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Leadership

5 Routines To Clear Mental Clutter

Endless distractions are leading us to ruin our health. But giving your mind time to "rest and digest" can reverse the damage.

5 Routines To Clear Mental Clutter
[Photo: Flickr user Steven Leonti]

That smartphone in your pocket? It’s nearly doubling the amount of time you spend working.

A 2013 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found that the typical smartphone-carrying professional interacts with work an average of 72 hours a week.

No wonder we’re all so stressed out.

"Year after year, people complain of being more overwhelmed than they were the year before," says Scott Eblin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative "It’s an epidemic that needs to be addressed."

It started during the financial crisis of 2008, says Eblin. "Organizations had to downsize to survive, and the employees who were left had to do more," he says. The popularity of the smartphone only worsened the issue. "It’s taken away our sense of boundaries, and hyper-connectivity has stolen our attention," says Eblin

For Eblin, an executive coach and president of the Eblin Group, the impact of stress hit home in 2009 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As his condition worsened, his wife suggested that he try yoga. The practice not only strengthened his body, but his mind, as well.

"Managing MS is about managing stress," he says. "Pursuing mindfulness through yoga reduced my stress and literally saved my life."

The entry point to mindfulness is awareness, but Eblin says the endless amount of distractions in today’s world makes it difficult. "Our constant mental chatter puts us in a constant state of fight or flight," he says. "This leads to bad decision-making, which impacts our health and wellbeing."

The opposite of fight or flight is "rest and digest." "By mindfully using your rest and digest system you can reverse a lot of the damage that you may have done to your brain and body," says Eblin. He suggests clearing away the mental chatter by introducing one of these five routines that help center your mind:

1. Deep Breathing

The first routine is to incorporate deep breathing. Eblin recommends using the STOP acronym to remember the process. Stop what you’re doing. Take a breath. Observe what’s going on around you. Proceed. Once you become more aware, you can act more intentionally, he says.

Deep breathing is a rhythmic repetitive motion, and Eblin says it’s his favorite tool for removing mental chatter because you can do it whenever and wherever you wish. As you breathe, put your hand on your stomach; if your hand is moving in and out you’re doing it right.

"Navy Seals are trained to do four minutes of deep breathing when they are deployed to counter balance the stress of their mission," he says. "Breathing is like doing reps in the gym for your biceps. The more reps you do, the stronger you are. Paying attention to your breathing increases the attention muscle in brain."

2. Learning Lessons Analysis

Another routine that clears mental clutter is a lessons learned analysis. "The U.S. Army uses a process called After Action Review to learn from the past and do better in the future," says Eblin. "The process helps clear out regret from things that have already happened."

Eblin suggests asking yourself these three questions:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. What would I do differently next time?

Learning lessons from the past can help set you on a more productive future.

3. Visualizing The Future

For people who are overwhelmed with worry about the future, Eblin suggests creating a routine of visualization. "If you’ve ever watched the Olympics on TV, you’ve seen the power of visualization in action," he says. "After taking a few deep breaths to clear their mind, athletes envision the answer to two big questions:

  1. What am I trying to do?
  2. How do I need to show up to do that?"

Eblin says asking those two questions about future events can raise your confidence level and reduce anxious thoughts about the future.

4. Creating Time For Unconscious Thought

The best ideas often come while we’re in the shower or cutting grass, says Eblin. "It’s never when we’re in front of computer," he says.

When you get away from work, you clear mental clutter and initiate unconscious thought. Deferring an important decision until you’ve had a chance to let simmer not only brings better results; it lessens your sense of being overworked.

"Give yourself time for unconscious thought," says Eblin. "This may look a lot like taking a walk, riding your bike, cleaning your house or playing with your kids."

5. Asking If This Is Necessary

When you start feeling a general sense of overwhelm, Eblin suggests asking yourself, "Is this really even necessary?"

"Chances are you’re doing things on a regular basis that aren’t really necessary," he says. "How many hours a week does that add up to?"

Sometimes the answer is yes, but not right now. If that’s the case, Eblin suggests "pushing your calendar’s reset button."

"Ask yourself, ‘What’s the most important thing to get done today?’" he says "What could be postponed? What could be done by someone else?

It’s not about ignoring tasks, it’s about refocusing distractions to a future time."

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