“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
A Mind Becomes Seriously Cluttered
This story is true. The names have been changed. I’m telling this story to illustrate an extreme example of mind cluttering.
Jimmy, at age 10 or 11, a typical adventurous boy, wanted to be a “stunt bicyclist,” jumping his bike over a 6 ft. wooden fence. He and his friend designed the launchpad perfectly. Jimmy’s bike soared over the fence with plenty of clearance only to make contact with the clothesline across his forehead on the other side. He and his bike crashed to the ground with his left temple landing on a rock. He had a headache but didn’t notice much else. His ego was hurt more than his head.
Since his bike was put in lockdown for a few weeks, baseball became his game of choice. Just a week after the first accident, during a baseball game, he took a ball to his left temple, the exact spot that met with a rock the week before.
The two injuries back to back caused scar tissue to form where an artery and blood vessel came together. At first, he would have times when he’d get really dizzy or be disoriented. Over the years, this developed into random seizures.
At about age 45, a time when he was under a lot of stress, Jimmy suffered an aneurysm, where the blood vessel pulled away from the artery causing a bleed in his brain resulting in a stroke. He was paralyzed on one side and was completely blind for several days.
This incident happened two days before Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day, his wife, Shirley, went to visit him. While she was there the nurse brought a tray of juice to him. He wasn’t allowed to have solid food, so his meal consisted of two types of juice: cranberry juice and turkey broth.
Remember, Jimmy was completely blind.
Shirley decided to play a game with him to cheer him up. She told him she had brought him Thanksgiving dinner. He hadn’t had anything to eat for two days so he was ready.
“You brought me Thanksgiving Dinner? I’m so excited. I thought I was going to miss it. What do we have?” Jimmy asked.
“We have the standard, turkey, potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie,” Shirley said trying to keep a straight face even though differences didn’t seem to register. “Are you ready for your first bite?”
“Turkey first,” he said opening his mouth wide for a spoonful of turkey.
“Not so wide. They said you can only take small bites,” she said as she put the glass of turkey broth up to his lips, pouring a tiny amount in his mouth.
He acted like he was chewing then swallowed, “Man that turkey is good. Can I have some potatoes and gravy?”
She, once again poured a small amount of the turkey broth into his mouth, “There you go. Isn’t that good?”
He swallowed, “Thank you for bringing all this food. I was so hungry. Can I have more turkey and cranberries?”
She continued giving him little sips of turkey broth or cranberry juice describing each sip as a bite of traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Shirley thought he was just playing along making the best out of being in the hospital on Thanksgiving, until the next day when she went to visit.
A nurse pulled her aside, “Jimmy said you brought Thanksgiving dinner for him yesterday and fed it to him. You know he’s not allowed any solid food until the doctor okay’s it, right?”
Shirley laughed, “You’ve got to be kidding. I gave him the juice that you brought in. With each sip, I told him it was turkey, potatoes, and gravy or whatever. I thought he was just playing along with the game. He actually believed I fed him a Thanksgiving dinner?” Shirley asked.
The nurse laughed and shook her head, “Oh my. Yes, he’s telling everyone how good the dinner was and that you went out of your way to bring it up to him.”
Results of Brain Injury
As in Jimmy’s case, the injury and the blood on the brain created pressure which interfered with his brain’s ability to carry out its normal functions like his ability to see and tell reality from what was told him.
Jimmy was in a minimally conscious state where he had a reduced ability to respond correctly to simple commands or stimuli and reduced awareness of his surroundings and events.
In that state, the brain is not able to cope with stimulation like noise, touch, light, commands or instructions or even interrupting the stimulus correctly. It gets all cluttered in the person’s brain.
How Does A Brain Injury Relate To Decluttering Your Mind?
This is a very good question. I’m so glad you asked. This is where it gets interesting.
Jimmy underwent full brain surgery with two months of rehabilitation to get most of his functionality back.
With brain injury and surgery, Jimmy’s brain was decluttered.
Have you ever seen the movie 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore? In the movie Henry Roth is a man afraid of commitment up until he meets the beautiful Lucy. They hit it off and Henry thinks he’s finally found the girl of his dreams until he discovers she has short-term memory loss and forgets him the next day.
Jimmy found himself in the same situation. When he’d go to sleep at night his brain would lose its memory like turning off the first computers. For months, every morning his memory had to be reloaded like reloading data into a computer. He would have to be told who he and everyone else was, what happened, why he was in a wheelchair or using a walker, etc.
When Jimmy’s brain began to retain the information provided, his brain could only take small amounts of information at a time. When he would try to retain more than his brain could handle he would get really stressed and begin jumping for one task to another then he would begin to forget things. He would be physically and mentally exhausted. Just like anyone else with a cluttered mind.
But, when he would go to sleep his mind would become decluttered, again, and the process would begin all over again.
Jimmy had a friend that would call him every day and sometimes multiple times per day. It was good that he had someone to check on him while Shirley was at work. But it presented a problem because this friend began filling Jimmy’s mind with negative thoughts about Shirley, the doctors, and his life in general.
