Now that we’ve looked at decluttering our calendars, budgets, and spaces let’s wrap this series up by looking at another source of clutter: our minds. Our fast-paced lives and the instant communication we can enjoy today comes with the cost of overwhelming amounts of information. Goof ideas can spread just as quickly as bad ones and it will take discernment to filter through this noise so we can decide on our own appropriate responses. And its not just new information either. Some ideas permeate through our traditions, beliefs, and even our laws and still need to be evaluated. Take our country’s current attitude regarding marijuana, for example.
I’ve discarded several ideas over the years such as perfectionism and it’s cousins all-or-nothing and strive-for-excellence. I’m not saying striving for excellence is a bad thing by itself, just that I have to be aware of my tendency to be critical of those I perceive as not trying to their utmost limit on something. I also feel like my throttle is stuck open at times and I simply can’t maintain this intensity level. Some bad ideas are accepted as common knowledge like ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.’ While the sentiment sounds true when looking at it with Newton’s laws of motion in mind we now know how harmful words can be through the lens of emotional abuse or cyber-bullying. What we should all understand is how powerful those words are when the victim believes them. Even the hint of a scandal can destroy celebrities and politicians.
So the question is how to start this decluttering process. Actually, that’s the first step: question. When something doesn’t line up with your belief system go ahead and question it. Then do the research and find the tools you need to back up your conclusion so you can stand up for that position. I like science and logic, myself. Having clear subjective data generally points to the truth. And ‘feelings are not arguments’ can steer you away from following lemmings going over the cliff. Most of all, slow down. Information is moving so fast but truth isn’t in a hurry.
That brings me to the sorting part of the process. Some of the categories to sort ideas into include beneficial, useless, and toxic. It’s up to you to decide how you would characterize ideas. But some ideas are sticky and harder to discard. Let’s start with the easiest ones first: hypothetical hysteria doesn’t serve you or your goals. Yes, it’s important to forecast and prepare for life’s oncoming challenges. But that research step is so important. Is there real data (rather than models or projections) and real science to stand on? What about real historical facts as a basis for the end-of-the-world scenarios? After the obvious discards it can get challenging and this process takes time. There’s an ongoing maintenance aspect of guarding yourself against re-contaminating your mind with those ideas you’ve already debunked. And some of those stickier ideas require reprogramming. Remind yourself of your arguments or the data used to draw your conclusions.
Instead of the usual ‘contain’ step I propose you share your conclusions and help sanitize the world of bad ideas. As a language aficionado I find it interesting that ‘hype’ can seem to be included in ‘hypothetical’ and ‘sanitizing’ might help to spread ‘sanity’.