A while back, I decided that my brain felt like an overstuffed closet, one of those disastrous “before” pictures where clothes hung in a row but packed in so tightly no one could decipher the decade of origination of a dress or sweater. The floor of the closet was a mountain ridge of shoes with several valleys stretched in dirty laundry, bulging with good intentions, memories, and future ideas. The disorganized mess screamed for a makeover, a purge, with each piece being evaluated as for its function, its fashionability and overall relevance in my life. I wanted a brain makeover.
There were plenty of guides in this area. Countless cups of coffee with friends dissected my needs from wants and desires and dreams. I searched through books stacked high on the local bookstore shelves, the library, and in my Amazon cue. In 2016, the U.S. self-help industry was worth about 9.9 billion dollars, according to a report from Research and Markets. Market researchers have predicted that the industry will be worth 13 billion dollars within the next two years, by 2022. I continued to do my best to contribute.
In the self- help vain, countless daily posts continue to pop up on social media and memes are shared like hellos. And not a day goes by that an idea for a better living doesn’t create a new need. Marketing the need for better television, a better vacation, a better way to track our heartbeats, food as an experience elevating one experience to another. Our culture seeks to overload our brains.
What I decided: I don’t need a self-help book, or an ad, or a meme to help me sit still to sift through the noise of my brain and sort out what I want to prioritize. I often prefer a journal, a walk, and maybe a little poetry by Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Browning, and Shakespeare. All communicate the theme: the art of living is the act of saving our hearts and time for the most valuable of commodities, those we love and things we love.
Based on the number of cups of coffee I have consumed with friends and family, I am not alone in feeling like my brain is an overstuffed closet. Many of us feel loaded and spinning with work and family demands, global and local concerns, all crammed with no margin for downtime to digest the cares from non-cares. The world runs fast and with ways invented each year for it to run even faster. Run with it or be run over. And many laughs at those that choose not to keep pace. But as we merge the idea of fast living and the idea of clearing our internal carts of those unneeded items, the idea of a brain makeover is not just for the old and weary of those who place boundaries on technology.
Though, I admit, as a woman in her late 50’s, I, and many of my pals, use our age as a reason. We know from years of earnings, years of positive and negative experiences, our endurance is like a golden ticket. We no longer feel we have to do anything we don’t want to do. We have cashed in on overextending our time and our mental and physical resources. We have earned the right to not care about the perceived trivial. We have learned to say, I just don’t care to care about that at this time.
Like Bernard Shaw succinctly stated, “Youth is wasted on the young,” is only understood when your body and mind admit you’re a tad weary. So often I wish had the sage wisdom and my earned resilience for a few do-overs with my younger self. For some, it is the age that prompts our prioritizing, for others it may be a death, an illness, or a spiritual awakening that taps your heart into a sustainable focus on living with deeper meaning.
For me, it was a little of everything. The closet door of my brain could not be shut.
And nighttime became the time of sorting the ideas, opinions, and feelings with the morning continuing the analysis along long walks and journaling. My brain had years of subjects, some threadbare with worry and some like new clothes with new tags that have never been worn, but just so much in that closet. The closet needed a good cleaning and I took my time. You have to have space to absorb. A good movie shows the credits and you sit and absorb the story. A page has margins so you can comprehend the meaning of the story. Our brains receive information better with time, space and margins.
In my brain, I found an old cardigan sweater still from high school hanging in the closet that represented, OPO—other people’s opinion that with self-compassion, I gently folded up and packed away forever. Amongst the mess, a pair of turquoise blue socks reminded me of how much a waterfall means to me on treasured hikes in the mountains.
Over time, I visited the woods and I continued to sort each area of my life from career to relationships, social obligations, and hobbies. My brain holds a lot. I have a fiscal self, a physical self, an emotional self, and a relational self. What I realized is all activities start with my brain – my love, my disdain, my courage, and my dedication.
Let’s be clear: this brain drain has not been an afternoon project. A brain drain with a full reset has taken more than a year with lots of journaling, praying and daily evaluations. The space to hold, the space to let go, all takes time.
Like any closet cleanout, I suggest three piles. Yes, no, and perhaps. The “yes” pile would be things you love. The “no” pile is the things you know you don’t care about, and the “perhaps” is the guilt pile — you know the things you wrestle with, the things culture or your family and friends tell you should care about, but you just don’t. I suggest sorting through that pile carefully and give grace to all sides of each subject. The first start is putting it in the perhaps pile—there is some work to be done.
This may all seem silly to you, and you can put the whole idea in the no pile, but at some point down the road, you will be somewhere or doing something you just don’t want to do — then, you may sit in a space and start that mental cleanout. Or you may have that moment like I did on a cold day and I watched the white puff of my breath and it how it slowly faded away until I sighed another breath. I realized I have been given another day to care about the gunk in the corner of my dog’s eyes, the leftovers we move around in the fridge but neither my husband or I muster the courage to toss, the thrill of finding a five-dollar bill in the laundry, and the smell of my ginger tea in the afternoon, and so much more.
I can see and feel the smallest of moments all around me. My brain, full of margin holds space open for the things I love.
Tricia’s 2019-2020 Top Favorite Reads In the Self-Help Genre
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
Christopher K. Germer
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up
The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*CK
The Body Keeps the Score
Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.
The Road Back to You
Ian Morgan Crohn and Suzanne Stabile
Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go