still more you can do.
Take time away from work when possible. For example, walk away and take a break. This is one of the best ways to unplug. You may do this at times during the day, such as going for a 10-minute walk. Or you could take an extended break like a vacation. Whatever you choose, just make sure to give yourself the space you need to unwind.
As you come back to work, take the time to reconnect with yourself. Only then should you dive back into your work. Don’t try to keep pushing through it if you’re feeling too much pressure and stress. You do yourself no favors by just trying to “gut it out.” Doing so will only affect the quality and outcome of your work.
See a Mental Health Professional for Extra Support
Again, even after trying all of these strategies, you may find your mind still as cluttered as before. That might be the time to consult with a mental health professional. Maybe there’s some trauma that you need to work through or habits that are too hard to break on your own. A mental health professional can help you in your journey to clear your mind.
There’s no shame in seeing a counselor or therapist. They can help you develop the coping skills you need to see through the fog. They’re trained to provide the support and help you need when other solutions don’t seem to be working.
If you don’t think a mental health professional is the right choice at the moment, family and friends can also be a great support system. Reach out to them for help. Sometimes, simply talking about your issues can lead to good results. The important thing to remember is to try your best to not entirely isolate yourself. You don’t have to be alone. When you seek help, you will be surprised by who is ready and willing to offer their support.