Creating space in your mind

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to talk about the three biggest things I think you can get from intentional writing: space, ease, and wisdom.

We’ll start with space. Here we go!

Imagine for a moment that you’re standing at the door to an attic.

It’s crammed full of things of questionable value (aren’t most attics?)—wobbly mountains of boxes, bike helmets, dusty lamps, and more.

You can tell that a lot of these things truly don’t need to be there any longer. They’ve served their purpose at some point, but they aren’t serving any purpose right now.

You wonder if there’s anything of value in here, but there’s really no way to tell. You’d have to get in there and go pile by pile, box by box, item by item to figure that out.

And if that doesn’t happen soon, the door will no longer close. You won’t be able to add anything else until you begin sorting through what’s already there.

Now imagine your mind as this attic.

Each day, you cram tons of stuff into it—conversations with those around you, captions on Instagram, emails, blog posts, books, billboards, food labels, items to add to your to-do list.

And if you don’t take the time to sort through it all, to make sense of what belongs and what doesn’t, your mind will start to look a bit like that attic—crammed full of things of questionable value.

Now let’s go back to the attic for a minute. Let’s imagine you decide enough is enough and you’re ready to tackle the beast. You likely don’t have huge blocks of time to set aside, so you decide to do a couple of hours each weekend until the task is done.

At first, it’s probably rough going. You don’t have a lot of room to maneuver, and you’re not sure where to start. But as you begin to pull things out of the attic that no longer need to be there, you make a little space. And then a little more.

Suddenly, there’s room to organize a bit. You can begin to make sections—holiday decorations, items to donate to the historical society, things you love that you want to incorporate into your home, costumes for the kids to use when they’re old enough to play dress-up, and so on.

As you get deeper into the process, you of course realize that some of what was in there was total junk—that’s true of all full attics. But you also find things you want to hold on to, to use, to keep around.

And, of course, there’s room to add more—should you want or need to.

I think the same thing is true for our minds. I think if we set aside time to declutter, to sort through, to figure out what’s valuable and what’s not, we’ll find we have more capacity for organizing and making use of the things we want to hang on to.

Of course, much like cleaning out the attic, the process of cleaning out our minds will probably feel slow and cumbersome at first. We’ll be a little overwhelmed by all that comes out. But if we chip away a little at a time, trusting that we’ll get there eventually, it’s totally doable.

And then if we keep doing it regularly, we can make sure there remains space in the attic of our minds.

So how do you go about cleaning out that dusty attic? How do you create space in your mind?

Here are some ways I’ve thought of (if you have others, I’d love to hear!):

Do a brain dump.

You can do this on a computer if that’s your thing, but when I’m doing this, I crave open space and the freedom to get messy. So I love pulling out some blank paper (I use the backs of things I’ve previously printed out!) and some colorful markers. Then I just start making little clusters of thoughts. Content ideas might go in the left corner, things we need from the grocery store in another corner, aha moments about the work I do right in the center, to-do items along the bottom, and so on. I just let my mind open up and spill out all that’s inside. This process is about jotting down short ideas—small pieces of information that float to the surface.

Have a conversation.

When you talk about your thoughts and ideas out loud, once you really get going, you often say things that surprise you. There’s something about opening your mouth and just talking that helps you make connections and release things your brain hadn’t quite consciously acknowledged yet. Just make sure you have pen and paper handy so you can write down all your brilliant insights!

Take a walk.

…or take a shower, or do something else that requires your body to be doing something but leaves your mind totally free. I don’t know the details of the science behind this, but I believe that during these times, your mind works on making connections and seeing things in different ways. I can’t tell you the number of insights I’ve had after even a ten-minute walk (if you listened to my episode on the Being Boss podcast, you might remember me talking about taking “clarity walks”). Just make sure you capture your ideas in the moment—I find mine escape far too often if I don’t because my mind jumps around so much.

Do some intentional writing.

Of course, you knew this would be on the list! Just open a document or get out a sheet of paper and a pen (I like lined paper for this kind of process) and start writing. Write in a stream of consciousness using sentences instead of bullet points, getting out whatever comes into your head. If you get stuck, write, “I feel stuck because…” and just keep on going. Write until you run out of time or out of steam. If you use a prompt, great! If not, just write about whatever’s on your mind.

But these steps are only part of the process.

Let's turn back to the attic for a moment. You've done a lot of work, sorting and cleaning out. But as you look around, you see there's more left to do. That pile needs to go to the donation center. The pile next to it is going home with you. Over there is the lamp you wanted to take to your aunt. And so on. You've made progress, but if you just walk away now, you won’t have finished the job.

The same is true for any of these space-making methods.

Once you get all these ideas out of you, you need to sort through them and use what you found.

Pull out your highlighters or open a fresh document and review all that you wrote down. Look for repeated themes and ideas, jot down any more thoughts that come to mind, and then sort everything into categories like:

  • action items

  • projects to tackle

  • ideas to think more about

  • habits to start

  • things to let go of

  • reminders to set up

Then take action on each category!

I truly believe that if you do this process often, your mind will look less like that crammed, dusty attic and more like the open, sunny space you crave!

Ready to start cleaning out that attic?

Or, to be more specific, creating space in your mind?
Explore: 31 Days of Intentional Writing is a great place to start!

Enrollment is open now for the March 1 session* of Explore. And if you sign up before February 25 at 5pm Central, you can use the code explore10 to take $10 off the price.

Check out the details and sign up here!

* Here's my current plan: Explore will be open for purchase year-round, and a new round will begin on the 1st of each month. If you wanted to begin on August 1st, for example, you would have until July 25th to sign up. On July 26th, registrations would still be open, but for a start date of September 1st instead. This is an experiment, so we'll see how it goes!

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