how to manage mind clutter


Somewhere along the bumpy evolutionary path,  we have became chronic over-consumers and collectors.  It is absolutely no surprise then that ‘clutter happens’.   And more clutter means more to manage.




Now as the cooler days and crisper nights have us now reaching for sweaters, socks and fleece blankets, ’tis the season to pack up and put away the collected odds and sods of summer living.  And even though we’ll miss the carefree feeling of sun-dresses and flip-flops, there is something so refreshing about marking the change of seasons with a ritual of storing away the old and bringing out new-to-this-year items that have been tucked away for a season or three.

We have methods of organizing summer clutter, but what about the mind clutter?

When do we get around to gathering and clearing the cognitive dust-bunnies that can leave us feeling confused, tired and overwhelmed?

You may have mind clutter if you:

  • have a deep yearning for a simpler life in the face of your competing priorities
  • keep forgetting or losing commonplace things daily
  • find yourself overly-fixated on insignificant issues
  • are more impatient than usual and are chronically irritated
  • are noticing inconsistent self-care and sleep patterns

Either it is merely a minor case of mind clutter or you’re slowly losing your mind. The two can be easily confused but let’s assume it’s simply the former and save learning how to manage insanity for another day.

Mind clutter can be as distracting and easily as much of a hindrance to our daily functioning as can physical clutter.  But how do we deal with what we can’t see?



When I’m tackling a closet or a basement, I tend to make three piles: “Keep”, “Toss” and “Recycle”. I’ve also found that that same categories come in handy when dealing with a barrage of thoughts and mental preoccupations.

Keep: When held up to the light of reason and experience, is this repeated thought or worry worth keeping around? If it has some value but I don’t have time to sit with it in the moment, it gets written down to be given intentional attention later.

Toss: If the thought is encased in black and white thinking, distortion, generalization or comes from a place of fear, then it is tossed.

Recycle: What have I learned from this current fixation or line of thinking? What life pattern and underlying belief is feeding this fixation? Can I share what I’ve learned with a friend, a colleague or write about it in a blog?



Once the clutter is reduced, it is time to create a management system for what is left. For a moment, think of your mind as a toddler, full of Energizer-bunny exuberance, ideas and untamed curiosity. Then remember that the very same toddler is also impulsive, egocentric and clearly not a pillar of self-discipline.

In the case of an actual toddler, you have compassion for the developmental traits that are expected as a toddler but not quite so acceptable as an adult. And, as the adult in a relationship with the toddler, you’d lovingly, compassionately guide the child towards towards a growing attention, focus, a consideration of outcomes and other general self-regulation tools. You’d also know that growth in these areas would not happen overnight and would be a process with a time-line differing for each person. You would lovingly and with an eye on the long haul, train the child for the long term outcome.

Why wouldn’t your mind need the same kind of compassionate training?  Like a child, your mind impulsively collects distracting worries, pleasures, needs, fears, opportunities and decisions to be made like a toddler picks up rocks, sticks and frogs. Meditation is an effective mind training/ management system to deal with mental clutter.



Despite it being an endless well of depth to be explored, in its most basic form, meditation is simply sitting with what is. It is not trying to stop the thinking process, nor is it a chance to pronounce judgement on thoughts that will naturally arise in moments of quiet and it is definitely not sitting to create more peace or balance or hope.

It is simply sitting with your rambunctious toddler-mind and warmly inviting its focus back to the breath every time it wanders off to follow something shiny and interesting. That’s it. Sit. Breathe. Bring focus of the mind gently back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale. Sit. Breathe. Bring focus back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale.

Can’t you just feel the clutter fading with each focused breath?




Mind clutter is like having too much furniture in a dark room. When the lights are off, you cannot move around the room without stubbing your toe on something!

So turn on the lights with a few minutes of intentional minimizing and simple meditation each day and notice the incredible joy of “less is more”.








performance anxiety

In my role as an educator, it is most certainly during test-taking situations that student anxiety increases to distracting and limiting levels. Blocked by adrenaline power surges inappropriate for the situation and streaming negative self-talk, it is no wonder students are unable to effectively show what they know.

But students in academic assessment situations are not the only ones who experience a nervousness that impairs performance. An important job interview. Presenting a cutting-edge proposal.  Initiating a difficult conversation. Speaking in public. Even going on a first date!  A little adrenaline goes a long way but too much can knock you off your game and meeting a challenge in a state that resembles being overly-caffeinated may not be the best game plan.

