Clearing the mind of clutter and noise can improve your health and productivity

How to Clear Your Mind and Be Productive

Lately I’ve been finding myself distracted, overwhelmed. As a result, I see I’m not being as productive as I could be; notably in the frequency of my writing and reading. I found myself writing this post as I’m trying to clear my mind of all the competing noise.

Noisy life, noisy mind

As we all know life can get really busy. Sometimes, I feel as if my mind is working overtime. This causes me to spend a lot of mental energy trying to get things done. Rushing around to be in places on time, just running from one important obligation to another. Going through the motions of life while trying to keep my head above water.

Then my mind gets tired, I lose motivation, nothing gets done. Obligations and tasks pile up to become overwhelming, and the cycle of distraction and being overwhelmed continues.

To avoid burning out, I needed to take action. The first place I started to look was my work area. I work from home and spend a lot of time in one room. Seeing the clutter spread from my desk to the book shelf, and now the floor gave me a sense of anxiety.

I starting organizing my work area to get rid of  clutter I don’t use or need. This is my basecamp, a place I can use as a starting point to work outward.

While I was decluttering my work area, I started a bullet journal to keep track of my to-do activities. It’s been helping me track what I’m having difficulty completing and I can track completed activities. This helps me keep track of my progress.

When I see progress, this helps decrease that overwhelmed feeling and helps me keep motivated to keep going; helping me to be more productive.

When I talk about being productive, I’m not talking about the sum of all the things I do. For me, it’s about all the important things that need to be done and done well. One thing I don’t like is doing the same job twice when it could have been done once correctly the first time.

Refresh the mind – physical retreats

I’ve always enjoyed being in the outdoors and going for a walk outside is a great way to clear the mind, reset thoughts, and be closer to nature.

There are different types of retreats I want to explore in hopes of resetting and refreshing the my mind.

Outdoors

going outdoors to clear the mind

There’s something out being outside that changes how I think. Changing my environment by going outside can be, for me, mentally and physically refreshing.

I’m confined to, for hours on end, a small work area and maybe it’s the contrast of my small work area to that of the vast sky that draws me outdoors.

As I continue developing my personal vision, I’m going to incorporate the outdoors as part of my lifestyle. I can do this by making one of my goals: to take more time to spend outside. Making seasonal outdoor activities a part of my routine. Even if I have to start with something simple as taking a short walk around my neighborhood.

Indoors

Trying to find an indoor getaway is more difficult for me. Sometimes the weather offers no other options but the indoors. For this, I would like to choose a room I normally don’t spend a lot of time in and use that area for reading or reflecting on personal vision and goals.

For me, an important part of finding an indoor location is silence; a place where peace and quiet are the rule, not the exception. This has to be a place where I’m not surrounded by clutter, visual or technological noise (smartphones, computers, tv).

Maybe because I grew up with a partial connection to technology but I find technological noise as a form of mental noise.

Find what fits you

When it comes to finding a particular area, experimenting with different locations can be helpful to find what fits you best. Maybe try a location you wouldn’t normally try. Also, try the different locations at different times if possible because they can feel like different environments.

I think finding peaceful environments is the the hardest of these approaches.

Declutter the mind

…thy thoughts have created a creature in thee

– Melville (Moby Dick)

Noise and clutter

As I sit here writing this post, I can hear all the to-do lists going around inside my head. I can hear all the work and family obligations that need my attention.

This is the price of modern life. We all have obligations competing for our attention every day. It can feel become overwhelming at times, as if there’s never enough time.

I feel as if my mind is noisy with the obligations of today and mistakes from yesterday.

How do we deal with all this mental noise?

This is something I’ve been working on for a while. It’s a process of learning about what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think I’ll get to a point where all the mental clutter disappears.

I would like to get to a point where it’s not so overwhelming. To learn how to manage stress of feeling like things are getting out of control. To not let my past failures haunt the present and write my future.

In my experiments to clear my mind, I’m going to try to take more time to appreciate moments. To take time and enjoy silence or to hear the sounds of my environment.

Sometimes I sit with an open window to hear the rain fall on the grass, hear the animals searching for food, or the hum of tires as cars go down the road. Though with an increasing amount of traffic and vehicle noise I’m starting to think that silence seems like a rare commodity in these times.

Tracking progress

Using a bullet journal to track progress can help reduce mental clutter

I mentioned above that I’ve started using a bullet journal in a 100 page composition book. I’m a visual person. I like to see what items are competing for my attention and I also like to see the “X” next to all the completed items.

Part of my morning routine is to create a list of important things that need to be done that day.

In the evening I review all the tasks for that day and mark ones that were completed and identify ones to migrate to tomorrow. If I let the tasks build over time and they snowball into a long task list each day then the stress increases and nothing happens. This is where discipline becomes important.

There’s a great satisfaction when you can see a task and mark it complete. For me, seeing progress helps keep me motivated and productive.

