Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)

INTRODUCTION

How Thoughts Determine Our Outcomes

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it’s all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Ever feel overwhelmed by your thoughts? Do you struggle with stress or anxiety about the tasks you need to complete on a weekly basis? Do you want to simply stop worrying about life in general?

We all experience negative thinking from time to time. But if you often feel overwhelmed by these thoughts, then you should closely examine what you’re thinking and how your thoughts impact your mental well-being.

This inner monologue is a natural part of your mental landscape. It’s there all the time, night and day, reminding you about the groceries you need to pick up, shaming you about missing your sister’s birthday, or making you feel anxious about current headlines (like politics, the environment, or the current state of the economy).

These thoughts are the background noise of your life, even though you may not always be aware of their constant presence. Take a second right now and pay attention to your thoughts. Try to stop them. It’s hard, right? You’ll see how they keep streaming in, one after another, unbidden and often unwanted.

Some of your thoughts are random and useless. “My arm itches.” “It looks like it’s gonna rain.” “Where did I put my keys?”

On the other hand, many of our thoughts are intrusive and negative. “That guy is a jerk.” “I really screwed up that project.” “I feel so guilty about what I said to Mom.”

Whether they are negative, neutral, or positive, these thoughts clutter our minds , just like your home can get cluttered when you have too many possessions.

Unfortunately, clearing your mental clutter isn’t as simple as eliminating a possession. You can’t “throw away” a thought and expect it to stay gone. In fact, like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole, your negative thoughts have a way of popping back up as soon as you slap them down.

Why We Think Negative Thoughts

Now, imagine your mind as a fully organized home—a home that’s free from extraneous, draining, and useless items that agitate you. What if you could surround yourself only with thoughts that uplift, inspire, and soothe you?

Consider for a moment your mind as a peaceful cloudless sky, and you have the power to choose what floats across. If that cloudless mental sky is so desirable, then why do we think so much, with so few filters to sort the positive and necessary thoughts from the random and unnecessary?

Your brain contains about 100 billion neurons, with another billion in your spinal cord. The total number of connections between neurons—the cells responsible for processing—has been estimated at 100 trillion synapses.

Our powerful brains are constantly processing all sorts of experiences and analyzing them in the form of thoughts. Thoughts form what we perceive to be reality.

We can control and direct our thoughts, but it often feels like our thoughts have minds of their own, controlling us and how we feel. Thinking is necessary for solving problems, analyzing, making decisions, and planning, but in between the times of proactive mental endeavors, the mind roams like a wild monkey, dragging you through the brambles of rumination and negativity.

Your constant inner dialog distracts you from what is happening around you, right here and now. It causes you to miss valuable experiences and sabotages the joy of the present moment.

Absurdly, we assume we need to think more or harder in order to “figure out” why we aren’t as happy or fulfilled as we wish we could be. We try to pinpoint the possessions, people, and experiences that might quench our longings and ease our unhappiness. The more we ponder our despair, the more despondent we become. Our thoughts make us restless, empty, and agitated as we project into the future or look to the past for answers.

In fact, nearly every negative thought you have relates to the past or future. It’s common to find yourself trapped in a looping cycle of regretful thinking or worry thoughts, even while feeling desperate to escape the never-ending tape playing in your mind.

Not only do you struggle with your thoughts, but you also struggle with your inability to be free of them. The longer the negative thoughts continue to loop, the worse you feel. It’s almost as if there were two of you—the thinker and the judge, the person thinking the thoughts and the person aware that you are thinking them and judging how bad they are.

This thinking/judging dynamic infects us with painful emotions. The more fearful, guilt-ridden, regretful thoughts we have, the more stressed, anxious, depressed, and angry we feel. Sometimes our thoughts paralyze us with bad feelings, and it’s those feelings that rob us of inner peace and contentment.

Although our thoughts are the culprit responsible for so much distress, we assume there’s not much to be done about it. You can’t stop your mind from thinking, right? You can’t shut off your brain at will or rid yourself of the mental chatter and associated feelings that prevent you from enjoying life fully.

Occasionally, we have unexpected moments of mental peace and quiet. More often, however, we try to quell the mental chatter by self-medicating with too much food, alcohol, drugs, work, sex, or exercise. But these are temporary solutions to muffle the noise and ease the pain. Soon enough, our thoughts are back at it again, and the cycle continues.

Are we destined to be victims of our “monkey minds” at all times? Must we constantly battle our thoughts and allow them to drag us down with worry, regret, and anxiety? Is there a way to have a clear mind, free of negativity and pain?

You may not be able to keep your mental house free from clutter all the time, but you can impact your thoughts enough to improve your quality of life and overall happiness in a profound way. Thinking may seem automatic and uncontrollable, but many of our thought patterns are habitual and, well, thoughtless.

Although it appears you and your thoughts are inseparable, you do possess a “conscious self” that can step in with intention and manage your thoughts. You have far more control of your thoughts than you think. When you learn how to control your mind, you open a door to the vastness of creativity, inspiration, and brilliance that is just behind the clutter of those untamed thoughts.

Through various mindfulness practices and practical habits, you can disempower your thoughts and have more “space” in your mind to enjoy inner peace and happiness. You’ll have the clarity to prioritize what’s most important in your life, what no longer serves your goals, and how you want to live on a daily basis.