To keep the vein-coursing energy at beneficial levels and to prevent mental blocks, consider the following suggestions as part of any pre-performance warm-ups.

1. Come on in and make yourself uncomfortable

Notice where the discomfort has settled in your body. Nerves can manifest in unpleasant heart-pounding episodes, neck and shoulder tightness, stomach clenching, sweating or even nausea. What is showing up for you and where?

Once you’ve located your specific area of tension, begin to notice a place in your body that is feeling just fine. Perhaps your earlobes are feeling particularly dandy and not carrying even a smidgen of anxiety. Or the pads of your fingers. Or the hairs on your forearm. Not sure about you but my arm-hairs are characteristically slothful and rarely get riled up.

Now you will become aware that you are holding two realities at once in your singular experience. Tension and relaxation in balance and harmony within one body, one mind. The anxiety, the nerves and the panic are not in charge even though they obnoxiously make the most noise. Because it is just an illusion, you can choose not to hand over the reins of your attention to the chronically chatty nervous system. With this awareness, the two can co-exist quite peacefully.

2. Hit the ground sitting

Grounding can be done in many ways but this method works best when sitting in a chair at a desk or table. Sit comfortably so that the soles of your feet are flat on the ground. Being barefooted here would be even better.  Notice their connectedness to an immovable ground, a solid foundation.

Folding forward, lower your head bringing your forehead directly to the surface in front of you or you can choose to place your hands on the surface first with your forehead on your hands. You may notice immediately the calming effect of folding forward and resting your head. Do you remember in grade school when the teacher, at the end of her classroom management rope, would forcefully exclaim “heads down on your desks!’ Clearly she knew the power of a resting forehead.

With feet on ground and head on table, allow your breath to flow smoothly and evenly through your nostrils into your belly. Recall your specific areas of discomfort, and on each inhale, draw the breath to that area. On each exhale, release the area as if you are exhaling the tension. Do this methodical breathing for three to five breaths. At this point, do a check in with yourself to see if you need to stay for a few more deep inhales and exhales.

Early morning at Malibu Lake in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, California, which is located on the northwestern edge of Los Angeles County, May 1975


3. What exactly are you saying?

Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” Henry Ford nailed this one right on the head. In the face of a possibly ego-toppling performance that is before you, what are you saying to yourself?  What are your “I am” statements? I am going to fail. I am not ready. I am not good enough. What reality are you creating with your own thoughts?

If you have time to challenge the negative, reactive “I am”s before your challenge, then do so. Liberation from them will create a new reality of “I am”s. I am going to do well. I am ready for anything. No matter what the outcome, I am good enough. You can choose your truth by the very words you use.  And without the blockages created by faulty thinking, the currents of performance energy can flow freely.

But, if time is limited, practice ‘shelving’. After the breathing exercise, take the muddying mind clutter and put it on a shelf until you have time to re-script. Shelving can be done by recording concerns in a Worry Journal, by visualizing the thoughts being put on a shelf or by trapping the thoughts in a mason jar like I suggested in an earlier post. Find a shelving technique that works for you.

Practice noticing the discomfort, the intentional grounding and choosing to make your thoughts work for you regularly so when you are faced with a nerve-jangling challenge, these techniques will be at your fingertips.  And if all the stars are aligned, your fingertips will be feeling oh-so-fine and quite sublime!

Le main de Madame Hugo

sunday hand

When I was in primary grade school, I had an art teacher who was delightfully adamant about order and process. Before each student was allowed to dip into their genius, their inner Van Gogh, or the three paint pots suspended on the easel, it was imperative that they designate one of their hands as the “Sunday” hand.

The concept of wearing your “Sunday” best would have been widely recognizable to the students at a time when the majority us still attended a place of worship with our parents and would have understood the idea Sunday being a different day set apart from the rest of the work week.  As we put on our paint-stained art smocks to protect our school clothes, we knew just what she meant.

Painting time

In the context of art class, the “Sunday” hand was absolutely, under no circumstance, to make even incidental contact with any paint, charcoal , chalk or oh-so-tempting Aylmer’s white glue. It was the hand that stayed clean enough to prevent even the most artistic messes from spreading when the inevitable non-art related activities were necessary between acts of creation. Keeping the sanctity of sanctified hand in tact must have been a real challenge for this age group who struggled with even the most basic levels of consistent self-regulation. Imagine the utter chaos on Papier Mache Day!

