Mental Housekeeping

May 19, 2021

Oh how I love Spring!  There is something about the Earth bursting forth with new growth and new life that spurs my own energy level.  This year, our first in this home in Memphis, I have marveled at how the Mississippi River flooded, only to learn this is an annual occurrence.  I have watched the stately Magnolia trees, for which my street is named, blossom with their large and showy blooms.  I observed the neighborhood, which we moved in to in October as the leaves were falling, begin to green up and people walk more frequently in the evenings with called greetings to each other.  It’s quite charming, if you can stretch your imagination of downtown Memphis to ever be called “charming”.  I suspect by next month, when the heat of summer and high humidity of the mid-south arrives, everyone will again retreat behind closed doors with that most blessed invention – air conditioning!  For now, however, I revel in Spring.  I call on the energy of the earth and use it to deep clean my house AND my mind.

You see, I am not just physically cleaning things out. I am also doing what I call “mental housekeeping." I usually have my Airpods in and a book playing on Audible as I move between each small task.  This year, however, I couldn’t keep my mind on the book.  My mind wandered between all the things I’m learning and observing about living in a new place and reflections on the past year.  So much change! As I moved from task to task,  I fretted. I fretted over the work we are doing at LaunchPoint –  the courses we are launching, the weekly live videos, ideas on how to drive engagement in the Facebook group, the people I am mentoring now, and on and on!  I just couldn’t settle my mind to focus on one, or even two things.  My mind was such a clutter, that I felt like I had a bouncy ball in my head – ricocheting between all these unrelated thoughts but I wasn’t able to catch one.   Then it hit me – as I was checking off the physical tasks, I wasn’t making progress on the mental tasks...or housekeeping.

Does that ever happen to you?  The thoughts are coming so fast that you can’t settle on just one to think it fully through?  When I get in to this state, I know I need to settle the glitter.  That notion, “settle the glitter,”  is an idea psychologist Lisa Damour writes about in her book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, and I find it easily can apply to anyone.  When under pressure or approaching meltdown mode, simply take a glass jar filled with water and glitter (basically, a DIY snow globe), shake it up and place it on the table to watch the glitter settle.  I even made my own jar and have it on my desk (next to my BADASS button – see our  previous blog)  The very act of settling the glitter breaks up the frenetic pace of thoughts in my head.  That is only step one however. 

Step two, for me, is to make lists.  I like lists.  They give me some sense of control.  Just like I sort the household things in piles of keep, donate and trash, I make lists for my thoughts and label them: NOW, LATER and PONDER.  The first two lists are my clear calls to action and I’m simply deciding the timeframe for doing them. Preparing for my mentee calls goes on the NOW list.  Getting the videos done for the Mastering Effective Mentor course goes on the NOW list (in fact, it’s been sitting on that list for a while so I’m having to examine what is the block there) and things like "design the next course" goes on my LATER list, while things like "should we create a membership portal and offer access to all of our content?" go on a PONDER list.  I also separate the lists into personal and professional.  I find the very act of unloading all those jumbled thoughts on to lists creates a much more calm state, which allows me to move from my chaotic spinning top mode toward a focused and results oriented mode.  It’s freeing.  Just putting down all those thoughts and as new ones occur, plotting them on the appropriate square of my matrix gives me control.  Control gives me direction.  Direction enables accomplishment.  As I sit at my desk and create my thought/action matrix, I often pick up the jar and shake it a few more times – buying me time while the glitter settles again to organize my thoughts.

This mental housekeeping is as important to me as the physical spring cleaning of my home.  On reflection, I see that I have created an oasis.  I can rest knowing that I don’t have to worry about losing a thought and I don’t have to fret about it any more – it’s on my matrix.  I have bought space in my brain for more mental energy to be expended in purposeful direction instead of the proverbial bouncy ball.  This matrix will last through the summer, when I intentionally slow down.  It will serve as both a repository of thoughts, and reminder of where to focus and what actions to take when I get lost again.

The theory of why we dream is actually called the Mental Housekeeping Theory.  Our brains are trying to sort, scan, search and process all of the day's activities.  I say help your brain out by doing a bit of that work yourself, in a conscious state, so you can sleep more restfully at night.

Sweet dreams.

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