Retirement Happiness — Clear Mental Clutter

Every day I hear about the importance of clearing physical clutter but I don’t hear admonitions to clear mental clutter. When my brain fills with chatter and uncertainty about what I should be doing next, I know that it’s time to step back and clear the mental clutter. Junk floating around the brain is similar to junk cluttering your home or garage or desk.

Mental clutter comes from distraction, indecision, procrastination, fear of failure, stress, disorganization, and having too many things to do. Voices in your head create unrealistic expectations. Life feels complicated.  Well-being is compromised leaving negative emotions. It’s easy to believe the worst about a situation or about ourselves. Feelings of doubt and mistrust crowd out joy, serenity, and hope.

During my career, my brain was often cluttered with too many demands and too little time to complete tasks to my personal standards.  The ‘to do’ list expanded despite herculean efforts to tame commitments and expectations. Unpredictable events sometimes meant re-arranging priorities to accommodate new demands. Too often I multi-tasked, cramming too-many tasks into short time periods.

Even in retirement, it’s easy for deadlines, ‘to do’ lists, memories, and commitments to derail plans.  Social media diversions add to over-stimulation. Despite the use of daily/weekly/monthly plans, I often feel overwhelmed. My brain gets cluttered resulting in feelings of disappointment, frustration, guilt, and general angst.

Clutter -- photo courtesy of Ashim D'Silva
Physical Clutter — a metaphor for mental clutter — Photo courtesy of Ashim D’Silva


Overcoming Mental Clutter

Overcoming mental clutter begins with awareness. Frantic feelings of too much to do and too little time are a good indicator.  Other symptoms might include restless sleep, grouchiness, uneasiness, and anxiety. Knowing that equilibrium is threatened with brain chatter is a good first step.

Make a plan to clear the mental clutter. Sometimes it’s a simple as using breath control with particular emphasis on long exhales.  Other easy steps include:

  • focusing on one thing a time rather than multitasking
  • letting go of ‘shoulds’
  • making expectations realistic
  • managing commitments by saying ‘No’
  • opting for ‘good enough’ rather than perfect
  • limiting screen time especially time spent on social media

When clearing mental clutter, it’s often helpful to set an intention to concentrate on physical health and living well. Feeding the body and brain with a nutritious diet rich in fruits and veggies rather than opting for fast and easy food choices will give an immediate energy boost. Taking time to exercise, especially in the outdoors, almost always provides a boost in mood and outlook. Getting enough sleep helps to restore brain function, reduces stress, and makes a difference in overall quality of life.

Finally, some years ago, I studied David Allan’s techniques for enhancing productivity. A core principle was re-assessment of goals and aspirations.  Some hopes and dreams need to be parked as there is not enough time to do everything.  When we loosen the tight grip of what’s cluttering the brain, it’s possible to relax and get a perspective of what is important in life. Managing time intelligently means managing yourself!

I’m sure that readers face similar challenges with mental clutter.  What techniques help you to tame endless brain chatter?  Please add your comments.  If you like this post, please share it on social media. I you wish to receive posts by email, enter your name and email address to become a subscriber.


4 Replies to “Retirement Happiness — Clear Mental Clutter”

  1. Lovely article – applies to those of us who are self-employed, too. Thank you for defining the challenges that many of us have with managing our time and our lives, and for suggesting some positive strategies.

    1. Whenever I think I should manage my time better, I remember that it’s not about time management but rather, about managing myself. David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done was helpful during my career. I still turn to it from time to time.

  2. Good advice at a busy time of year. I am certainly seeing grouchiness in myself – must be a sign that I need to declutter. Thanks for your post!

    1. Sometimes all of us need a brain detox. US Thanksgiving and Black Friday signal that holiday expectations will create even more angst. Let’s resolve to listen to the small still voice inside and ignore the external craziness that taxes both the wallet and the brain at this time of year.

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