What are you worried about?
I think we all worry sometimes, don’t you? We worry about our health, and the health of our loved ones. About our appearance, and how we measure up to others. About money, and how our businesses are doing. About whether or not we’re being good parents. We worry about (fill in the blank).
And what does worrying do to us? It causes stress, sleepless nights, stomach aches, arguments, etc., and sometimes it causes us to not enjoy life’s pleasures…..yes?
So, who am I to tell you to stop worrying?
While I’m not a therapist or a psychologist, I am a professional organizer who sees clients everyday who are worried about all sorts of different things. I’m also an engineer. Therefore, I make no judgments on my clients’ clutter, and I don’t see disorganization as a character flaw: I only see it as a problem to be solved. You’ll be relieved to know I only try to solve it for you if you ask! Friends say, “I don’t want you to come over and see my mess!” To which I reply, “I don’t care about your mess unless you are paying me to care about it!”
Naturally, I have problems too, and I worry about them, but I think I worry less than others do because of the methods I use that I will tell you about.
I want you to start thinking about worrying as a form of clutter.
What is Clutter? Here’s what I believe:
- Clutter is anything that stands in the way of the life you want to live.
- Clutter takes many forms. Little things like paper; big things like furniture; negative thoughts; and unfulfilling activities.
- Clutter weighs us down. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Everyone deserves to feel lighter. My logo, the egret taking flight, represents the freedom of rising above your clutter!
- Less clutter in your home, your office, your schedule, and your mind means more room for the life you want to live. Less clutter. More life.
So, it’s easy for me to say that worrying is just Mental Clutter, but what do I propose we do about it?
Next, let me ask:
Do you believe in the power of words?
Let’s talk about positive words first. I’m thinking of positive affirmations, inspiriting quotes, prayer of all kinds…do you believe in those things? Do they help motivate you, and encourage you, and lift your spirits?
Now, what about negative words? How about verbal abuse from others? And what about negative self-talk? Do you think negative self-talk tears us down and affects us as much, and possibly more, than negative talk from others does?
Here is a quote I like, which has been attributed to many, but I like the way Meryl Streep said it in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the movie “The Iron Lady”:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.”
Do you agree with that? I sure do!
So, now, back to worrying…
If you think you can manifest something positive by thinking, and talking about, and envisioning it, do you believe you can also manifest something negative by thinking, and talking about, and envisioning it?
Or as I like to say:
Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want.
In fact, I like it so much I’m going to say it again:
And why on earth would we want to do that?
If you believe in the power of thoughts and words, that’s what you’re doing…aren’t you? Paying undue attention to, and repeating over and over, the thing you don’t want?
If worrying helped, believe me, I’d recommend doing it more often!
With that in mind…
The first step in dealing with Mental Clutter is to identify what you are worried about.
It could be fear, regret, anxiety, shame, guilt…and, actually, it’s fear about a thing, or regret about a thing.
It’s that thing you need to identify, and the more specific you are, the better your chances are of doing something about it.
The next step is to decide: Can you do something about it? Or not?
The Worry Matrix will help you decide what’s worth worrying about.
(Click to read more and download your free copy of the Worry Matrix.)
This is probably the hardest part of the whole process. Because sometimes we feel powerless. We don’t know if we can do something about it or not. Sometimes we need help figuring that out. Sometimes it’s become such a habit to worry, and we are so busy worrying, that we don’t stop to think whether maybe we could do something about it.
Or, maybe something’s changed. In the words of Maya Angelou,
Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
Part of this step can include determining whether or not your fears are realistic. If you’re anxious about the future, being prepared for actual, likely events is the key to a peaceful mind.
But the bottom line is: If you are having persistent, worrisome thoughts about something, ask yourself: Can I do something about it? If you aren’t doing anything about it — or if you can’t do anything about it — it’s just Mental Clutter.
If you think you can do something about it – great! Take action!
The pure fact that you are doing something about it will help you to not worry about it so much.
Here are some examples of actions you can take:
Research your situation; Make a plan; Set some goals; Do or delegate a dreaded task; Document vital info; Save money, Make that appointment, Have that awkward conversation.
Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. It’s not easy, but this rationale for forgiveness makes sense to me:
Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.
Refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison, and waiting for the other person to die.
If you regret the past and feel guilty about something, but there’s nothing you can do about it, forgive yourself and move on. Remember, you know better now.
Have faith in yourself
One of the reasons why it is so hard to part with your mental clutter is that you’re afraid of not having, or being, enough. Is this because you are comparing yourself to others? Stop it! Have a little faith in yourself.
Here are a couple of quotes I like about not being envious of others:
Grass is greener where you water it.
Don’t compare your bloopers to someone else’s highlight reel.
(Especially on Facebook!)
If you’re concerned about what others think, try following Dr. Seuss’ advice:
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.
Here’s another quote I love about having faith in yourself:
A bird sitting in a tree
is never afraid of the branch breaking
because her trust is not on the branch,
but on her own wings.
Always believe in yourself.
What does this mean? Some people would rather trust in God than to trust in themselves. For those of you who want to trust in God, that won’t hurt either. But you still need to do your homework and take action.
Have you heard this expression?
Trust in god but lock your car.
I also like the Middle Eastern version:
Trust in Allah but tie up your camel.
