One of our Unclutterer readers on Twitter sent me a link to Paul Graham‘s recent article “The Top Idea in Your Mind.” In this article, Graham discusses clearing clutter from your mind so that you can let your meandering thoughts be filled with ideas that are the most important to you. From his article:
I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.
He goes on to suggest how you might clear the clutter:
You can’t directly control where your thoughts drift. If you’re controlling them, they’re not drifting. But you can control them indirectly, by controlling what situations you let yourself get into. That has been the lesson for me: be careful what you let become critical to you. Try to get yourself into situations where the most urgent problems are ones you want [to] think about.
I fully agree with Graham — the more time you spend focusing on something, the more it will consume your thoughts. If you spend your time at work gossiping and getting caught up in office politics, your work and productivity will suffer because your thoughts will be on creating conflict not doing your job. If you spend your time at home upset because someone makes a mess, your positive thoughts of this person will eventually be overwhelmed by negative ones:
Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I’ve found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn’t deserve space in my head. I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them. My wife thinks I’m more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.
When you’re in the shower or mowing the lawn or drifting off to sleep each night or zoning out, what thoughts go through your mind? Are they thoughts focused on what really matters to you, or are they clutter? Check out Graham’s full article for more insights and suggestions for processing mental clutter.