Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Farnoosh Brock of Prolific Living.
“We should start choosing our thoughts like we choose our clothes for the day.” —Farnoosh Brock
Fact: No two physical objects can occupy the same space at the same time.
This is just basic physics. We have to choose between this piece of furniture and that piece to fill a given space in the corner of the living room. We have to choose between a handful of blueberries or a handful of nuts to go into this bowl. We have to choose between this dress or that suit to clothe our bodies.
We have to choose because we can’t have both occupying the same space. And we get this. We learn it as little kids. We live by it even if we fight it once in a while (overpacking a suitcase just a wee bit, anyone?).
In fact, we can even thank this law of physics because it has compelled so many of us to choose a path to a simpler life, to live with less so we can create more space and more openness to breathe and to live a minimalist lifestyle.
We have chosen to give away the physical clutter that piles up in our spaces in exchange for serenity, for simplicity, and for a richer life.
But what about non-physical clutter that fills up our minds and fogs our vision every day, every second even?
Why can’t we apply the same principle to our thoughts, which could benefit a thousand fold from a little clean-up in their dusty attic?
What would we do if we knew for a certain fact that a positive thought and a negative thought cannot occupy the same space in our mind at the same time? That they cannot co-exist at all?
We would have to start choosing our thoughts like we choose our clothes for the day.
For the longest time, I could not get on board with the positive thinking movement. It sounded fluffy and shallow at first. It seemed to make light of my problems and most of all, it didn’t seem to work.
I would read books, scan hundreds of blog posts, even write a few of my own, and repeat the positive affirmations over and over to myself, all to little or no avail. Deep inside, I still felt largely negative, unhappy and far from positive or peaceful.
Worst of all, I felt like a fake. I wanted to be positive. I talked about positivity, and I wanted to believe in it but it just wasn’t working its magic on me.
And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I really did try. My husband can tell you about my sincere attempts, and my Kindle can prove how many books I devoured to prove my interest!
But positive thinking still didn’t work for me. Here’s why.
You see, I was committing to the positive thoughts as much as I was holding on to the negative ones. I was thinking “I am powerful beyond measure. I can run a successful business.” as much as I was thinking, “This is not going to work. I am going to mess it up. It is too late for me to start over.” I repeated and reinforced the good as much as the bad.
And since both thoughts could not occupy the same space in my mind, the power of habit sided with the one that it was used to nurturing: the negative thought. It was the familiar voice it knew, and it takes a lot less effort to believe the familiar than to get on board with the new and unfamiliar.
So how do we apply this principle to clean out the mind clutter for good?
If you are reading this, you are either a pro minimalist or a new and aspiring one (welcome). So given our love of “less is more” in the physical world, let’s follow the step-by-step approach below to clean out the clutter in the mind:
1. Get ready to move out of your castle. Imagine your mind lives in a giant castle filled with the stuff that fills up minds: thoughts, worries, anxieties, fears, memories, desires, questions, yearnings, … and more thoughts.
Now imagine you are going to move out of this giant castle. It has been good to you no doubt but the rent is up and you can’t afford it anymore, and you are moving into a clean, open, well-lit but teeny tiny space in your favorite spot in the world. (For me, Queenstown, New Zealand next to Lake Wakatipu and you’re welcome to join me!)
2. Choose carefully what you pack. You have to pack very light. And you can only take with you what you plan to use. Ask yourself (really, loud and clear, ask yourself):
Am I going to use the worries, the anxieties, the fears and the negative thoughts? Am I going to use the memories, the desires and the positive thoughts?
Decide on each one as if this were a real move (because it is). Decide consciously and with intention. What will you choose to take, and what will you choose to leave behind?
3. Find a space for everything you brought as you move into your new place. Everything has to occupy a space and no two things can occupy the same space at the same time so it would be best if you brought not quite so much. There’s room only for half the stuff in your head anyway!
4. Apply the rule to live clutter-free now. If you chose to leave behind the worries, anxieties, fears, and negative thoughts, then you have de-cluttered your mind from the get-go. You are truly a hero, at minimalism and at positive thinking (and the rest of us envy you!)
But not all of us can detach so quickly from our cozy familiar world even if it means our negative thoughts.
So if you chose to bring everything—the good, the bad and the ugly—your tiny space will be beyond cluttered. That’s okay. Just consciously apply the rule: No two things can occupy the same space in your mind at the same time. Choose either a negative thought or a positive one for this day or this hour or this very minute. Discard the other.
For instance, you can either choose a peaceful memory or a big worry, fear or courage, acceptance or denial.
And listen, you can choose the worry if you want. Just choose it consciously. No fooling yourself. And then, worry. Worry until you are sick of it. Worry a lot. Then choose fear if you must and fear as much as you can. Then choose anxiety and be anxious for a few hours.
I am not saying you can’t choose the bad. I’m just saying you can’t choose both and this is where we finally start to outsmart that clever mind of ours.
And it’s where you begin to think simpler now: You can have one thought at any given moment, but not two or ten.
Sometimes you choose right, sometimes you learn, but if you keep applying the rule, every day you will get closer to the freedom and peace that only a clutter-free mind can give you.
But what if you can’t choose? What about the times you feel indecisive or don’t care?
Every time you give up the choice, you return to what you know, you go back to default, to the familiar face, the good old smell and taste. Your familiar and your default mode is different from mine but as far as our desires, I’ll go out on a limb and say we both want the same thing, you and I.
We want to be happy, free of worry and anxiety, free of stress and fear, and definitely free of clutter. We want to fill our minds with positive thoughts and our hearts with peace and joy and love. No?
So as you settle into your new tiny clean clutter-free space in your favorite spot in the world, make room only for positivity, for joy, for serenity, for optimism and for happiness. It’s a process, my dear, it’s an adjustment, it takes time but It Works.
Choose to fill your new abode in this manner one thought at a time and you will be surprised how the small stuff adds up to take you where you were always belonged: with a quiet clutter-free peaceful mind.
Farnoosh Brock left a 12-year corporate career to start her own company, Prolific Living Inc. She is the author of several books including her latest, The Healthy Juicer’s Bible. You can also find her on Twitter.