Did you know that the American home has grown 300% in size in the last 50 years and is reported to contain 300,000 items? Even with acquiring more space for our “stuff”, 10% of Americans rent off-site storage! We certainly have plenty to clutter up our lives, but we also have plenty cluttering up our minds! The National Science Foundation has found that the human brain contains 12,000-60,000 thoughts a day.
The average person has 12,000-60,000 thoughts each day.
When we compare life now to a decade ago, we have immeasurably more information and data invading our thoughts and attention. The average person receives 120 emails and 72 texts per day. And with 93% of those texts being read within three minutes, we’re constantly fighting off distractions and mental clutter. Is it any wonder that over the course of our lives, we spend, on average, a total of 153 days searching for things we own and can’t find!?
This month in Rising Soul, we’re getting organized and decluttering. And while this may bring up images of sorting, donating and cleaning, we’re doing all that and then some… with more than just our things.
Cognitive Load: The brain’s memory capacity that’s being used.
“Cognitive load” is a term that neuroscientists use to describe the amount of bandwidth the brain has for its working memory. When the brain becomes taxed (by remembering what we own, where it all is, what we’re supposed to be doing with it, and keeping track of the constant influx of communication we get through technology) we experience “cognitive overload.” It’s kind of like when your computer gets all jammed up and you realize you have fifteen tabs open and running! (I kid you not…I just counted mine and closed out fourteen!)
Think of this as the amount of hard drive space your computer is using.
We now know that living in cluttered and unorganized spaces is not only the result of our cluttered internal states, but also the cause of it! (My computer is running much more efficiently now, thank you very much.) There are few things we can do to help lighten the mental load we carry.
How to lighten the (cognitive) load
1. Reduce external clutter
By simplifying and organizing our environment, the brain is better able to block out and omit the things it doesn’t need to keep track of. The brain does this naturally when we’re at our best. (After all, it’s probably not important that the car that passed you on the way to work this morning was a red Honda.) But when we’re constantly surrounded by chaos, the brain has to work harder to weed through what to send to long term memory and what can be scrapped right away.
“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions.” ~Barbara Hemphill
2. Reduce internal clutter
That study I referred to earlier found that 95% of the thoughts we have are repetitive. This is more than just déjà vu. This is ruminating on our thinking…likely because we’re constantly interrupted and rarely get to finish a thought! Other reasons for repetitive thinking is that we’re consciously trying to remember everything that we have to keep track of in a day. (Ever read a text invite with the intention of checking your calendar…only to completely forget to respond once you got home?!)
There are two ways of doing this that I’d recommend starting with.
First, pre-plan as much as possible!
Picking out what to wear might not sound like a daunting task at all, but the more decisions and actions you can batch together, the more you free up your mind to focus on the things that matter. I’ve noticed that I can stand in my closet and take 5 minutes picking out what to wear that day, or I can get into a groove and pick out my outfits for all 5 days in the same amount of time. Once that’s done, I don’t have to think about it again
Consider what other activities you can batch together to eliminate the need for your brain to start and stop repeatedly. Pre-planning your day by listing what you need to get done and then scheduling those tasks is another way to chisel away at the mental chatter. Plan it once and then whenever you finish your task or appointment, look at your schedule and jump into the next thing. No more scrolling through your mental list of tasks all day.
Second, post-process at the end of each day
Just as most of us have some clutter that builds up in our purse on an average day, we also have some emotional clutter that needs to be emptied out daily. Emotions are created by our thoughts, and with up to 60,000 thoughts a day, our emotions can build up considerably as well!
We spend a fair amount of our day pushing our emotions aside so we can parent, work and function in the world. We do the same with many of those thoughts. A friend or coworker says something in a snappy tone and we catch our breath in surprise. We try to put it out of mind so we can focus on the presentation we need to give, but as soon as we climb into bed, turn off the lights (and all those intrusive electronics!) our mind finally has the microphone and a stage. This is why over fifty million Americans suffer from sleep disorders! Taking fifteen minutes before bed to dump all your thoughts out of your head and onto paper can allow your brain to get the peace and quiet you need.
A 15-minute download in exchange for an 8-hour night rest?
That’s called a wise investment.
Not into journaling? No worries. Even making a list of bullet points, words, or phrases regarding all that’s on your mind can help. So, a day where you landed a new account, your boss was rude in a meeting and you forgot to get your oil changed again, would result in a list that includes “rude boss, oil change, landed account” etc. Fill a sheet with as many things that you can think of that are on your mind. When you run out of things, try to come up with 3-5 more.
If you are a journaler, take it a step further. Do that prep work on a piece of scrap paper, and then journal on each item, crossing them out as you go until you’ve vented and vetted out all your worries. Another great version of this is writing them out in the form of a prayer. Pour your heart out and tell Him everything. Then rest easy, knowing He’s working on it!
Have a bad case of deja vu?
Every good brain needs a regular reboot!
Schedule a free consultation with me to reset your hardware. I’ll give you a taste of coaching and give you options.