The Goods

Spring clean your psyche: How to clear out mental clutter with simple daily habits

Dr. Marcia Sirota shares an action plan for taking control of mental distractions.

Dr. Marcia Sirota shares an action plan for taking control of mental distractions.

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Spring is the perfect time of year to give your home a thorough cleaning. But just like you declutter your home, you can also declutter your mind. In fact, ridding yourself of all of the accumulated stuff that you've taken in from your family, society, and educational system over the years could be the best form of spring cleaning you could possibly tackle this season. Psychiatrist Dr. Marcia Sirota knows it can be hard to let go of resentment, stop worrying, refrain from comparing ourselves to others and eliminate negative self talk, so she stopped by The Goods to teach us all how to clean up our psychological clutter.

If all of this sounds very familiar, fear not. In today's society, we're bombarded by information every minute of every day. Our thoughts can be so scattered, it can be overwhelming at times, but Dr. Sirota has some tools for helping with this. She recommends scheduling time-outs in your calendar to take a breath and focus on one thing at a time. It's all about simple things you can incorporate into your daily life to see real change that you'll notice after just one week. Here's an action plan that can help:

Take a break from tech

Our culture is overstimulated by media, so our thoughts speed up and then we can't focus, plan or take constructive steps to reach our goals. And with all the social media we take in, we often compare ourselves with others, sometimes leading to feelings of envy or depression, because we don't feel like we measure up.

Dr. Sirota's solution is to take breaks from technology. Carve out some tech-free zones in your day, so that your thoughts can slow down and you can daydream, let your thoughts wander and be spontaneous and creative. It's even healthier when you do it with someone else or if you're outside.

Set realistic goals for yourself. Social media self-awareness is key – if you're envious about something you saw online, think about your goals and what you want to achieve in 2018. Sign up for that writing class or those music lessons and use those feelings to fuel creativity.

Just STOP

Every time a negative thought creeps into your mind, whether it's worrying about the future or ruminating about past mistakes, visualize a stop sign (or any image that works for you) and say to yourself, "Not going there."

Worrying can stem from a lack of self-confidence and self-trust, so to let go of it, you want to build up more confidence. One way to do this is to check your goals list. Pick one simple goal and start taking steps to achieve it. It doesn't matter if you succeed or fail if you still moved forward and learned something. It may sound easier said than done, but keep it up and you'll build your skills, confidence and resilience, and the mental clutter will start to fade away.

Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion is being kind to yourself – simple as that. Dr. Sirota says we can break it down into self-acceptance, self-forgiveness and silencing the inner critic. Being kind to ourselves gives us permission to do better, be better and to keep learning from our mistakes. This helps us to become the best version of ourselves.

Self-acceptance is letting go of perfectionism and acknowledging that we're a work in progress. Self-forgiveness helps us see that when we dwell on the past, we get stuck in guilt, shame and self-blame. It's harder to learn, grow and change with all this mental negativity. It's better to forgive ourselves, knowing that every mistake or failure is a learning opportunity.

The inner critic is that nasty voice in our heads that's always putting you down. A journal can help with this. Spend fifteen minutes writing down all the negative statements about yourself that you can think of, and then as many positive things, especially things that contradict the negative self-talk. Eventually, the positives will overpower the negatives and you'll start to feel a lot better.

Express your anger

Anger and resentment can create a lot of mental clutter. Some of the best ways to release anger are through exercise and creativity like writing, painting, drawing, dancing, singing, running, or any kind of vigorous exercise.

We need conscious and focused tools to connect with our anger and release it. We often can't recognize our anger and even if we do, we don't know what to do with it, so it turns into worry, or we feel the need to turn to food or other substances as an emotional outlet.

To rid yourself of resentment and anger that could be preventing you from pursuing our goals, Dr. Sirota suggests writing angry letters to those you feel have hurt you, without actually sending them. This allows you to vent without hurting anyone, and still release all the negative emotions you're feeling.

Turn a negative into a positive

Negative thoughts stress us out and decrease our productivity. To combat this, Dr. Sirota suggests a simple bedtime routine. Every night, write down three things that you accomplished that day, and the reactions that resulted in that positive outcome. And then right beside each thing, write down what you did that resulted in the good outcome. By acknowledging the things you've done to create success and achieve your goals will help your self confidence and recognize your competency. Try it for even one week and you'll may notice a difference in your mood.

Exercise gratitude

Dr. Sirota also recommends that you write down three things you're grateful for. Gratitude improves our mood because it accentuates the positive and it takes our focus off all the things we don't like and what we don't have.

Practice realistic affirmations

Affirmations can be very helpful, but they're most helpful when they're believable. Just like when a parent tells us that we're perfect and we don't believe them, we won't benefit from an unrealistic affirmation. Instead, give yourself affirmations that are believable, like: "I'm a work in progress, always learning and growing." "I'm perfectly imperfect." "I'm doing my best and becoming the best version of myself." These realistic affirmations build your self-worth and create positive thoughts in your mind that can push out the negative ones.

Dr. Sirota urges people to incorporate these tips into your daily routine, whether your mind feels cluttered or not. Just give it a try for a week and see if your mind feels clearer!

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.