Kate Bartolotta wonders if it’s time for you to clean out the mental clutter in your life.
I am a proud collector of all sort of unusual esoteric facts and oddities; I’d never discourage anyone to do otherwise. I find some of the best conversations (and best friendships) begin over shared weird passions and trivia that we keep tucked away.
This is about that other mental junk. The true “junk” that doesn’t serve any purpose but to make it harder to enjoy the good stuff. If you find amidst the enjoyable miscellany, you have some of these making life feel cluttered, maybe it’s time to clean them out.
I don’t mean things we actually want or need to do. Some times we have those little mental pop-up reminders when we’ve slacked on taking care of ourselves or taking steps towards our goals. I’m talking about those vague ideas of things we think maybe we should be doing because “everybody else does” or because it fits some ego projection of what life should be like. I should have a bigger house. I should have a newer car. I should have a fancier job title. I should make Pinteresty looking cupcakes and have everything nice and neat all the time. I should be different than who I am right now. Oh yeah…says who? While we strive to let our higher selves emerge and run the show, let’s not get caught up in trying to be someone else’s higher self…or the sitcom version of what life should be like.
2. What ifs.
There is a gap between having reasonable caution and being paralyzed by fear, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we know which is which. Looking before you leap is one thing, but as a friend reminded me once when I was obsessing, it doesn’t mean getting out your measuring tape and barometer to make sure you can make the leap. Worrying about every eventuality for every situation does only one thing: it keeps us from confidently acting and pursuing our dreams. And it doesn’t actually make us any more prepared for the outcome. There are so many millions of possibilities that we cannot even imagine…we have to decide whether that truth will inspire us or defeat us before we get started. Let go of all of the what ifs, and ask yourself instead, “What’s the best that can happen?” and realize that the best might be something you haven’t even considered yet.
3. Used tos.
Oh, all those old scripts. This is a hard one to let go of, especially with people we’ve known a long time, or family members. It’s easy to fall into old patterns of what we used to do or how we used to be—especially with people who refuse to acknowledge when we’ve changed. If I used to always react a certain way in arguments, the expectation is that I always will. If I used to take on too much even at the risk of my physical and mental health, the perception is that I am someone who will continue to do that. We cannot change anyone else’s mind about these things, but as we change, we can let go of our own ideas about ourselves, and change how we respond.
4. If Onlys.
This is the Pinterest of mental junk, and goes hand in hand with the Shoulds. If only I had X, then I could do it. If only I made more money, then I could find time to do what I love. If only I were braver, I could say what I really feel. If only I lived somewhere different, I could have the life I want. What a waste. I call it the Pinterest of mental junk, because I noticed recently how many boards I was seeing with “If Only” type titles. I saw a fashion board titled, “What I’d wear if I was skinny” and another that seemed to be travel and house images titled, “Maybe in another life.” How sad! Why relegate anything we enjoy to “another life”? It’s realistic to make choices, and to say, “Okay, there are many ideas I love, but I am choosing this path for my life,” but it’s unfortunate that we would eliminate any idea because we think we’d only be able to do it if some external thing changed. Rumi sums it up well: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
5. Vague goals and tasks.
You know, ones defined by “more,” or “better.” I want to write more. I want to eat healthier. I want to be better at communicating my needs. I want to be more organized. All of these are admirable, none of them are specific. Vague goals and tasks are junk in that they cannot ever really be accomplished. You can accomplish writing every morning. You can accomplish eating a serving of vegetables at every meal. You can accomplish a practice of cleaning off your desk at the end of the work day. It’s hard to reach a goal that doesn’t have a specific destination. It’s like the million un-sharpened pencils in my junk drawer when I’m looking for a pen. They have the potential to be useful, but right now, they aren’t helping at all.