There are few things I enjoy like a clean, organized closet, desk, or drawer.  The act of purging old, unneeded things and putting those that remain in their proper place helps me to feel freer, lighter and more focused.

The same is true with the junk in my head.  When I have a period of time where I feel unfocused, sluggish, or anxious, it is a signal to me that it’s time to take peek inside and see what’s going on.  When I do, I always find old opinions and beliefs that are no longer useful to me, and others that may be useful but have been put somewhere they don’t belong.

Here are a few things I’ve been trying to clear out lately.

Worry

I like to tell people I’m a planner, and while that’s true, what I also am is a worrier.  Too often planning is really no more than my attempt at soothing my worry by pretending I have everything under control.  Of course, that’s never really true and trying to keep up with my plans is exhausting.

I have begun to realize that worry isn’t really something that serves me well.  It wastes a huge amount of my time, and robs me of enjoying large chunks of my life.  Unfortunately, managing worry isn’t as simple as deciding not to do it anymore.  (I wish…)

Worry is a habit.  One I know I rely on to avoid feeling something I dislike more.  For me, that’s usually the feeling of being out of control.   Rather than admitting that whatever I am fretting about is ultimately not up to me, I set my mind on the spin cycle and let the worry run and run and run.  But, the truth is that if I just acknowledged the feeling I was trying to avoid, it would ultimately pass.  I would save myself the time and energy I devote to worry, and be able to focus instead on taking action to achieve my goals.

Worry also allows me to feel like I am doing something, when the truth is I’m not.  Obsessively researching how much money I need to retire comfortably without ever putting a penny in the bank doesn’t get me any closer to my goal.   Neither does spending hours pinning organizational systems on Pinterest while avoiding the unworn clothes in my closet.  And yet, planning and worrying can make you feel so productive.  Like you’ve really moved the needle.

Instead of getting bogged down in worry, I try instead to recognize it quickly for what it is.  Then, I decide for myself what parts of the situation I can take action on and which ones I can’t.  I give up those things that aren’t in my control and instead focus on what I can do right now to move forward.  I’ve found that this saves me a lot of time and energy and keeps me moving toward what I really want in my life.

Fear of Failure

As I’ve written before, I have long struggled with perfectionism.  It’s probably no surprise, then, that I have a wicked fear of failure.  I know this fear, if not effectively dealt with, can cause me real problems.

Much like worry, the fear of failure offers the illusion of safety.  If I just stay right here, where I know what I’m doing, I won’t fail.  People won’t laugh at me.  I won’t be uncomfortable.  But, like worry, the cost of this safety is steep. If I give in to it, I know I will stay stuck right where I am forever.  My life will never be any different, any bigger, than it is right now.

I’ve decided that price is too high, and I’ve been looking for ways to move beyond the fear of failing.  When I feel like I’m moving out of my comfort zone and sense that nervousness start to raise its head, I try to respond to it the way I respond when I see the same fear in my children.

“I don’t want to take my training wheels off, Mom.  I might fall.”

“You might, but you’ll be fine.  And soon you won’t need them anymore at all.”

“I don’t want to go to that networking event with all those people.  I might make a fool of myself.”

“That’s possible, but not likely.  But whatever happens, you will be fine. And next time it will be easier.”

Failure is always a possibility, but ultimately, it is one we survive.  Acknowledging that fact to ourselves is often all we need to face down our fear.

Overwhelm

Overwhelm has become almost a badge of honor in our society.  We are all too busy, too tired, and struggling to get it all done.  It seems like managing our time well, and allowing for down time for ourselves and our families, means we aren’t successful or important.

“I don’t even know where to start.”

“I’ll never get it all done.”

“There’s just too much to do.”

I have told myself these things over and over again throughout my life.  No wonder I end up feeling overwhelmed.  The problem is, when I am overwhelmed, I rarely get the results I want in my life.  Instead, I end up paralyzed and the to-do list gets even longer.

I deal with overwhelm using a step-by-step process.  First, I remind myself that there is almost nothing in life I HAVE to do.  Almost everything is a choice.  Choosing differently would have consequences, but the choice is still available.  Then, I write down all the things I want to accomplish today, without editorializing on them.  (No “stupid meetings” or driving “all the way across town” for a soccer practice.) I ask myself whether the list is physically doable; if not, I reprioritize those things that aren’t as important.    Then, I remind myself to replace the story that I am overwhelmed, by choosing new thoughts instead.  Some that work for me are:

“Anything I get done is better than nothing.”

“I don’t have to get it all done. I just want to move forward.”

“I can prioritize what needs to be done most and the rest can wait.”

Does overwhelm still creep in?  Sure.  But, I don’t spend my days staring at my computer screen or my calendar and wondering where to start.  I can feel overwhelm happening.  I know what is causing it.  And I know how to get myself back on track.

 

Just like clearing your desk, clearing your head of old ideas that are weighing you down can leave room for most of the best in your life.  What about you?  What old patterns keep you stuck in a rut?  What could you get rid of today to increase your effectiveness and joy?