Introducing: Declutter Your Mind

The goal of this book is simple: We will teach you the habits, actions, and mindsets you can use to clean up the mental clutter that might be holding you back from being more focused and mindful.

Instead of just telling you to do something, we show you how practical, science-backed actions can create real and lasting change if practiced regularly.

Declutter Your Mind is broken down into four information-packed sections that you can use to change a specific aspect of your life that might be causing you to feel stressed or overwhelmed. Specifically, we cover these topics:

1.                 Decluttering Your Thoughts

2.                Decluttering Your Life Obligations

3.                Decluttering your Relationships

4.                Decluttering Your Surroundings

You’ll find that this book is full of exercises that can have an immediate, positive impact on your mindset. Since there is a lot of material, we suggest you read it all the way through one time and then go through it again to identify the one area of your life that needs the most work. In other words, you should find a “quick win” that will have an immediate impact on your life.

Who Are We?

Barrie is the founder of the award-winning personal development site, Live Bold and Bloom . She is a certified personal coach and online course creator, helping people apply practical strategies to push past comfort zones and create happier, richer, more successful lives. She is also the author of a series of self-improvement books on positive habits, life passion, confidence building, mindfulness, and simplicity.

As an entrepreneur, a mom of three, and a homeowner, Barrie knows firsthand how valuable and life-changing it is to simplify and manage both our inner and outer lives in order to reduce stress and enjoy life to the fullest.

Steve (or “S.J.”) runs the blog Develop Good Habits and is the author of a series of habit-related titles, all of which are available on Amazon at HabitBooks.com. The goal of his content is to show how continuous habit development can lead to a better life.

Together, we are the authors of two previous books about mindfulness and leading a less complicated lifestyle: 10-Minute Declutter: The Stress Free Habit for Simplifying Your Home and 10-Minute Digital Declutter: The Simple Habit to Eliminate Technology Overload . Not only do these books teach practical actions to control your material possessions, they also show how eliminating the “noise” in your life can have a positive impact on mental health.

Both of us have different reasons for not only adopting the following principles, but also deciding to write this book in the first place.

Barrie’s Story…

Over the last few years, Barrie has had a profound shift in her lifestyle and life priorities. Feeling an emptiness in her life and often dealing with generalized anxiety, she began a personal quest to find what she felt passionate about beyond her role as a mom, and to figure out how to quiet the “voice in her head” that triggered the anxiety and suffering she experienced.

Her journey led her to a new career as a personal coach, personal development blogger, teacher, and author. Through her work and research, she encountered several profound “aha” moments when she learned more about mindfulness practices, simplifying, and identifying a few life priorities where she wanted to spend most of her time and energy.

She recently moved from a congested and busy suburb of Atlanta to Asheville, NC, where she enjoys a slower pace of life in a town that focuses on healthy living, great food, interpersonal connections, nature, and music.

She downsized to a much smaller house, getting rid of many of her possessions and streamlining her wardrobe. She prioritizes relationships, experiences, and meaningful work over things, money, and prestige. In her daily life, she tries to focus on balance and being present, using meditation, exercise, and time in nature as her tools.

Steve’s Story…

For many years, Steve led a pretty simplistic lifestyle, but since the second half of 2015 he has experienced four major life event changes (marriage, a new baby, buying a house, and starting a brand new business). While all of these events have been amazing, they have also led to an increased amount of stress in his life.

At first, Steve felt overwhelmed by these changes, but he eventually learned how to simplify what goes through his head, and to be in the moment with whatever he is doing at the time. So now, when he spends time with this wife and son, he is 100 percent in the moment; and when he’s working, he completes important tasks in a productive flow state.

The strategies that Steve and Barrie both use to overcome the stress in their lives aren’t easy. But they definitely work—if you’re willing to work at it on a daily basis. These are the strategies that you’ll discover in the following book.

Why You NEED to Read Declutter Your Mind

This book is for anyone who recognizes how their untamed thoughts are interfering with their focus, productivity, happiness, and peace of mind.

Declutter Your Mind will be a good fit if you:

·                   Often find yourself trapped in anxious, negative, and unproductive thinking

·                   Lose valuable time, focus, and energy because of overthinking and worry

·                   Feel frustrated and confused about how to stop negative and compulsive thinking

·                   Have experienced times of high stress, agitation, anxiety, and even depression as a result of mental overwhelm

·                   Find yourself looking to money, possessions, work, success, or prestige to fill a void of emptiness or sadness you feel

·                   Feel so busy, overwhelmed, and stressed that you’ve lost touch with who you really are

·                   Find yourself turning to distractions, alcohol, drugs, and other compulsions to numb yourself to painful thoughts and feelings

·                   Would like to change your priorities and learn to manage and understand your thoughts so they don’t rule your life

·                   Get complaints from your boss, spouse, or family members about your distraction, disengagement, agitation, or constant stress

·                   Simply desire a more centered, calm, and peaceful lifestyle

The bottom line?

If you desire to have a simplified, calm mental life—and to reclaim some of the time and emotional energy you give up to overthinking and anxiety—then you’ve come to the right place. Throughout this book, you will not only learn the skills you need to declutter and manage your thoughts, but also discover actionable strategies to implement immediately.

We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump in and discuss why we are so trapped by our thoughts, and how it’s impacting us.