There are many things we can take away from Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We’re drowning in excess stuff, and many of us are seeking self-help strategies to simplify and streamline our lives. Decluttering has captured the public imagination because it delivers a psychological as well as a practical benefit.
What if we could expand on this and draw on a range of techniques to “spring clean” our mind? What if we’re able to free up our headspace to think with greater clarity, create a sense of calm to ensure we can switch off when we need to, and enjoy more quality time to nurture essential relationships or come up with new ideas for taking charge of our lives?
This is the right time to spring clean your brain. You’re probably low on Vitamin D, which can put you in a not-so-great mood, but you know that brighter days are around the corner, so there’s a sense that you can start fresh. Follow these four steps to declutter your brain.
1. Clear distraction
Our brains are easily distractible. The more data you bombard your mind with–whether it’s social media feeds that never stop updating, piles of papers that need sorting, or household mess–the fewer resources it has to focus on the most critical tasks.
To minimize everyday chaos, clear the clutter and mess in the home or on your desktop. This means unsubscribing and unfollowing, setting time limits on apps, or doing a digital detox. Any of these activities will help you regain a sense of control. Also, set aside as little as 15 minutes a day to update your to-do list, strategize, or practice mindfulness.
2. Send thoughts you’ve outgrown to landfill
We all have repetitive thoughts, ingrained from an early age that do nothing for our productivity or focus. Whether it’s, “You’ll never get this right,” or, “You don’t deserve this,” the reason such thoughts repeatedly return to haunt us is that they become habituated by our brain. They’re characteristic of what I call “lack” thinking–the brain’s response to any threat or risk that reminds us to play it safe by maintaining the status quo at all cost.
When this sort of thinking is dominant, it’s hard for the brain to access either higher-level executive functions like emotional regulation, flexible thinking, or complex problem solving. The only way to rewire your brain to think more productive thoughts is to practice thinking them repeatedly. The more you repeat a positive affirmation, the closer you will be to “abundant” thinking–the antidote to negative beliefs. Every time you drift toward negative thinking, prune it like you would a dead leaf on a house plant.
3. Make space for new thinking
Neuroplasticity–the brain’s process of remolding itself and forging new pathways and connection–is happening all the time. But how many of us feel that we’re truly tapping into its potential and use it to our advantage? Every time we recall a memory or perform an action, neuroplasticity is happening in a micro way. There are many factors that support the macro change in the brain. These have been widely researched and proven to be beneficial, and include:
• Aerobic exercise: the oxygen and endorphins released help clear the mind
• New experiences: these expand our perception and can reduce biases
• Sufficient length and quality of sleep: this cleans out the brain
• Consuming particular foods: green tea and dark berries contributes to the growth of new brain cells
By focusing on new desired habits, we shift the map in the brain to grow in these areas and engulf the lesser-used destructive pathways such as excess alcohol, caffeine, or slumping in front of the television. Any activity that promotes neuroplasticity also makes the brain more effective and efficient–the equivalent of extra closet space or a high-tech kitchen gadget.
4. Rethink your internal landscape
Think of your brain as your dream home. You’d take pride in keeping it clean and tidy at all times, you’d only furnish it with the most beautiful decor you could find, and you wouldn’t invite anyone in that doesn’t appreciate and share your joy in it. Treat your mind similarly, and you’ll reap the benefits of better focus, a sharper memory, and better motivation. Don’t infest it with stress and bitterness. Most of us try hard not to get to that stage, but it’s the everyday care and attention to basic housekeeping that keeps us optimized and ready to take on more challenges to be better.
Dr. Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, author, and medical doctor. Her book, The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life, is available at Amazon.com.