The negative thoughts were presented to him as facts to be loaded into his mind. As his mind began to retain information his brain seemed to have a war within itself. Shirley would give him the positive information then the friend would give him the negative information. Because of his inability to reason things out for himself, he became excessively stressed impeding the process of restoring his brain and mind function, similar to what happens when our minds become very cluttered.
One doctor said, in situations like Jimmy’s, if the person has a personality quirk, such as biting their nails or constantly fidgeting or being negative about everything, when their brain is reloading they can change that quirk.
In Jimmy’s situation, because of the negative input from the friend, he became a very negative and critical person. He had never really been prone to being negative after the negative input.
Our minds are very powerful. “According to ASAP Science, every thought we have can actually change the structure and function of our brains (Mashable,2013).” Scientists are still trying to learn more about the brain, its physical structure, how it functions, what thoughts are and how thoughts create realities, as well as, fantasies.
We depend heavily on our minds, moment by moment, to think, process and store memories and information of the day, remember names, locations, and other vital information and remind us of things we have to do. Even when we go to sleep at night, our minds continue functioning, processing our dreams.
So, we can all agree that the mind is a truly amazing thing. We as humans still have lots to learn about our own minds.
Because our minds never stop processing they can become overloaded with information that tends to clutter our minds. When our minds become cluttered it’s much harder to think clearly and to focus on any given task at hand.
The clutter tends to make us stressed. You may be working on one project and your mind jumps to something else. This is a common occurrence with people who have too much on their plates. It becomes obvious that your mind is cluttered when you can’t focus on one specific task that needs to be completed.
A Cluttered Mind
- The mind jumps quickly from one thought to another
- Sleep disturbances – minds refuse to shut down
- Mental fatigue
- Foggy mind
- Physically and mentally exhausted
- Difficulty focusing on one task
- Jumps from one thought or task to another without completing one
- Negative Thoughts
To be able to unclutter your mind you have to know why it’s cluttered. In our busy day to day lives, we often forget to slow down, take a few deep breaths and relax.
We continually fill our minds with data – often, data is added to our already overloaded mind. Much of the data is irrelevant to the tasks at hand.
For many people, it’s customary to spend an hour or two on Facebook or other social media platforms per day. That information is combined with an hour or two of television shows just before going to bed. The four-plus hours of data are then added to the data and stress from work and family. Then they wonder why their minds won’t be quiet when they crawl into bed.
Our minds are still processing all the information that has been thrown at it in the last 18 hours or so. Unlike Jimmy, our minds don’t unload when we go to sleep. We have to take the necessary step to declutter our minds.
A person with ADHD experiences a cluttered mind all the time. It is second nature to them. Still, they can declutter their minds or slow their minds down. Yes, it may take a little more work or concentration than another person, but it can be done.
Instead of giving kids Ritalin when diagnosed with ADHD, today they are teaching kids how to manage their symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention. These ADHD therapies don’t affect the core symptoms, but they teach children skills they can use to control them. These techniques are very similar to techniques mentioned below.
“Take A Step Back. Clear Your Mind. Refresh Your Perspective.”
Deep Breathing Exercises
The first step to decluttering your mind is to relax by taking several deep breaths. Deep breathing is used by millions of people to help them calm their minds, reduce their stress level, improve their focus, and give focused attention to the task at hand.
Scientific studies have shown that deep breathing has a positive impact on a person’s ability to focus, reduce stress and anxiety.
Once you have determined what is cluttering your mind, it’s time to begin to unclutter it. Journaling can become a very important help in determining what thoughts are relevant to your current situation and which ones are not.
When you are thinking you are actually speaking to yourself, so listen closely to which thoughts are important.
Write down important thoughts and new ideas. These thoughts may not seem important at the time, but they maybe later.
Another approach would be to list the unimportant thoughts and line them out, telling your mind that those thoughts are not important or necessary.
Also, create a memory journal when you write about your memories. Some people prefer to do it with photographs, such as a scrapbook, while others prefer to write or record themselves speaking.
Use Checklists and Planners for everything from getting out of the house on time to morning and night routines. When you know what you should do in the morning, day, and evening it simplifies the thoughts that need to be processed.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
When our minds are filled with negative thoughts our life becomes much more difficult and our minds get cluttered, similar to Jimmy’s experience when trying to reload his mind. Negative thoughts lead to poor performance at work, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and other psychological issues.
One way to challenge your negative thoughts is to tackle problems that present themselves head-on.
Also, when negative thoughts pop into your head, find the truth and replace the negative thought with positive thoughts.
Tackle One Task At A Time
Multitasking is one thing that can quickly clog your brain. When you have different projects or tasks that need to be completed, phone calls that distract you or switch your priorities, your mind can become cluttered very quickly.
Take a few minutes and prioritize the projects or tasks. Start the first task and stay with it until it is finished, then move on to the next task. This will reduce the cluttering in your mind. You will also accomplish more with a greater sense of satisfaction.