It is time for the next part of my Spring Cleaning series! Last month, I wrote about clearing out the physical clutter from your life to make space for what is most meaningful to you. This month, we will be working on clearing out the mental clutter.
There is some serious science behind clearing mental clutter but let’s start with a simple example.
Imagine that you are hiking through the woods. You take the same trail every time which, of course, leads to the same destination every time. As you return to this trail over and over, it becomes easier and easier for you to traverse. Eventually, the trail is so familiar that you can arrive at your destination without really noticing how you got there. This is your default thought pattern.
There is nothing wrong with having default thought patterns. In fact, they are quite necessary for us to cope with all the information and stimuli that our brains must process everyday. However, if you have spent years feeling low, worried, pessimistic or generally negative, it is time to start looking at your thought patterns.
Heres the science part: our thoughts form neural pathways in our brains. The more we think the same thought over and over again, the deeper and smoother the neural pathway becomes. Then, like water finding the path of least resistance, our brain creates more pathways that reinforce the original default pattern. We begin to perceive life through the perspective of these dominant neural pathways. This is called a
Okay, thats enough science for now. Lets go back to hiking in the woods. Ahhhh.
Maybe you really love that same old destination so you’re going to stick with that same, well-worn path. If that is the case, great! Enjoy your hike!
However, maybe is your destination starting to feel lackluster. Or boring. Or lifeless. Or dull. Maybe it’s every time you get to the destination you feel empty. Maybe that destination was great for who you were but not for who you want to be.
So why not take a look around you and see if there’s another destination that you want to get to. Maybe you heard about a waterfall called, Joy. Or a gorgeous view called, Purpose. Or a beautiful peak called, Connection.
These paths will be more challenging than your usual path. There will be obstacles in your way like fear, lack, self-doubt and frustration. It will take several attempts to travel down the new path with ease.
Here is the great news! Because of the neural plasticity of the human brain (theres that science again), the new neural pathways will eventually become your new selection bias. It really can become your new reality!
Heres another way of looking at changing your mindset to improve your of life (just in case your are not the outdoorsy type). Lets imagine you want to feel better in your body. You are tired all the time, your stomach is often upset, your skin hasnt been looking good, etc. You are an incredibly busy person so several days a week you visit the drive-thru lane of a fast food restaurant and inhale the food as you drive to your next destination. If you want feel better in you body, you have be careful about what you put in it. You have to give up the junk food. Likewise, if you want to feel different (less worried, or angry, or empty), you need to go on a thought diet. You cant think junk food thoughts and feel mentally well.
Essentially, this is the process and goal of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. The psychotherapist and patient examine the way the patient thinks, and the feelings and behaviors those thoughts produce.
We all have default thinking and selection biases. That is human nature. What isn’t natural is accepting a life that is anything less than the one you deserve. So if you keep winding up at a destination that isn’t really working for you, I can help you look at the paths you take and develop a new map to get you where you want to be.