At the height of my corporate career, I was busy. I would rush around from the moment I woke up until I passed out from exhaustion at the end of the day. I was overwhelmed with my to-do list and believed my only saving grace would be if somehow I could add extra hours into my days and weeks. I began to consistently wake up at 3 am to say hello to my new enemies, stress and anxiety.
I share more in greater detail about the concept of mind clutter in my book, The Holistic Guide to Decluttering, but in this post I want to place a spotlight on one concept I used to help me begin to declutter my most powerful asset - my mind.
slowing down to reflect
Several years ago I had a leadership coach share that I should consider incorporating a daily reflection practice. She went on to tell me that a daily reflection practice was about carving out time each day and dedicating it to "serious thought and consideration".
From the nudge I got from her, I decided to reflect every single day for an entire year (my go "big" overachiever personality) and I can tell you that I felt like a completely different person at the end of it. My mind was far less chaotic and I felt more clarity than I had ever before regarding my paths and steps ahead. I wrote earlier this year another blog about daily reflection and how this ritual changed my life.
What stood out to me most is that at first mention, I truly believed I didn't have time to do it- I was too busy, my work couldn't wait, my boss was too demanding; I had a lot of excuses. What I realized is that by prioritizing daily reflection (even though my initial drive was fueled more by that overachiever status), I was much more present and it helped me stay on top of things and be more in control than any time previous.
While daily reflection did have a profound change on me at a time I needed it most, I realize that adding your own daily reflection practice might be too much to chew on to start with so I wanted to share my top three tips for starting any reflection practice albeit a weekly one or even a monthly one.
#1 tip | carve out and protect the time
You are the driver of your calendar, so you are the one who has the ability to dedicate the time you need for any reflection practice simply by prioritizing it and de-prioritizing other things.
I recommend you set aside 30 minutes for your first reflection practice depending upon what topic you choose to reflect on. Depending on how often you are going to try to practice reflecting, you might find you need more or less time.
Pausing to reflect allows you to step away from the daily grind and consider the bigger picture in a deeper way. It offers you the space you need to step away from the DO-ing and consider for a moment the "why" behind your actions and if those actions are actually essential and necessary.
#2 tip | use question prompts to focus your mind
Using question prompts in your reflection practice is a helpful way to focus your mind. It is especially important when you are starting the reflection practice to help you to keep your mind from wandering (similar to meditation if you have ever tried that).
When I first started my reflection practice years ago, it was hard for me to stay in the moment. My mind would begin to think about all of the items on my to-do list and how taking this time was taking me away from crossing items off the list. In time, I realized that the time allowed me the proper space to evaluate that to-do list with fresh eyes and often helped assist me in removing items from my to-do list either by deleting, delegating or delaying.
My favorite three reflection questions are:
1. What’s working?
2. What’s not working?
3. What do I need to do differently?
Those three questions offer flexibility to dig deeper. For example, if you are feeling the need to reflect on your career, you can simply add it into the prompt above - What’s working in my career? What’s not working in my career? What do I need to do differently with my career?
What I've notice with the human spirit is that it's easier to get stuck on the #2 question - what's not working. Push yourself to answer #1 before you move onto #2 and then don't overthink #2, move onto #3 before you spiral to a place that is unproductive.
#3 tip | write your thoughts down
There are many studies that show that writing down your thoughts is helpful in getting the items out of your mind so they stop swirling round and round, making it more likely to achieve your goals. Another reason is captured in this quote by author Michael Lebouf, “When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.”
Taking the time to reflect and writing down your thoughts each day can give you those tools to build a mindfulness practice that aids you in slowing down your racing thoughts long enough that you can practice being more present and in time form healthier habits.
In this extended time of the COVID pandemic, we are all experiencing mind clutter as we have been forced to cope with so much change, uncertainty and loss/grief. Consider adding a daily reflection as part of your upcoming year's resolutions. Anything that can assist with resetting our frenzied minds despite so much going on around us optimizes and strengthens our mental muscles to be resilient, flexible and present.
Photo credit: Jes Lahay Photography