It never ceases to amaze me how clogged our minds get with gunk. Like my guest author, Jim Hjort, says in the article below, “you don’t intentionally breed dust bunnies; they just multiply while you’re doing other things.” Therefore, regularly taking stock of your mental baggage and clearing it out is a very good idea — just as you might do a periodic physical cleanse.
Currently, I’m participating in a 21-day Psychic Cleanse lead by Charlene Murphy and am finding it very eye-opening. Of course, you may not have 15-30 minutes a day for 21 days to clear out the mental dust bunnies. The following article gives you a viable alternative.
How To Spring Clean Your Life & Mind
By Jim Hjort
Spring cleaning is a popular time for donating old clothes and scrubbing visible surfaces but, at least in my childhood home, collecting crumbs and dust bunnies from places you’d never otherwise see was a big part of the effort. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing that your home is clean, and doesn’t just look that way. Plus, it’s a good way to keep unwelcome critters away.
It’s helpful to apply the same logic to your whole life, and periodically peek into the places you normally take for granted to do some routine maintenance. Here are some important things to check, in order to make sure you’re giving yourself the best shot at achieving your full potential this year.
Carma’s Note: I recommend grabbing a notebook or diary for the following exercises. Journal your answers, then set it down for a day or two. Then come back and see if you have anything more to add.
Survey the landscape. The human brain’s natural, evolutionary preference for ease and familiarity can get us mired in situations that we wouldn’t actually choose if we had to do it over again. Ask yourself: if you could wave a magic wand and transform your life however you’d like, what would it look like? For now, don’t worry about whether the fantasy is realistic or achievable; give yourself permission to let the sky be the limit.
Compare your current life situation to that one, and make note of the areas where there are differences. Solutions can come later; the point of this exercise is to bring to conscious awareness to aspects of your life that are misaligned with your deeply-felt longings. Then you’ll have an idea where your efforts to create change in your life might yield the best bang for the buck.
Connect with intrinsic motivation. People often strive for things that are external to them, like making more money, or having more power or a nicer car. These are called extrinsic goals, and research shows that focusing on them can diminish your overall feelings of happiness and wellbeing. People who hold intrinsic goals — for instance, to be skilled, compassionate, fulfilled, or trustworthy — tend to be happier, regardless of how successful they are in achieving them.
Carma’s Note: Your intrinsic goal might not be so pragmatic. When I did a similar exercise, I found that my desire for more money (an extrinsic goal) was linked to a desire for increased peace of mind (an intrinsic goal).
Try to stitch your extrinsic goals to an underlying source of intrinsic motivation. For instance, if you’d like to make more money, a corresponding intrinsic goal may be to become more skilled at your job, or helpful to your coworkers. If you start making progress in those goals, it’s a win-win: your chances for making more money at work increase, and you’ll almost certainly feel happier and better about yourself in the meantime.
Use others to highlight your deeply-held values. The best intrinsic goals arise from values that are genuinely important to you, but identifying those values may not come easily. Try making a list of people you admire, along with the qualities of theirs that you like so much. Perhaps generosity, honesty, or commitment to their craft? Whatever they are, their resonance with you probably means that you would enjoy having them, or having more of them, yourself.
Intrinsically-satisfying goals and your deeply-held values are durable. Keeping your sights set on them can help keep you stable and pointed in the right direction when inevitable short-term and day-to-day difficulties threaten to throw you off course.
Your real social network. Other people serve as more than a point of reference in your life, of course: your relationships are crucial to your overall wellbeing. Online interactions with others do have a place in this discussion, but our senses, brain, and nervous system — working together in something called the “social engagement system” — are optimized for detecting, cultivating, and savoring in-person human contact. When your deepest human social needs are being met, this system produces short-term positive feelings and long-term psychological and physical health benefits.
We know from decades of research that those needs don’t change much from infancy through adulthood. We need to feel seen, heard, acknowledged, and cared for; to have the sense that someone is there to respond if we need help. We need people to support and help us feel capable of achieving our goals, while not making us feel dependent upon them. And we need to feel that, if things don’t work out, we have a safe harbor to return to, with them.
If you don’t have this kind of support in your life, it’s well worth the effort to try to find it. Also, know that so-called “toxic people” exist out there, ready to play the opposite role. Such people may be obvious and intentional in their undermining of your efforts; others are more subtle. It can be helpful to assess how well your roster of relationships is meeting those universal social needs I mentioned. Also, compare the characteristics of your social contacts to those that your “admirable” people embody. Consider how any mismatches you find may be impacting your wellbeing now and, ultimately, your ability to achieve the kind of life you fantasize about.
Carma’s Note: I can’t emphasize the importance of a social support group enough. When I went through my divorce, it was my family (from afar), virtual friends and my new friends in my new home town that kept me afloat during the darker nights of my soul. Without them, I’m not sure I would have made it through in one piece.
Don’t forget kindness for yourself. Using these tips will help you to take stock of who you are — the deepest, most genuine you — and what might be preventing that core part of you from gleaming. A little polishing might do the trick, or you may have to put in a bit more elbow grease. Sometimes, getting unstuck means making hard choices about your career, the people in your life, or any number of factors to which you’ve become accustomed.
Carma’s Note: Making the right choices for your path isn’t always easy. Deciding to leave my less-than-stellar marriage was hard. I knew I had to give up some things I had grown accustomed to and face some unknown things moving forward. But, sometimes you need to surgically remove what isn’t working — or perhaps is just “good enough” — in order to make room for what is even better but uncharted at the moment.
Above all, take it easy on yourself if you discover during your whole-life spring cleaning that some things are out of whack. You have a brain that, in some ways, is working against you and, if you’re like most people, you have responsibilities that pull you in many different directions. On top of that, society’s messages to us don’t help, since they’re much more oriented toward short-term gratification than long-term wellbeing. Remember, you don’t intentionally breed dust bunnies; they just multiply while you’re doing other things, as bunnies tend to do.
About Jim Hjort
Jim Hjort, LCSW, is the founder of the Right Life Project, where he helps people overcome roadblocks to self-actualization as a psychotherapist, Right Life™ Coach, and mindfulness meditation instructor. Right Life Project helps clients understand the ways you can work with the different dimensions of your life; the psychological, social, physical, and vocational, to be happier, more fulfilled and reach your full potential. He is also available for speaking and teaching engagements. You can check out his blog and podcast here, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.