3 Steps To Spring Clean Your Mental Inbox






Several days ago, the Sun made an appearance! The temperature rose to double digits, the snow almost completely melted and the street we live on came alive with activity. Our neighbors pulled out their Outdoor furniture, and cleared away the debris that had been buried under snow. Garages were being emptied of all the things stored during the winter and some folks even got busy washing the remaining evidence of winter of off their vehicles. All this activity signaled that Spring had arrived – at least in our minds. While my husband attended to our backyard’s needs, I got busy cleaning up my closet, pantry and a couple of drawers that were in desperate need of de-cluttering. It took most of the day, but when we were done, it felt good and we breathed a deep sigh of contentment.

A few days after our Spring Clean-up marathon, while trying to find an email that I remember receiving I became aware of the number in brackets next to the word ‘Inbox’ it read 11,000. In a momentary fit of despair I quite loudly exclaimed “Holy Crap 11,000 email?”’ Of course I quickly realized that I was looking at the number of unread email, the actual total was 22,000 with another staggering 8,000 in sent mail. No wonder it was taking so long for Outlook to start up and hard to find what I was looking for. The thought of having to deal with that many messages overwhelmed me and made figuring out what to feel like an impossible task. I didn’t know where to start, but intuitively felt that just deleting everything older than a month was probably not a good idea. I needed a process. I won’t bore you with the details of how I cleared things up, but it got me thinking about how we clutter our mental in-boxes with thoughts that can rob us of energy, mental agility and emotional well- being.

According to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging we have 70,000 thoughts a day and I’m willing to bet that a large number of those thoughts are running in the background (our subconscious) like mice on a spinning wheel.

Now before I give you the three steps that I use to clean up my mental inbox, let me set the stage.

Get yourself a notebook or a sheet of paper and a pen – you’ll need them.

Start by taking twenty-five deep breaths. Try to focus your attention on slowly breathing in and out. This will serve to settle your mind down and allow you to notice that you’re thinking. Most of the time we aren’t tuned in to our thought process, it’s happening all the time but we aren’t observing our thoughts in an intentional way.
Then begin writing – the goal here is to simply write – don’t second guess yourself just let whatever is on your mind or what comes to mind make it to the sheet of paper in front of you – It’s important to emphasize writing rather than typing here. Science has proven that writing engages more of our senses. This exercise might take a few minutes or require you to go back to the list over the course of a day (but it’s well worth the effort).

Categorize your list with “D”- DELETE, “K” – KEEP or “A”- ACTION next to each thought on your list.

STEP #1 DELETE: The thoughts you choose to delete will likely have been on your mind for some time, but no longer need your attention. Out of sight does not mean out of mind – so now that you can see them – decide to let them go. Some of the things we mentally hold on to are, past disagreements, regrets and mistakes we’ve made. Let them go, they are taking up valuable mental real estate.

STEP #2 KEEP: These thoughts likely require your attention at some point in the future, or can be things we don’t want to forget. So, put them in your calendar or task list, whatever you use to ensure things get done. Or keep a notebook for things you want to remember. Some of the thoughts that we keep in our minds include, appointments, schedules (ours and others), passwords for all of our digital files, birthdays and anniversaries and events we want to remember.

STEP #3 TAKE ACTION: These thoughts require a different level of attention. Determine if they are actions YOU need to take, or if they can be delegated to someone else. If they can be delegated – Do it. Don’t wait. If YOU have to do them, then prioritize them and commit to getting them done quickly.

Your TAKE ACTION LIST should not have more than five daily activities on it. If it does, break it up and spread them out over several days.

Now as an aside, some of us have ongoing and unrelenting thoughts about relationships and other difficult experiences that we aren’t easily able to deal with right now. So here’s my thought on that. If you are holding on to emotionally difficult thoughts that you don’t anticipate resolving anytime soon, give yourself permission to set those thoughts down. Get a journal and store them there. The act of writing your thoughts and feelings out, is a way of acknowledging to yourself that you haven’t forgotten them and at the same time relieving yourself of the need to ‘grind away’ on them every day. At any time you can always go back and look at what you’ve written, but in my experience this exercise puts space between us and the issue and often serves to reduce the emotional charge.

I hope you find these spring cleaning steps, helpful in de-cluttering your mental inbox.


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