Overall, this is an important activities that’s helped me manage mental clutter and reduce noise.

If you want to start with sometime simple, make a note of things you want to finish today and cross them off your list as you finish. There’s a great sense of accomplishment in seeing tasks completed.

Mental clutter and health

Mental clutter and noise can increase stress, that we know is linked to negative health effects.

Every new year, the health clubs become packed for the first few weeks as people try to increase physical health and appearance. While working on physical health, this is an opportunity to focus on clearing the mind of unnecessary stress.

Mental clutter and life

I’ve been working on what some are calling “internet fasting” by breaking my use of smartphones and technology.

One of the reasons why I try to disconnect from technology (and sometimes people) is because I feel like all this constant communication and constant updates dull our experiences when we interact with each other.

When we have the ability to text each other all day and we see constant status updates from social media, what do we really have left over to say to each other when we meet in person? I already know about your day so there’s nothing new.

There’s a sense that this constant updating and data bombardment, for me, starts to become noise. The constant feeds from social media, the hundreds of channels on TV, the constant repetition of the same songs on the radio; these all feed into dulling the experience of communicating.

I find that taking time to clear my mind and be in silence helps create a richer experience with people. If we take ourselves out of the constant communication loop, we can have meaningful discussions rather than the superficial status update or brief text.

Final thoughts

Clearing the mind to manage mental clutter and reduce noise takes a multifaceted approach: reduce clutter, integrating organization methods, and finding relaxing environments. Give these approaches the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or your mind is full of distraction. Doing this take patience, so take your time with this to achieve maximum benefit.

If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend starting with tracking activities. It’s easy and you see feedback in a day or two and you’ll see how productive you can be when you tracking important activities. This should help motivate you to move on decluttering your life and finding relaxing environments.

making the right goals depends on your personal vision

How to Make the Right Goals

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past few weeks thinking about goals.  Thinking about how goals help me work on my personal vision.

Sometimes I think about this so often that it feels like that setting goals seems more like a hobby. I am a supporter of setting goals yet I think goals are misused. The focus on goals, I think, can get in the way of seeing the bigger picture.

I want to expand on the post I wrote around creating a personal vision.

In that post I focused on why a personal vision is important so now I want to focus on how the right goals are important to that vision.

First, I want to discuss the differences between goals and vision.

Goals

Goals are the bite size and specific actions that have a beginning and end.  They are actions that can be measured and once you’re done with that goal, it goes away and you build on it.

For example, a goal can be described as wanting to lose 1 pound per week while a vision would be to lead a healthy lifestyle.

We can consider goals as a tool that tells us what we need to achieve a planned outcome.  Sounds simple right?

Visions

Create a personal vision to control your goals

A vision is the high level perspective of how you want your life to be, what kind of person you want to be and a general direction for your life.

 

Visions are open ideas, they don’t have a beginning or end, they can’t be measured like goals and are a lot harder to conceptualize.  It takes a lot of thought and consideration to think about how you want your life to be and it always changes depending on how you grow as a person.

Your vision can be long or short, detailed or general. A personal vision could be “I want to be more well read”.  A goal for this vision is to read a set number of books per month or per year.

When you start to develop an idea of your own vision, you can make it as long or short as you think necessary, there’s no wrong way to do this.  It can be a short statement for physical health or a detail roadmap for your life.  When you write it, you have to be realistic and honest with yourself and your dedication to the tasks required to get there.

For me, there are three aspects for my vision: personal, social, and professional.  With these three aspects, I can work on creating and tracking goals.

Goals and Visions Working Together

Working and Not Getting Anywhere

working and not getting anywhere

Do you every feel like you’re working on what you want to do but you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with it?  I was like this when I kept making goals but didn’t have a higher reason for these goals, this is when I realized I didn’t have a vision for where I want to be.

For this reason, you’ll need to have both a personal vision and goals.  These two concepts are complementary to each other.  Having one without the other just doesn’t work and is unproductive.

Creating a vision of what you want your life to look like can help direct when creating goals, my experience is now touse goals as a tool not as an ends. Goals are an excellent way for directing you on what to do but they won’t tell you why you’re doing it these actions.

A goal of mine was to get into Pharmacy School so I worked hard, achieved a 3.8 GPA and when I received the acceptance letters it was great but there was something missing, something empty about the moment.  I didn’t have a personal vision to support the goal.

While I was in Pharmacy School I started to think about the reasons why I wanted to be in that program and I could only come up with one or two employment related reasons.  There was no personal passion behind the decision, it was purely economic.

Working and Not Enjoying Your Success

Looking back at the experience of failing out of Pharmacy School, it was a miserable experience but it only hurt my esteem from an economic perspective and not a personal one.  I didn’t have a significant reason for wanting to be in that program, I went into it because it seemed like the next logical step in my educational and professional progress.

