I found out today that my friend’s husband has been diagnosed with cancer. She is pregnant with their first child. It’s an awful, awful thing – and she will be kept awake with this, at a time when she should be kept awake by butterfly kicks.
It embarrasses me to admit that the night before I heard this news I, too, had tossed and turned in the small hours – my brain churning over my ‘problems’:
- Need to contact ballet teacher re holiday program
- Must catch up with Tim and Leanne
- Did I answer that email from Rachel?
- Car needs a service
- Take kids to dentist
And, the big one:
- Think I left that last load of washing in the machine
I look at that list now, in light of my friend’s situation, and I’m humbled. I’m enormously thankful that this is all I had to worry about. I’m also kicking myself that I worried at all. Big, serious news really puts the small stuff into perspective.
A year on from the Queensland floods, we’re reminded that there are times in life when we’re not in control. We’re not making mountains out of molehills – we’re scaling a real, Everest of a problem, and we need all the emotional resilience that we can muster.
What we can control, though, is how much mental and emotional clutter we’re carrying – needlessly – and we can jettison that right now.
What’s still hanging around for you from 2011? Often it’s the ‘unfinished business’ that plays on our minds – spiralling round and round in the subconscious – popping up in the early hours of the morning, when our resting, conscious minds have left the gates wide open.
It’s this stuff that, once we clear it out, leaves brain space free to contemplate loftier ideas – real challenges and also big dreams and goals. Just as wading through a messy room slows us down physically, clinging on to the mental clutter holds us back.
The ‘Spring-clean Strategy’ below is designed for people who could be sleeping soundly, because things are travelling okay, but find they’re agonising over the small stuff:
Take a blank page and divide it into four boxes. Label the boxes ‘Home’, ‘Work’, ‘Relationships’ and ‘Other’.
Sift through your mind and place all the clutter into the appropriate box. Ask yourself:
- What unfinished business do I have on the home front? (car service, broken tap, tax return)
- What’s keeping me awake about work? (not clear on next step in project, six months of filing piled up, haven’t organised training course)
- What am I putting up with in my relationships? (want to clear the air about that argument, said I’d be in touch with Jane and haven’t emailed, introduce myself to new neighbour, organise a date night)
- What baggage am I carrying in other areas of my life? (gym membership, ask for leave and book holiday)
Once you’ve ‘emptied your mind’ and sorted the clutter into categories on the page (or pages!), pick the ‘quick win’. Of everything on the list, what is the one thing that you could do, right now, and get it over with?
When you’ve done it, notice how simple it seemed. Compare the effort involved in completing the task with the amount of emotional energy it was soaking up to lug it around all this time.
Often, after we have that first win on the board, it’s easy to power through the rest of the list. Imagine yourself, once the ‘mental spring clean’ is complete – screwing up the page and tossing it in the bin with a clunk as the lid slams shut.
All that’s left, then, is to enjoy the weightlessness – to contemplate those big ideas and to sleep well, until you face something worth losing sleep over.
Emma Grey is the author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005) and director of the life-balance company, WorkLifeBliss.
Read more on her blog at www.emmacatherinegrey.blogspot.com