What’s wrong?

I’m busy. I’m too busy. I don’t even have time to think. I am that busy.

Are we? For really real?

What if we gave ourselves time to slow down and spring clean our brains, just like we spring clean our closets, basements and offices?

Oh, Janice, stop being silly. There’s no time for that.

But there is. There has to be.

We live in a culture that demands our busyness. Everywhere we turn, we’re being told how to be more productive, how to do more with less, and how to be responsive and flexible.

Dr. Mary Grogan, an American psychologist who writes for MindFood.com, says we overload ourselves in the quest to be useful and successful.

It might be a sense we can’t quit, or say no; a sense there are no other options; a feeling of helplessness, and an inability to see the wood for the trees.

We abandon our self-care.

We keep taking on more, fearing that saying “no” will disappoint our bosses, family or friends, set us back professionally, or force us to miss out on something.

But, says Grogan, when we override our better instincts, “we disconnect from ourselves and ultimately burnout.”

Time to tidy up

Imagine your desk is covered with piles of papers. (Some of you don’t need to imagine anything, because it is!)

You know you have to do something about that pile of papers over there, you know that pile here represents a project with a deadline in the not-too-distant future, and you know that pile by the phone has receipts for your taxes (augh … it’s tax season; one more thing to stress about).

Our brains contain similar piles of information and they can start to get cluttered, like our desks, and we feel busy.

Busier than we may actually be.

A lot of us are running lists of “have-tos” in our heads. We have to get the groceries, pick up the kids at school, schedule meetings at work, meet friends, and on and on.

We fill our thoughts with the things we think we “should” be doing. And remember what “should” ends up telling us? Since we can’t possibly get all these things done, we’re incompetent and incapable.

We start piling up on the negative self-talk and our stress starts to manifest in:

  • Lashing out at family, friends and co-workers
  • Compromising your core values
  • Poor decision-making
  • Comparing ourselves to others
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Self-limiting beliefs
  • Fear-based thinking

We are overloaded with information and we are stressing ourselves out unnecessarily.

Conscious un-coupling with your thoughts

With apologies to Gwyneth Paltrow for riffing off her new way to describe a divorce, we have choices to make to get past all the overflowing boxes and piles of paper in the crevices of our grey matter.

Grogan asserts that busyness promotes a lie: that we can do it all without cost.

She’s correct.

The cost is our health — mental, emotional and physical.

She adds that conscious and sustainable living is “choosing what you say yes to, and recognizing the value of different parts of ourselves.”

When we choose how busy we want to be, we build our confidence because, by accomplishing what we can do, we remind ourselves that we are capable and we are competent.

We also give our brains vital rest.

A recent article in Scientific American reported a study by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang at University of Southern California that showed downtime is essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behaviour and instill an internal code of ethics.

Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.

While we’re dusting off the tchotckes, cleaning the windows and scrubbing the baseboards, we need to give ourselves time to clear our minds.

How it’s done

I recently made a project to keep my closet organized.

Every time I add a new outfit, it takes up space. If I keep going, I’m going to run out space, right? Eventually, the old clothes are going to have to go because I have no more room.

I have to make choices.

We have to do the same thing with our thoughts, choosing how we want to engage with them and our external lives.

Here’s how we can become more conscious of our time and abilities, and give our brains a break:

1. Turn off all the alerts on your smartphone and computer

You don’t need to hear a ding every time someone posts to Facebook or every email that comes into your inbox. It can be like playing a game of squirrel. If you jump every time there’s a ping, you have to refocus. You’re wasting time and energy. Take control of the time you check your emails and social media accounts and when (or if!) you respond to them.

2. Make a list of all your “have-tos”

Get that list out of your head and put it on paper or whiteboard, then figure out what your priority tasks are. Tackle them in order of priority; don’t bounce around your list doing the easy stuff or the stuff you like first. We all want to do the easy stuff, but we also have to do the stuff we don’t like. Leaving it to the end of the list can make the afternoon suck … hard. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to delegate some of your list.

3. Get rid of stuff that’s causing you energy drains

Are you rolling your eyes, sighing, feeling frustrated? Shove those thoughts away. Just forget them, whether it’s last night’s conversation with your mother-in-law, the memory of collapsing the tomato stand at the market in front of everybody or how badly you feel about a snarky comment you made at the office. Obsessing over this kind of stuff doesn’t change anything. They just eat away at you.

4. Set a daily intention

Take a few minutes every morning to set a deliberate plan to accomplishing your goals. It’s like a daily business plan for how you’re going to act, respond and, ultimately, motivate yourself. With an intention, we empower and energize ourselves to move closer to where we want to be.

5. Do a brain dump

This exercise is similar to 2 and 3, but a brain dump is better for the thoughts that are focused on your creativity and life goals. It’s simple: get all those thoughts out of your head. There are two ways to accomplish a brain dump:

  • A purge: Talk to a friend or trusted colleague. When I purge, I run through the gamut of my ideas and go in every direction my thoughts take me. (I never do this with my husband George. He gets scared at the idea of me trying to do everything.) When I’m done, I’m creatively exhausted — and so is my friend — but the purge, along with her advice and thoughts, helps me gain clarity over some ideas and throw out the ones we figure just aren’t going to work.
  • Mind-mapping: I have to get some thoughts all on a giant whiteboard, connecting lines, dotting Is and crossing Ts. I get very specific on what I want or need to have happen around a goal or an idea. For example, I’ve been struggling to get this website relaunched, experiencing issues with my design team. The energy it required has been draining me and I needed to let it go. I mind-mapped the relationships I need to make this part of my business work and made it a very free-flowing process. Once I had it all diagrammed on my whiteboard, I can gain clarity on connections that are missing and catapult into closing those gaps.

6. Stop waiting for perfection

We just talked about this! You have to get yourself in a place where you hear “good enough is OK.” We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly. We need to be happy with what we can do.

7. Give EFT a try

I swear by EFT, emotional freedom technique. Involving acupuncture, neuro-linguistic programming, energy medicine and Thought Field Therapy, it’s the best counselling technique for clearing the emotional clutter. We learn how to let go and release ourselves from emotional attachments to anything. It might be actual physical clutter in our closets or it could be thoughts, such as planning your daughter’s wedding, a disagreement with a friend, a traumatic event — anything that creates stress for you.

Clutter brings us down. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, it takes our focus away, overloads our brains and stresses us out.

When we clear that clutter away, we get rid of negative thoughts and emotions, empower ourselves and invite positive energy into our lives.

Let’s get cleaning!

I’m Janice Otremba, a professional speaker, facilitator and coach who specializes in stress management, health and wellness, personal growth and life balance. Let’s kick your butt into gear with simple, sound advice for beating burnout and powering up your happy. Book a free 15-minute consultation call with me to get started!

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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