Cognitive “clutter” is real, but there are simple ways to help
keep your brain space neat and tidy.
Especially as we age, a “cluttered” brain can lead to unnecessary
cognitive decline. For some people, a busy memory scape can increase creativity.
But for most, all that brain noise comes at a cost and can propagate forgetfulness
and other cognitive disorders the older we get. The good news is there
is plenty you can do right now to clear the cobwebs from your brain and
make it the tidy, organized, and healthy space you want it to be.
Multiple new neuroscience research studies indicate that staying physically
active is one of the most significant ways to reduce the risk of memory
disorders and cognitive decline, especially as we get older. But no matter
how old you are, the effort can start now and have real-time and sometimes
immediate benefits. So, what type of exercise is best, and how much of
it should you engage in for substantial brain benefits? Some experts say
there is a “just right” amount of cardiovascular exercise
that can aid people in decluttering information from the brain while also
helping to crystalize factual details. When that just-right exercise level
dips too far below the threshold, the mind can wander aimlessly.
Conversely, a too-high cardiovascular activity threshold can force the
brain to stay singularly focused on the strenuous activity at hand. Maintaining
a just-right activity threshold can vary from person to person. For example,
a suitable cardiovascular activity for some might be jogging – with
walking a below-ideal level of exercise and sprinting a too-high activity
level. At least 30 minutes of heart-pumping cardiovascular exercise most
days a week is an excellent goal to work towards.
Try a “Brain Dump”
Essentially, the term “brain dump” can be synonymous with journaling.
It involves the act of getting thoughts, ideas, worries, and questions
swirling around in your brain at any given moment, out of your brain,
and onto paper. This technique is often used to help people manage stress
and anxiety, but even if you don’t feel particularly plagued by
those issues, it can be a helpful brain decluttering technique to try.
For most people, “brain dumping” is accomplished right before
falling asleep or immediately upon waking for the day. Consider keeping
a journal, index card, or even a sticky note, and a pen or pencil next
to your bed. Use these items to write down whatever your brain wants to
get out. There are no rules to this technique and no “right way”
to do it. The simple act of regularly channeling your thoughts through
your hand and out onto paper can be especially beneficial in keeping your
brain space tidy on a daily basis.
Though we all do it to an extent, procrastination, or delaying decisions,
is an ineffective activity that keeps the brain filled with too long a
to-do list. Pending decisions can create brain noise that often leads
to overwhelming thoughts, stress, and anxiety. When you engage in the
brain dump technique described above, consider writing down the decisions
you would like to make or tasks you would like to complete for that day
or the next. Crossing decisions off a to-do list feels good and allows
the brain more capacity for creativity, deeper thinking, and room to grow.
I’ve written extensively on
sleep as a critical element to achieving optimal brain health. Additionally
crucial is allowing your brain time to calm down and recharge throughout
the day. That’s where mindfulness meditation comes in. The activity
of meditation is not some new-age deal that only yogis engage in. Research
has repeatedly shown it is an easy-to-implement (if not to accomplish)
practice that enhances brain health, focus, and performance in incredible
ways. Don’t know how to get started with meditation? To begin, try
dedicating just one full minute of your time in a quiet place free from
ALL distractions, and focus on breathing deeply and calming the mind.
When intrusive thoughts try to break in, gently push them out with deep,
calming breaths. As your meditative practice begins to strengthen, extend
the time of your meditation sessions. This is not a worthless activity,
it will become something you look forward to as a way to center your brain
and your day.
Declutter Your Physical World
You may not realize it, but a cluttered home or workspace influences your
brain’s productivity and overall health. If you find yourself surrounded
by piles of stuff and struggling to concentrate or efficiently complete
tasks, it’s time to evaluate your space and clean it up. Not everyone
enjoys the act of tidying up, but most people love the outcome of a neat,
clean, and organized space. This spring, make it a priority to tidy the
environments you spend most of your time in. Your brain will thank you for it.
As the calendar pages turn to the warmer months and longer days ahead,
use these springtime gifts to your brain’s benefit. Creating solid
decluttering habits for your brain health today can have lasting positive
effects tomorrow and across your entire lifespan.