Education & Career Trends: 8 ways to give your mind a deep cleaning

6 min read

Edition: October 9th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

When you need to focus, mental clutter can make your job very difficult. (Image Credit: Shuttertsock)
  • Excerpts from article by Crystal Raypole, published on Healthline

Giving your brain a quick reboot when you feel stressed or stuck can help clear out the backlog of thoughts in your working memory and leave you with a tidier mental workspace. When you need to find a specific piece of information, mental clutter might make your job pretty difficult.

Unnecessary or troubling thoughts can pile up in your brain, making you cycle through the same unwanted mental data.

A fruitless search for a significant memory or another important thought can leave you feeling foggy and overwhelmed.

Not to worry, though as it is normal to feel this way, sometimes. When it seems that your mind isn’t operating as smoothly as it should, try out these 8 tips:

1. Practise mindfulness

  • Training yourself to become more mindful can benefit you in a number of ways.
  • It can help you to stay in the present and focus on what’s happening around you.
  • Learning to mindfully direct your attention to one task at a time can help you gently let go of those background thoughts.
  • This helps free up mental bandwidth, making experiences more enjoyable and less rushed. 

Here’s how you can use mindfulness to increase your awareness as you go about your day:

  1. Focus on sensations – Use your five senses to fully tune in to the experiences of daily life, however mundane they might seem.
  2. Focus on your breath – If you start to feel overwhelmed, intentionally slowing your breathing can help you ground yourself and return to the present. Breathe in slowly, hold the breath for a few seconds, then breathe out again. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Stay curious – Fully opening your mind to what you can learn from a given situation can help you maintain your concentration. When feelings come up, ask yourself what triggered them and why.
  • It can take time to pick up this skill, but eventually your mind will grow accustomed to staying in the present.

2. Write it out

  • When your mind brims over with stressful thoughts, it’s not always easy to sort through them and determine what’s causing the most distress.
  • If you’ve ever kept a journal, you might already know that putting your thoughts down in writing often makes it easier to explore them.
  • Research supports the idea that journaling can help decrease intrusive thoughts and other mental clutter.

Try these journaling tips:

  • Be consistent – Dedicate at least 15 minutes to writing each day.
  • Go with the flow – Write about anything that comes to mind. Instead of crossing things out or censoring yourself, simply let your thoughts flow. 
  • Keep it close – Keep your journal with you to keep track of any difficult or recurring thoughts during the day.
  • Take time to reflect – Look back on what you’ve written and note how things have changed or remained the same over time. Use these clues to help explore areas for future growth.

3. Get musical

  • Plenty of people enjoy listening to music, but music offers more than a pleasant auditory experience. Music can:
  1. Help relieve stress and improve mood
  2. Improve concentration and memory
  3. Motivate learning
  4. Promote neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to adapt

4. Sleep it off

  • A good night’s sleep can refresh you when you feel physically tired.
  • Getting enough sleep can also help safeguard against mental fatigue and emotional distress.
  • Insufficient or poor sleep can interfere with your ability to solve problems and make decisions.
  • Feeling overly tired can also lead to mental overwhelm, making it more difficult to detach from your jumbled thoughts.
  • To reset your brain for optimal daytime performance, aim to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.

5. Take a walk

  • Changing your environment and getting outside for a walk offers a great opportunity to clear your head and refocus.
  • Walking also helps promote more freely flowing ideas, so a regular daily walk can help you “reset” when the same thoughts keep popping back up to distract you.
  • Exercising for 20 or 30 minutes can help improve decision-making and reaction time just before a cognitive task, but walking also offers long-term benefits.
  • For better overall brain health and reduced stress into the bargain, try adding a brisk walk or any other exercise to your routine.

6. Keep your space tidy

  • As procrastinators the world over know, an intense cleaning session offers the perfect escape from a difficult or unpleasant task.
  • Consider your reasons for procrastination. Perhaps you feel stuck or unsure how to get started.
  • You may not realise it, but your surrounding environment can have a big impact on your mental environment.
  • When your brain feels just as cluttered as your desk, you might have trouble concentrating or grasping the ideas you’re searching for.
  • Putting your work area back into order can help you refresh your thinking process.
  • Try making a regular effort to maintain the tidiness of your workspace to boost cognitive function and improve workflow.

7. Focus on unfocusing 

  • Struggling to concentrate? Sometimes, the best way to solve this problem is to simply stop trying. 
  • Letting yourself unfocus by briefly zoning out activates the default mode network in your brain, giving it a chance to take a rest.
  • Just as sleep benefits you, this rest period benefits your brain.
  • Unfocusing can help promote creativity, sharpen thought processes, and improve memory and learning. 

A few key ways to unfocus:

  1. Take a nap
  2. Go for a walk
  3. Daydream
  4. Doodle

8. Talk about it

  • Expressing bothersome feelings out loud often helps lighten any tension they’ve generated.
  • Discussing your problems can help you lay them out more logically, since you have to explain what’s troubling you in a way that others understand. This often enables you to get some new perspective on the situation and arrive at potential solutions you might not have considered before.
  • Talking to family and friends can help you to start working through frustrations and clearing out your mind.
  • If you can’t seem to break out of the mental fog on your own, though, a professional can offer a little extra support.
  • Your brain may not actually have a restart button, but there are plenty of things you can do to reboot.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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