Mental Minimalism

mental.jpgNo, I don’t mean that minimalism is mental, though some people might think that. I’m talking about minimalism of the mind.

Artistic minimalism and physical minimalism are the most common interpretations. They’re hip and stylish and everyone who is anyone is minimalist. I broached the concept of digital minimalism in a recent post. Now I want to talk about mental minimalism. This one is tricky, and perhaps a bit counter-intuitive.

So artistic minimalism is all black and white and straight lines. It’s intended to cut out all the extras and get to the heart of the art piece. Some people love it. Some people hate it.

Physical minimalism comes in all different colours and sizes and shapes, but it’s heart is the same. It’s intended to cut out all the extras and get to the heart of the physical living space. Some people love it. Some people hate it.

Digital minimalism is uncommon, as far as I know, but it could also come in a variety of styles. It’s intended to cut out all the extras and get to the heart of the digital living space. Because everyone has one of those, nowadays. We have to get used to that kind of thinking. Regardless, some people love it and some people hate it.

I propose yet another kind of minimalism, that of the mind. It has the same intent as the above three: to cut out all the extras and get to the heart of the mental living space. It’s about taking control of your mind.

Just to be up front about it, I’m not too great at this. I have a powerful imagination and I often find myself carried away by my thoughts, completely losing track of what’s going on around me. But I’m working on it.

So basically, your thoughts are your own. You decide what you think about. Choose not to think about things that you don’t want to think about.

Easy.

Or not. Everyone can have difficulty with thoughts that stray in and fasten on. I’ve spent hours obsessing over tiny details that have no impact on anything. That can be stopped, though. It takes practice and focus, but it can be done. Learn to identify the thoughts that are slowing you down. I’ve learned not think about some things, because I know that those thoughts slow me down and leave me in a worse place than I was before they came through. Once I identified those negative thought patterns, it was much easier to override them. Intentionally begin thinking about something else, something that’s useful. As time goes by, and you practice resetting your thoughts, the negative patterns will occur less frequently.

One other way to cultivate mental minimalism is actually somewhat counterproductive to physical minimalism. Write your thoughts down. I can’t count how many times I’ve got home from running errands only to remember something I should have done. It’s frustrating, and it’s because of mental clutter. I think I read somewhere (though I can’t find the source at the moment) that we can only hold about seven ideas in our mind at a time. When some of those concepts are how to drive a car without causing an accident, when the grocery store closes, and if the lasagna will be ready when you get home, your shopping list had better be pretty short for you to be able to hold it all in your mind.

Of course, you probably already write down your grocery list, but this is an excellent practice for the rest of your ideas. If something comes into your mind that you need to do, write it down and forget it. It’s safely stored, you’ll retrieve it at the proper time, you don’t need to devote mental space to it! And surprisingly, the act of writing it down actually helps me leave the thought behind. I was skeptical at first, but it works.

Using principles like these, you can begin to clear your mind of the detritus of a normal life. I’ve started. Each morning, I make a list of things that I want to get done that day, and then I don’t need to worry about remembering them until I get home from work. My mind is freed up to focus on work. Mental minimalism in action.

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