The clocks have gone forward, and days are getting longer. At this time of year, many people plan a spring clean of the home. The clean may involve decluttering the kitchen cupboards, shredding old bills, recycling unwanted clothes, and giving the hallway a new lick of paint. When you finally get to relax in your shiny, clean home, it can leave you feeling refreshed and energised.
Cleaning your physical environment is a great way to feel better generally. But how about a mental spring clean to sweep out the old unhelpful beliefs and stories you tell yourself?
Just as layers of dust build up on your furniture if you don’t keep up a regular cleaning routine, mental dust and clutter can build up in your mind making it hard to think clearly and progress. This dust and clutter accumulate over years and years of different experiences: the messages you’ve received from parents, teachers, and the culture you grew up in, the mistakes you’ve made, relationship breakdowns, failures and losses. Every time we experience an emotionally impactful event – either pleasurable or painful – we create a meaning for the event, which we then assign to life in general or about ourselves. For example, if our parents divorced, we associate that experience with painful feelings, and the meaning we create is that relationships don’t last. This belief then sits in our minds like a layer of thick, messy dust, getting in the way of being able to progress and find satisfaction in life. It guides our decisions and influences how we see our environment.
When we spring clean our homes, we have the tools to do the job. Dusters, brooms and vacuum cleaners, a variety of different sprays and lotions, and plenty of bin bags to throw out things which no longer work or bring us any joy. There are tools available to spring clean the mind as well, and just like any household cleaning routine, these need to be practised consistently to prevent the build-up of mental dust and dirt. Here are three tools from different traditions and theories which can help:
- Mindfulness: Understand that you are the one experiencing your thoughts; you are not your thoughts. When you notice an unhelpful thought or belief pop into your mind, try to separate yourself from it by mentally saying, “I am noticing that I am having a thought of/about [ ].” This helps to soften the emotional impact of thoughts and see them as passing moments in time so that you can prevent them from becoming too firmly embedded in your mind.
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy): Write down one of your unhelpful thoughts and ask yourself, “Is this thought 100% true in all circumstances and at all times?” Then divide the remaining page into two columns. In column 1, note down all the evidence which supports the thought, and in column 2, write down all the evidence which contradicts the thought. It may be difficult to complete column 2 but give it a go. When you’ve completed both columns reassess your original thought and whether it’s based on evidence or simply your opinion. Come up with a more balanced and flexible thought which takes into account all the evidence you’ve found.
- Ho’oponopono: This is a Hawaiian practice of forgiveness to self and others. It is a way to cleanse your mind of guilt, shame and resentment, as well as reduce ongoing rumination about any mistakes made by you or others in the past. It involves the mantra “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you”, which can be repeated as part of a meditation practice and/or as a response to painful memories. The mantra acknowledges that something wrong happened but offers a space to heal hurt feelings and release any anger towards others. Close your eyes and say the phrase slowly to yourself a few times, ending with a moment of silence. Notice how you feel.
These and other tools will help your mind become clear and more organised. While you’re dusting your book shelves, you can dust your mind at the same time.