Again, having goals is a great way for tracking progress because they provide feedback on your actions but they can’t and won’t provide meaning in themselves if you don’t have a personal vision supporting them.

Here’s an example for why gym memberships as a New Year’s resolution don’t work.  I avoid going to the gym in January and February because people crowd the gym trying to work out.  March comes and the crowd thins, then April it gets thinner.  Why?

People join and work out for a vague idea of getting in shape or be healthier but these actions are unsupported with a vision.  Why do you wa

nt to work out? Is it to compete in a marathon? To be healthier for your family so you don’t get tired from activities? These can be goals for a vision of a healthier lifestyle.

The same can be applied for wanting to start a business, a blog, or writing a book.  These are great goals to have but what’s the point behind them? That’s the point of a personal vision.

If you can connect your goals to your vision, next time you achieve a goal you could find the experience both satisfying and excited about the next goal.

Setting Too Many Goals

Another reason why I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere is because I was setting too many goals.  This was becoming a distraction because I was trying to change too many things at once.

Instead, focusing on a couple of goals, and smaller goals in the beginning, can help you see progress and keep motivated to build on the goals.

Unrealistic goal setting is something I am sometimes guilty of doing.  This will get in the way and can be demoralizing.  So focus on smaller, realistic goals and build up from there.

Vision Adaptability

One of my faults is that I can become too goal orientated and lose focus of why I’m working towards a goal.  It can feel like I’m trying to achieve the goal for the sake of achieving the goal and as I’ve written above, that’s a path to disappointment.

This can get in the way of short-term success and long-term motivation to keep working on your personal vision.

Goals have a starting point, they are based on your experience or lack of experience of something and your knowledge at the time.  The more you working on your goals the more you grow. If you don’t reevaluate your personal vision with your goals then you’ll continue on the same path without knowing it’s the wrong path.

This is what happened to me and Pharmacy School, if I would have done a deeper self-evaluation instead of pushing through my goals, then I could have considered a Ph.D. program instead.

A personal vision is not rigid as goals, it allows for adaptability.  It gives us an path towards an overall life we want to have and it allows flexibility for us to grow into that personal vision or change it.

One of the reasons why people go into Pharmacy is because they want to help others in the community.  Applying rigid goals towards this end would have us sitting through hours of chemistry and pharmacology.  But there are other ways of helping people, we could volunteer in the community, become a teacher, or a nurse.  Having a personal vision can help us sort through what we want and how we get there.

The Stress of Failing to Achieve Goals and Vision Adaptability

taking on too many goals leading to stress

We get stressed and it’s easy to understand why. We focus on goals as the ends of a journey and not a tool.  When we have a goal-driven mentality, we can cause unnecessary stress when we don’t achieve the goal.  It’s not a great feeling when I don’t achieve my goal. I don’t see it as the tragedy it once was, I don’t feel the disappointment as sharply.

Looking back, Pharmacy School was a goal of mine but failing out of the program didn’t significantly change my life like I thought it would. I was depressed for a while, angry at myself and disappointed.

Then I realized the trajectory of my life was unaltered by this event.

As I mentioned before, goals are useful tools. But when we become driven by them for themselves and not the bigger picture, it could result in stress, anger, and other demotivating actions.

Focusing on a vision can help reduce demotivating and unproductive thoughts and actions. It gives us an overarching long-term ideal to achieve.

Tracking progress

When being goal-focused, we tend to track progress on an item by item basis without seeing how it effects the greater vision.  Instead, I recommend that we monitor our goal progress while keeping in mind the personal vision associated with that goal.  This way we can see measurable progress towards completing goals.  This decreases the feeling of being overwhelmed by the pressure of completing goals for the sake of completing them.

When I track goals and don’t see progress, I tend to feel unmotivated.  I have to think that motivation comes though persistence and dedication to the task.  It’s important to not have blind dedication but mindful dedication. Taking a mindful dedication to goals, making this a habit will reinforce motivation. This is how we grow from discipline and sticking to our personal vision.

Tracking progress can also help you to get started on your personal vision and goals.  Just starting an action, even if small is a valuable step towards where you want to be. Doing something, anything can lead to something greater.

The Right Goals

We may ask ourselves, what are the right goals? The right goals are the goals that align our actions and our personal vision. It sounds easier than it is.  It’ll take a lot of introspection to figure out your personal vision. Then it’ll take more work to figure out goals to support that vision.  Lastly, it’ll take discipline to follow though with your goals.

Take time to evaluate your goals to see if they are really helpful on your path towards your personal vision. If they aren’t working, change them.  If you’re failing in them, find out why and change it, learn from it.

Final Thoughts

So here’s a challenge for 2018 while this year is still fresh. Make small sensible goals but integrate them based on how you want your life to be.  Track your progress and note your achievements and find why you failed.  Don’t get stuck on the failure, use it as a learning experience.  Hopefully it will lead to decreased stress and disappointment.

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