After mentioning this memory to a few people and being met with blank stares of no recognition, I realized that the “Sunday” hand concept was not quite as universal as I had first thought. I assumed it was right up there with the standard primary grade thinking that the teachers lived at the school or the tales of the jolly, red-suited guy who went on his annual, world-wide chimney crawl in a sleigh.

As a pre-pubescent perfectionist with tightly pulled pig-tails, I adored the “Sunday” hand rule. It resonated deeply with my desire for efficiency and order. Not exactly the hallmarks of genuine artist expression but, at that time, predictability definitely trumped art. So imagine my pleasure at having no ashy smudges anywhere, no fingerprints on a painting-in-progress and much less mess to clean up when the recess bell rang.

But beyond that, beyond this example of one teacher’s method of minimizing mess in her art class, I just assumed my childhood reality of the “Sunday” hand was the greater reality understood by small children everywhere. Instead, it was like seeing a word, new to you, in print for the first time and realizing it is spelled differently than you had always imagined it would be.

Does it make a difference if my teacher was responsible for coining the phrase “Sunday” hand and was the only educator in the entire universe to have implemented it? Not really. Does it matter that my childhood perception of the concept of it was not a worldwide, culturally recognizable idea? Nope.

What caught me off guard was that this simple, not-at-all-crucial childhood memory and, more importantly, my perception of it had been laying dormant in the very back of a dusty neurological filing cabinet, in the file folder labelled “Absolute Truth” by my 7 year-old self.  Not until four decades later was the assumption even remembered and considered, let alone challenged.

Other than instinctively keeping one hand relatively clean while cooking or painting a room in my home, holding on to the unchallenged assumption from this memory has done no psychological damage, left emotional scars, nor left a trail of relational destruction in my wake. But are there others?

Are there other more potent notions or beliefs created in those concrete-thinking developmental stages of my life that need to be re-filed under a different heading? Notions that need to be questioned?  Hidden beliefs that could be subtly impacting actions and eliciting reactions without awareness of the belief even existing?  It’s the quiet ones (it always is) upon which my brick-wall patterns are built so it might be beneficial to recognize them and challenge their validity.

What long-forgotten beliefs, formed in childhood, useful then but no so much now, are still quietly informing my current perceptions about my value, my life’s purpose and work and my relationships?

It’s time to dust off that cabinet and do some filing.


how to deal with negativity

People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.

Not sure out of what side of the bed Plato rolled the morning he penned this little nugget but it seemed he was drawing his relational parameters with a heavy-tipped, black permanent marker and possibly hadn’t yet had his first cup of coffee.

Reading this began a meandering line of thought about the people we encounter daily, occasionally or even just once. I would suggest there is likely a broader range of ways that those we meet may reflect our own lives back to us beyond the simple “people are dirt” simile.

And I take exception to the point that someone else has the power to “stunt” you or “make” you do anything. The relinquishing of personal power and awarding it to an external source this way artificially limits us and gives us false permission for us to shirk responsibility for our own actions.

I’ll give old Plato a break and agree that some people do walk around resembling the Charlie Brown character, Pigpen, with dusty clouds of negativity swirling around them and leaving a greasy film of unpleasantness wherever they go. You know them. The complainers, the proclaimers, those naturally prone to general unpleasantness, the takers, the scarcity-worshippers and the compulsive silence-fillers.


When paths cross, it can often be too easy to begin our own silent rant about their sour disposition, their unkindness or otherwise dusty demeanor. Doesn’t take long after that before we look down to notice the dust of negativity circling us. How about letting the dust settle and seeing more clearly?



What is it that you that dislike about this person? Specifically, what annoys you? What compels you to speak unkindly to others about their unkindness?


Now turn the whole thing around. Ask yourself what part of that annoying quality, already exists in you? What part of you recognizes that part of them?


Look that newly discovered dark part of yourself directly in the eye, recognize how it manifests and accept it. Accept it in you, accept it in them.
It’s true, life is messy,  Dust happens.  But, we have a choice whether or not to remain in the dust cloud and inhale or to accept and move away to where the air is clearer.  Accepting is simple, but not easy.  A new pattern to be practiced.  A  new way of seeing without judging or labelling.