The title says traffic jam but what I’m actually talking about is mental clutter and the moments our brains are so busy we suddenly feel totally stuck. I have a vivid inner life, it runs in our family. We often have family conversations that can look totally normal – like we were talking to each other, listening and even giving rational answers but in reality we all are focused on our own thoughts.
My mind takes freedoms to go wherever it likes. I do my everyday things and at the same time my mind is planning a trip, writing a blog post, drafting an email, making a phone call, having an imaginary conversation or dialogue or simply brainstorming and creating new ideas. Some of those ideas are actually pretty good! I wish someone paid me for all this thinking.
The problem here (mind and body working separately) is that I can’t always explain what I’ve been doing. Hours pass and I can’t even notice and I often lose things into mysterious places. Luckily my family is so used to it they are not even annoyed, they just ask in which part of the house I’ve been walking so they could figure out a logical place for “X” and I try to remember, we follow my routes around the house and oh, there it is!
I call the storage part of my brain “the messy archive”. Everything I’ve ever seen, heard, read or experienced is stored there and most of it seems to be beyond my conscious reach. The messy archive sends thoughts to my active mind to work with. Thoughts simply pop up again and again and my mind works and plays with them and puts them on hold when distracted by another thought. It’s a continuous flow of random thoughts really.
Sometimes there are too many thoughts waiting and “on hold” and I begin to feel stuck and I have to do something concrete to organize my mind and clear the mental clutter. I’ve developed suitable systems for doing it and I hope that someone else can find them useful as well.
Of course, an effective way to clear mental clutter is to clear physical clutter and organize our environment. This is not necessary for everyone but some people are sensitive to all kind of sensory stimulation so our brains pick every color, pattern, sound or move we can’t even identify and not only put them into our messy archives but also let them distract the work of our active minds.
Equally useful is to put thoughts in order in other concrete ways like writing them down or organizing photos to tangibly see the order and structure. In my experience it’s incredibly helpful to first write everything down and then edit the text as many times as needed. The key word here is editing.
One of the best ways to clear messy mind is to visualize it as a physical space and empty it using a breathing exercise. Simply breath out the mess while meditating. I’m not patient enough for long meditations but even short breathing moments can help. Just sit and focus on breathing out the messiness and inhaling calmness. Repeat a few times.
Also, give your mind enough time to work out the mess and it will just happen without any effort. Let your mind work in peace while doing routine things. Walk. Bake bread. Iron shirts. This is why sitting in a train or plane in the end of every trip is a brilliant moment to gather thoughts before going back home.
In case you worry easily you need to solve the problems. I’ve learnt this from my very practical and sensible husband. Do whatever you can to find solutions, after that there’s no point in worrying. What will be will be.
Use tools like mind maps or lists to keep you mind in order. Thoughts have a tendency to become more and more vague and eventually disappear unless we immediately put them on paper at least in some simple form. I usually pour them on paper as a mind map or a list which saves them for a suitable later moment and time to write proper sentences.
I have a love-hate relationship with lists. I love writing them. I hate putting them into action. Whereas a mind map describes or builds structure a list is an obligation. The whole point of writing a to-do list is to do the things on the list. Being a responsible adult means doing things that have to be done. So the best advice is to write the list and get those things done and out of your mind.
The most obvious thing is of course to sleep. How come we need to remind ourselves about this every single night? Tired equals slow. Sleep. Take care of yourself and don’t forget to check your vitamin B level, it’s important for neural system and memory. X