Springtime often inspires us to declutter our homes and yards -- and exposes the cobwebs and dust bunnies that have been collecting during the winter months. It’s also a good time to consider cleaning out our mental and emotional spaces: our thoughts and feelings.
Just as it feels good to walk into an organized closet or enjoy a sparkling hardwood floor, a mental spring-cleaning can provide a boost and a sense of relief and accomplishment. Here’s a mental and emotional spring-cleaning checklist to help you get started!
1. Cultivate Quiet Time
Plan some alone time to take an internal inventory and identify what has been cluttering your heart and mind. Meditation, prayer, hiking and yoga are excellent examples of external acts that promote internal reflection and allow time to tune in to your inner world. Take a planned break from technology and spend time visualizing how you want to feel in your life and in your relationships.
Ask yourself: What can I clear out of my heart or mind that will allow me to become a calmer, more centered person?
2. Jot It in a Journal
Putting pen to paper and identifying your thoughts and emotions helps clear out your emotional space, make emotions seem more manageable and gives you a different perspective. You may not realize how cluttered your insides have become until you start articulating them.
Emotions (E-motions) are “energy in motion” and they are designed to move through you, not to stay stuck in your body. Next time you feel emotionally burdened write it down. In my therapy practice, I keep a stack of small notebooks to give away to clients as “homework” assignments, in which they can practice identifying and expressing thoughts and feelings.
Ask yourself: What am I thinking about right now? What am I feeling right now? Where do I experience that feeling in my body?
3. Give Up a Grudge
Releasing your grip on a gripe can free up emotional energy that you can then invest in other, more positive areas of your life. I’ve heard it said that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. While having a range of emotions, including anger and hurt, is normal, letting those feelings take up permanent residence in your heart ultimately hurts you.
A recent couple I worked with realized the power of giving up a grudge. The wife kept bringing up how angry she was when her husband was quiet and how he “froze” when she was upset. She was resentful and hopeless until she realized her husband’s silence stemmed from his fear of making things worse, not because he didn’t care about her.
Ask yourself: Am I holding on to past hurt that I’d be willing to let go of? Why do I still hold on to this resentment?
4. Offer an Apology
If you feel unsettled about something you’ve said or done to another person, offer a sincere apology to clear the air. Even if it was unintentional on your part, a generous and heartfelt apology can remove unnecessary discomfort inside of you and repair damaged connections with others. I can attest to the relief that comes from taking ownership of a mistake or misstep. A few months ago I spoke with a friend about a lingering misunderstanding between us and owned up to my insensitivity. Though it was a fairly minor incident, I didn’t realize until it was resolved how much space it was taking in my internal life.
Ask yourself: Is there someone in my life that, when I see them, I feel awkwardness about something I’ve said or done? Am I willing to apologize for my part in the miscommunication or hurt feelings?
5. Forgive Your Faults
Often, it is easier to overlook other’s faults than it is to let go of your own shortcomings. Over time it’s easy to collect evidence for negative self-evaluations like, “I am never good enough” or “I’m always putting my foot in my mouth” or “See! I’m not good at relationships.” Dwelling on your past mistakes or clutters the present and leads to self-critical thoughts and feelings. Humans aren’t inspired to do better by criticism, and this applies to self-criticism. How freeing it is to acknowledge that you will make mistakes and have weaknesses as a human, but that it is possible to learn from personal experiences and still maintain a sense of self-acceptance. When my therapy clients are able to achieve this self-acceptance in spite of their own weakness, I call this becoming an “emotional grown-up”
Ask yourself: Is there something that I’ve said or done, or a trait that I don’t like about myself that seems to clutter my mind?
6. Tell Your Truth
A willingness to be emotionally honest with those we love can deepen our connections and allow our loved ones to offer support and encouragement to us. Recently, a young adult therapy client discovered when she “told the truth” to her parents she not only felt relieved but it also improved her relationships with them. If you are afraid that being more emotionally honest in your relationships will hurt them, think again. Not sharing your truth for long periods of time leads to emotional build up that eventually erupts, causing further breakdowns in communication and relationship break-ups. The emotional eruption does far more damage to relationships than speaking your truth all along the way.
Ask yourself: When someone asks me how I’m doing, do I say that “I’m fine” even when I’m not?