If you really think you cannot do anything about it, then stop worrying about it!
It’s Mental Clutter.
A good example of something you cannot change is someone else’s behavior.
Are you familiar with The Serenity Prayer?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
That’s what I’m saying too: Accept what you can’t change, and change what you can’t accept. Get help if you really don’t know the difference.
Focus on things you are grateful for, and on the things you can change (such as your own behavior).
Examples: preparing for emergencies; planning for your financial future; repairing (or releasing) damaged relationships; and addressing health issues head on.
If the task ahead seems daunting, break it down into smaller steps. Do them one at a time until you are finished, or you feel prepared, or you have established the new habit that will improve your life and help you worry less.
So, what if, despite your best intentions, you are still living with Mental Clutter? If you have tried taking action on things you can change, and you have tried not worrying about things you cannot change… and you are still worried, ask for help from a friend, therapist, clergy member, or someone who can help with your specific situation – like a doctor, a financial planner, a personal trainer, an attorney, or a professional organizer.
Worry less. Prepare more.
Have those difficult conversations! Make that appointment!
Believe in yourself. And live your life free of Mental Clutter!
What are you worried about? What action are you going to take?
Please share with us in the comments!
Let me know if this helps you, and share it with your friends who may need it.
Copyright 2015-2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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Very wise words. This may be your best post to date! I’ve pinned it to my Achieving Awesomeness board and will definitely be reading it again.
I’m glad you liked it, Janet! It’s also one of my longer posts, being based on the well-received presentation I made recently at a monthly luncheon I attend regularly. I’ve been invited as a speaker for the last several Januaries in a row (average attendance is around 80), so I had a while to think about what I wanted to say!
Your post is excellent advice, Hazel. I can see how I can stop the mental clutter just by being aware of those little worries that sometimes keep me us at night, and doing what I can to cross them off my list.
I’m glad you found it helpful, Lydia! Since you mentioned being kept up at night, have you read my blog post “Organize Your Thoughts for a Better Night’s Sleep”?
So many great ideas in this post, Hazel! I love some of the quotes you sourced like,
“Don’t compare your bloopers to someone else’s highlight reel.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those that mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Got to love Dr. Suess.
Worry is something, as you said, we all do. Finding ways (as you’ve suggested) to release our minds from worry so that we can move on and live life more fully present is a worthwhile pursuit. And while you’ve given many valuable suggestions for how to DIY, you’ve also suggested reaching out for help if self-help isn’t working.
We are not in this world alone.
Thanks, Linda, I appreciate your comments! This is not a transcript, but a blog version of a talk I gave at a luncheon earlier this year.
Great analysis, Hazel! Too many people underestimate the physical, mental, and emotional energy used to worry! You explained it in a logical way that clearly shows why worrying really is mental clutter. You really can decide not to worry! I loved your quotes, especially the one about not caring about your friend’s clutter unless she was paying you to care. Thanks for sponsoring POBC!
Thank you, Olive!
I loved this post the first time I read it, and again now. It’s so full of great ideas and quotes. But the basic idea of how unproductive and destructive worry can be, hit me again. I know this, but it’s always good to hear it. I’m reminded of something my Uncle Lew says, “Let’s leave worry as a last resort.” In general I tend not to be a worrier, but I am human. So when I start going down that path, I remember what my uncle says and try to redirect my thoughts towards either letting go or taking action.
I am a big fan of affirmations, especially, as an initial action to get my mind in the right place to take action. I revisited a book I heard about in the 80s, “You Can Heal Your Life” by Lousie L. Hay. It reconfirmed what I already knew about affirmation and positive thought. She gave several examples of positive affirmations to start changing your mindset. Some of the takeaway affirmations were I love myself, therefore (fill in the blank); I trust the process; I support myself and life supports me; I’m thankful for (fill in the blank).
When you want to use it for goal setting, visualization is necessary. However, make a point to not restrict yourself on how you will get there. The process to reach a goal can transform in many ways.
I am also not a worrier. But if I was I think journaling would help alleviate my worries. I think getting it all out of my head and on paper would help minimize the worry and put it aside to deal with later (or not at all). It would be like telling someone else your worries makes them easier to manage.
Hazel, you and I are kindred spirits… I think everything is easier to understand when put into a matrix! I think it is so important to pay attention to our thinking. We can definitely think ourselves into fear, inaction, self-recrimination and more. I love the way you framed this out. Take action where we can, and put mental boundaries around the rest. One phrase I use frequently is, “Let’s play the probables.” Yes, there are things that may happen, but if they are unlikely, they don’t deserve our mental or emotional energy.
I love that this was your talk. I heard a few jokes in there, maybe you got a few laughs and definitely ah ha’s. I love the quotes too. Worry is an interesting one and certainly can be a hard habit to break. I mean, its easy to tell yourself that you cannot control the future and what is going to happen but….. I have gotten so much better at not worrying so much. What I have noticed is that I might have been a bit worried about something and then it really just all works out. I wish I could have heard your talk.
Thanks, Kim! Theoretically, the more times you realize and observe things working out, the more you will feel confident that they will. Or, take action if you can. But logic does not always prevail. I’ll bet you would also like a post of mine called “Always Believe in Yourself”.