Improving Your World From The Inside, Out

By Dawn Williams, Senior News Associate Publisher

With spring indisputably here, many households are engaged in the tradition of spring cleaning. We move furniture, vacuum dust bunnies and hidden cobwebs that eluded us all winter, throw open the windows to let in the fresh (albeit chilly) air, and scrub every surface until the house once again feels like a home should: clean, comforting, and inviting.

If we give this much care and attention to our outer environment, doesn’t our inner environment deserve the same attention? The human psyche requires attention, too, to keep it running optimally and to keep you feeling your best.

Think about your computer or smart phone. Fresh out of the box, it works like dream. It’s responsive, fast, and does exactly what it’s designed to do. Over time, though, the system begins to slow down. Web pages get hung up; apps are freeze or crash; unexpected responses occur that leave you wondering if it’s time to upgrade.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of performing a reboot or some maintenance, and sometimes, the dreaded blue screen appears and leaves you no choice but to replace it. In my most recent match with technology, an icon appeared on my screen while I was doing a software update. It was the image of an android lying flat on its back, a fatal error symbol over its chest. Needless to say, that led by necessity to the purchase of Droid’s next generation brother, which worked fabulously for two years and is now showing signs of nearing extinction.

Our psyches need the same kind of regular care and maintenance that we give our homes and our devices. But how do we do that? And why is it even necessary?

Consider this: the human brain processes 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per days. Many of these are automatic and subconscious, necessary instructions to get us through routine actions without focusing on each tiny little step involved. Of those remaining, some research suggests that aren’t new thoughts or ideas, but rather the very same thoughts we held in mind the day before, every day. Thoughts lead to emotions which lead to action. By failing to take a closer look at how and what you think, those same thoughts turn us into creatures of habit, get us stuck in a rut, slowly stealing our joy and our ability to pursue our dreams and interests.

And winter, the time when we’re enclosed and isolated more than the rest of the year, is a breeding ground for these stagnant thoughts. It’s like a caterpillar trapped inside its chrysalis, unable to become what it is meant to be.

Change occurs form the inside out. Change your mind and change your life. But first you have to clear out the detritus to make room for the new, and then look at what’s left and decide which thoughts are due for an “upgrade.”

The changing seasons are always a good time for me to do some mental maintenance, but the following process can be performed any time you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and need to feel refreshed.

The Brain Dump: Most effective when it feels as if everything is happening at once (because in your mind, it is!) is the brain dump. Take a notebook or a few clean sheets of paper, and write down every single little thing that’s going through your head. These can include a laundry list of tasks that need to be done, the nagging reminder that several birthday or thank you cards still need to go out, the ongoing irritability about household tasks that you can survive enduring but drive you nuts, concerns about finances, thoughts of your extended family, concerns about your health, and of course, the comments you make to yourself when things go wrong. (Hint: these are more often then not self-deprecating.) Include your hopes and fears, your dreams and plans, and anything else you can think of. This is, after all, a brain dump. We want all that “stuff” out of your head and onto paper where we can work with it.

Look over your list. Mine are usual several pages long. It seems like a lot, but usually only takes me 15 to 20 minutes to complete my lists.

There are several categories that will define every thought on your list:

  • Things I Can Change Now
  • Things I Can Change with Some Planning/Help
  • Things That Are Out Of My Control
  • Thoughts About My Strengths
  • Thoughts About My Weaknesses

If you’re so inclined, separate the brain dump onto pages with the above headings. Or simply label them on your original Brain Dump sheets, possible using different colored ink for each category.

Now look at the list of Things I Can Change Now. Are these tasks and projects in progress? If not, harnessing the increased energy most of us experience in the spring will allow you to make definitive plans and perhaps even set completion dates for each task. This does two things: It frees your mind from constant thought about what to do next because it’s all on paper, waiting for you refer to and then check off items as they’re accomplished.

Do the same with your list of Things I can Change with Some Planning/ Help. Brainstorm on possibilities to get the help you need, and again list specific tasks you can perform in order to move closer to completing those goals.

Thoughts About My Strengths is an essential list, one that you should continually add to as you discover more about your capabilities and learn new skills. Look this list over daily to reinforce every last quality you bring to the world, and really own the strengths on that list. They are part of what makes you whom you are, and you must never lose sign of the power you possess.

The last two categories are where the real mental spring cleaning take place. Be strong, wise one. You’ve got this. Start with the list of things that are out of your control. You have two options. Either look at what you can do that may contribute to the outcome of the situations you listed, or make a firm decision that nothing you can do will lead to a change, and vow to waste no more mental and emotional energy on it. Find a positive way to deal with thoughts of those situations. When you catch yourself thinking about it - and you will, because this exercise is designed to bring to your awareness that which is automatic or unconscious - find a positive way to respond to it. Say a prayer if you’re so inclined. Reframe the image in your mind to reflect a positive outcome, or let yourself recall something good that resulted from the situation or preceded it. And then let it go. Immediately focus on something else to distract yourself, and focus on that which you can change.

The final category, Thoughts About My Weaknesses, gives you a chance to change the way you think of yourself. One of my weaknesses is that I worry more than I should. It took decades for me to realize my worry doesn’t change anything except to put me in a negative state of mind. First, I found the flip side of that behavior - my worry was the dark side of my compassion, a desire to do what good I am able for the benefit of others. So I added compassion to my list of strengths. I also came to realize that worry is a habit, and habits can be broken. So when worrisome thoughts came up for me, I countered them with a positive thought. For example, I used to worry for hours when my youngest daughter was out for the evening, unable to sleep until the outside light went off and I new she as home safely. To change that habit, which was robbing me of sleep and peace of mind, I reminded myself that she is a responsible adult, a good driver, and perfectly capable of keeping herself safe, just as I am.

This is an excellent exercise for anyone feeling overwhelmed, unable to focus, or simply who wants to clear up and organize the accumulated data stored within. It returns focus and control, helps you move in your desired direction, and best of all, it’s far less expensive that a smart phone upgrade!

Dawn Williams is a transformational life coach specializing in mid-life issues  and emotional intelligence. Contact her via email to