When we think of decluttering, we picture cleaner spaces and fewer things. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines decluttering as the removal of clutter from a room or an area. There is now a fair amount of data suggesting that a decluttered workspace makes a person more productive. With a strategy of “less is more” as it pertains to material things, the ultimate goal of decluttering spaces and areas would be minimalism. We hear about minimalist spaces, art, architecture, design, etc. but we rarely discuss the minimalist mind. What if we expended energy towards decluttering the mind with the same goal of minimalism?
What does a minimalist mind look like?
• A minimalist mind is well-organized with a clear sense for the balls being juggled and their respective priorities.
• It has a relentless focus on what is important and a priority, i.e. things that actually matter.
• It doesn’t worry about things that it can’t control but rather chooses to focus on what it can control to the best of its ability, knowing the final outcome is in the hands of a greater power.
• This mind doesn’t get attached to material things and has markedly reduced sentimentality when it comes to objects and possessions.
• Such a mind doesn’t require constant external activity and is very comfortable just being with itself.
• It makes plans but knows that while planning is important, any emotions tied to the desired outcome of those plans is foolish and a recipe for disappointment.
• It realizes that worrying occupies mental space, i.e. clutter and isn’t worth it. When a worry starts to move into its space, this mind very quickly qualifies it as something that can or cannot be addressed. If it’s the former, it asks the body to do something about it. If it’s the latter, it gently walks the new guest to the door. It operates in a similar fashion with irritation.
• This mind never confuses having emotions with being emotional and understands that while the former is human nature, the latter can wreak havoc.
• When confronted with a major issue or challenge, it realizes that the true measure of its effectiveness is the transition timeframe from “what???” to “so what”.
Value of a minimalist mind
A minimalist mind is one that is under control or can be cleanly guided to a controlled state. The ability to gently nudge this mind back to a controlled, decluttered state, makes it the most valuable tool we can aspire to have in our personal toolkit. Such a mind cherishes emotions but is not emotional. As a result, it is generally more relaxed. While anger and irritability can be automatic human emotions when triggered, a minimalist mind recognizes that they take up mental space and very quickly assesses the trigger to gently nudge it out. A mind that continually strives to focus on very few things provides us with the ability to be focused and execute to the best of our ability. The lack of clutter provides us with the mind-space to really think, introspect and get to know ourselves. A minimalist mind is no different from a decluttered workspace in that it allows us to be markedly more productive and effective.
The way to get to a minimalist mental state is by deliberate practice. A minimalist anything whether it be a room, art, design or mind is driven from a conscious choice. We need to choose to aspire towards a minimalist mind and then take the required deliberate steps in that direction. Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “Outliers” and the subsequent Princeton University study on deliberate practice laid out the 10,000-hour rule as a starting point. They suggested 10,000 hours as the amount of deliberate practice time it takes to become an expert at anything. So, what are we practicing here? When the mind starts to take on clutter, i.e. concerns, worries, anger, irritation, etc., take a step back and quickly assess the trigger from the clutter, determine if the clutter is something we can eliminate quickly or something that needs focus and then act accordingly. If the new situation or event needs focus, tell your mind that something needs to go in order to make space for the new entrant. The series of steps to systematically and consistently declutter the mind takes deliberate practice. Once the mind starts getting comfortable with being in a minimalist state, the decluttering process will become more automatic and it will naturally triage an incoming situation and do the needful.
Having a disciplined approach to handling challenging situations, deliberately giving the mind the space it needs to think and make logical choices, becoming mentally more resolute and not letting emotions get the better of us, are all recipes for happiness and equanimity. A minimalist mind becomes more objective and increased objectivity leads to reduced intensity of problems and worries that come our way. The only person who can get you to that desired destination is you. While most folks have getting to a lean and fit body on their goals, we seldom have getting to a lean, fit and minimalist mind on that list. Let’s add it now and give ourselves the best shot at a worry-free life.