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 unclutter and 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. You can also find her on Twitter.
Miss Growing Green says
Excellent post! I think most people can benefit from more positivity in their lives. By keeping only one thought active in your mind at any given time, you allow yourself full reign to really experience that thought/feeling. It works for negative/sad emotions too, and it works in a good way. There is something to be said for experiencing sadness and grief when it is warranted, but too quickly we shy away from those “negative” emotions when sometimes they should be felt. Your concept for de-cluttering the mind allows for increasing the positivity in your life, and for fully experiencing “negative” emotions when they need to be experienced- very well-written.
Hi Miss Growing Green, I do have to say – I LOVE green – I’m writing my green smoothie book right after my juice book and green is MY color :)
And as to your comments, grief is totally not in the same category of negative thoughts – grief should not be denied or suppressed or rushed, I can’t say that enough. I agree and thanks again for pointing it out.
having been a physical minimilist since college, and having to re-locate 4 times in one calender year REALLY helped me get on and stay on the road of a physically uncluttered lifestyle, I had tried to find the path way to eliminate the cluttered baggage I had been carrying with me mentally. I would lay awake at night, re-living the worst transgressions of my life and telling myself that it was time to “let them go and leave them behind”. It turned into a once a week event, usually on Sunday nights as I would try to decompress from the weekend and prepare for the coming week. It helped more than the daily affirmations, I agree with you on what you said regarding the “positive thoughts” process and how it feels “fake”, but I never felt totally “clean” or “free” from those old thoughts and thinking habits. I am going to employ this technique and am trying to remain ‘positive” that this knew way of thinking will translate into a happier me. In th eend the only person that is responsible for our happiness is us, change will begin when we are ready and willing to do what is necessary to make our lives better. Thank you for your post!!
Shaggy, first of all, wow, you’ve been a born minimalist it seems. Good for you! And you know this already but the more we replay the bad stuff in our head, the worse their impact. I am recovering from a horrific car accident and the one thing I am NOT allowing is to relive the accident – what’s the point? – we DO have control. Once you tell yourself that, you become the master of those thoughts …. slowly but surely. Good luck and thanks for your thoughts.
Wow, how refreshing the quote and the fact are!
Christy King says
Wonderful post – thank you. My favorite example of this in my own life is a simple one.
I’m definitely not a morning person, so each night before having to get up early, I’d feel negative about going to bed – thinking about getting up. Once I started thinking how grateful I was to get to go to bed instead, my whole mindset changed.
It did take awhile to really click. At first the change was forced, but then it became automatic.
You are doing everything I said in practice Christy. And early rising is no easy task. I hope you stay patient with it and listen to your body – once you shift those rhythms you are going to love it. :)
I’ve never thought about it all this way, very enlightening!
Josie, lovely to hear that.
Meditation is something I relaly want to do, but feel like it’s more complicated to get into than I’m sure it relaly is. I keep putting it off for a day when I’m less busy which I guess defeats the whole purpose. I’d make it a new year’s resolution but then I know I’d never do it!
As someone who has dealt with, or I guess I am still dealing with to some degree, self-induced depression, I can definitely relate to this.
I think one of the most astounding things is how you start to see all these patterns. How everything is connected and it will lead to your future being shit no matter what. (On the other hand, people with a positive outlook tend to see patterns in a positive way. Like how if they wear their lucky socks they will get promoted faster and things like that.)
The human instinct to draw connections and find patterns where there are none is interesting to me, and I think it’s impact on people driving themselves into depression is actually rather large.
I was connecting my high school grades, my choice of university major and the probable inability of becoming rich and successful in the near future to the conclusion that my life was going to miserable.
I was foreseeing a pattern where I had to go to counselling for maybe a year or 6 months or whatever, before I could even try to catch up with the rest of the world.
At some point it comes down to realizing that this is a fictional construct and that you have more power to change your own world than you think.. at least for me.
I love this post. As someone in the mental health field I am a strong supporter of positive self-talk. But we need to be able to do that for ourselves and have it come from within ourselves and not just repeating phrases given to us. Something I personally work on is catching myself when I am ruminating about something. Learning to catch myself during the thought and make a choice whether to continue or refocus my thoughts in a healthier and pro-active way can make all the difference. I have not yet mastered this, and it may take me a life-time to do so, but I know it helps me have a clutter-free ruminating mind. Thank you for the inspiration!
Dana, so so good to hear the perspective of someone from the health field – I am delighted to hear that you also re-inforce the power of positive self-talk. I’m right there with you in it taking a lifetime but the progress is beautiful, isn’t it? Thanks for your thoughts.
You seized a very important topic, thank you for your thoughts and your suggestion!
Decluttering the non-physical stuff is just as important as decluttering the physical.
The danger in positive thinking is, that it will make us feel sad when it doesn’t work. We blame us for not beeing successful with it and that is another source for negative thoughts. And they are much more powerful than positive ones. That’s why our brain loves them so much and positive affirmatiion is sabotaged.
I constantly ask myself which thoughts I’m thinking at the moment, more often when I don’t feel good (as a result of negative thinking). When I do this, the thoughts vanish almost instantly. Unfortunately thinking re-starts soon after this when I’m not attentive but I can haul out and do it again and again and… it works – stepping out of thinking. Learned this from Eckhart Tolle.
Thomas, great insights, can I ask you: what makes you consider yourself not successful though? And how is that a direct result of positive thinking? I mean, if you replaced it with negative thinking, would you then be more successful? Impossible I say :) I think the problem is we give up on success too easily and we want to resort to the pity party – I’m just as guilty. I love your examination of the thoughts and do believe you are on the right track, Thomas. Just keep it up. The positive pays off combined with the right action of course.
Farnoosh, I’m not shure if I understood our comment right. Of course, we are successful when we just notice that there are negative thoughts:-) and then we can try to replace them.
But when I try to think positive it will work for some time but then thinking shifts again on negative thoughts, noticing that can be a source of new negative thoughts like: I should think positive but I can’t, I’m so unsteady. I can’t do this because I know I will fail again…. and so on. But as you wrote, it is a journey or process:-)
I’m glad you brought this topic on the market. In my point of view decluttering and a minimalist life comes together with mental hygiene – however the approach looks like. The most important step is to notice that there are useless and negative thoughts.
Your thoughts are like a rapid river of information continuously flowing down stream. Be careful not to fall in, and be selective of what you take out.
I really liked your approach on this, Farnoosh. How did you get to that point where you realized you were filling your head with negatives as much as positives? I imagine it wasn’t a spontaneous moment in time but a slow building up to the realization.
Hi Vincent, I would be counter-acting every positive thought with “well” or “what if” or “on the other hand” and it was hard to keep both there and feel the net positive effect still. Nothing spontaneous about this – it’s a process. Enjoy and thanks for your comment.
Beautiful post, I am slowly shedding my mind clutter – I think today I may have shed the major piece of clutter that was dominating me too
Samantha, thank you for reading and enjoy the de-cluttering :)