Some days, trying to think straight feels like an uphill battle.
You’re trying to think clearly, stop worrying and give your haphazard thoughts some kind of structure so you can focus on getting things done, but your mind just won’t have it.
You end up being so caught up in your disorganized overthinking or trying to recollect memories that you end up going in a mental circle all day.
When this happens to me, I find it more helpful to give myself a break instead of trying to force myself into a state of clarity.
There are other days where I find myself so focused and in the ‘zone’ that I feel like nothing can stop me.
Obviously, I want to have more days like this and fewer days where my mind feels like it’s descending into chaos, but life being life, things don’t always turn out that way.
And so, I continue my pursuit of mental clarity, which in turn, helps me bring the energy, enthusiasm and focus I want to show up with.
This means prioritizing my mental health.
What Is Mental Clarity?
Having a clear mindset simply means being in a state of certainty and focus.
Your mind isn’t clouded by worry, thoughts about the past or future, indecision, self-doubt or overwhelm.
As someone who’s prone to overthinking, striving for mental clarity is doubly important to me, because it’s only in this state that I’m able to be my most creative, productive and present.
What Causes Mental Fog?
While mental fog isn’t a medical condition, it’s used to describe the mental state of being sluggish, scatter-brained or unable to concentrate.
It can show up in a number of ways, including: Starting projects but never finishing them; constantly doubting your instincts or abilities, which then prompts you to keep turning to other people for approval and validation; and feeling overwhelmed for days on end and as a result, getting stuck.
Here’s why you may be feeling this way:
- A lack of sleep. Not getting enough restorative shut-eye can leave you with dulled cognitive abilities equivalent to that of someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1% above the legal limit for driving in most U.S. states.
- Overworking. Constantly working to the point of exhaustion raises your body’s cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) levels, which then disrupts your brain’s normal functions, such as memory and concentration.
- Poor nutrition. Fast meals may seem like a life-saver when you’re always racing against time, but not for your brain. A diet that’s high in processed ingredients like refined sugars encourage inflammation in your body, including your brain, leading to impaired cognitive function.
- Illness. Some illnesses, like COVID-19 can result in prolonged cognitive impairment, which researchers say could be a result of infection-induced inflammation. If you’re taking certain drugs for a medical condition, these can affect your memory and ability to focus too.
- Distractions. Sometimes, it could simply be your environment (like a noisy, chaotic or stressful household) that’s stopping you from being able to think clearly and focus.
Why Mental Clarity Is So Important
Life is chaotic and busy enough, and if you’re not calm, focused and certain of yourself, it gets even tougher.
Achieving this clear, confident and peaceful internal state is so important because:
You’ll Get More Done In Less Time
A sense of purpose is a powerful driver of action. Being crystal clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing will help erase any confusion that may be keeping you going round in circles.
You’ll Find It Easier To Prioritize
Everything on your to-do list can be urgent, but not everything is important. A clear head will help you figure out which items on your list can actually help you move the needle of progress by leaving those that won’t, for later.
It’ll Help You Push Through Self-Doubt
Often, the biggest obstacle that’s standing in your way of getting what you want is YOU. And the biggest culprit? Self-doubt. Combine your focus, purpose and the ability to prioritize that comes with clarity, and you’ll have the ultimate productivity recipe in your hands, no hacks required.
It’ll Help You Focus And Figure Out Your Direction
If you’ve got milestones that you want to achieve, you’ll need clarity around your goals and direction to get you unstuck and keep you moving forward.
10 Simple Ways To Improve Your Mental Clarity
The hoards of career and personal growth ‘gurus’ out there will have you believe that having a clear head is all about the latest hacks, tools and ‘techniques’ they’re obligated to sell you (well, because you obviously need it).
And while some of them are helpful, I’ve come to realize over the years that achieving mental clarity is more about going back to mental health basics than it is about following someone else’s shortcut:
1. Do More, Think Less
Sometimes, you can’t think your way to a solution, and the only way to figure out what to do is to just keep ‘doing’.
Through trial and error, you’ll gradually find out what works, and what doesn’t.
So rather than spend your time ruminating endlessly on ‘what-ifs’, ‘should-haves’, mistakes and worries, and not going anywhere, you’re better off taking action and then course-correcting when necessary.
2. Focus On Your Big ‘Why’
When you’ve got a big, audacious goal and can’t seem to get started with making it happen, what you may need is to sort out why you want it in the first place.
Once you’ve pinned down your big ‘why’, you’ll find that the path to achieving your goal is much clearer, and you, much more likely to stick with the plan, even when things get tough.
3. List Your Priorities
It’s only when I zeroed in on what’s truly important to me that I found it easier to decide where to spend the majority of my time and energy.
Refining my priorities is something I do for the year. I then break them down into monthly, weekly and daily priorities so I always know exactly what I need to do to hit my goals.
4. Plan Your Day The Night Before
Making my priorities happen comes with mindful planning: Writing down a to-do list for the next day, laying out my workout clothes and gear where I’ll see them, prepping the ingredients for my meals, and making sure I get enough sleep so I feel rested enough to do it all.
If you plan to fail, you fail to plan.
5. Create A Daily Routine
A daily schedule or routine takes the guesswork out of what you need to get done day-to-day.
What helps me keep a clear head throughout the day is to give my personal, health and work goals structure.
This means scheduling:
- A morning routine that preps me mentally and physically for the day ahead.
- A work schedule between 10am and 5pm that has me getting work that needs to get done, done.
- An evening workout routine that makes sure I’m not sitting in a chair all day.
6. Take Mental Breaks
Proponents of hustle culture will have you believe that all work and no rest is the only way to succeed, but research shows that it can (and probably will) do you more harm than good.
If you’ve been taking short mental breaks at work and suspect that they help you concentrate better and keep stress in check throughout the day, microbreak experts have your back on this one, making it a habit worth keeping in your mental clarity-building arsenal.
7. Get Enough Sleep
The less sleep you get, the more your memory and ability to focus go out the window.
To improve your chances of getting enough deep sleep, start by revisiting the basics:
- Build a sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Block out as much noise and light as possible in your bedroom.
- Learn how to power-nap. This is very useful for days when you don’t get enough sleep at night.
- Exercise earlier, not later in the day since it stimulates the brain.
- Avoid eating too late at night, and foods that tend to give you heartburn.
If sharpening these sleep hygiene basics aren’t enough to help you get the shut-eye you need, it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor or sleep specialist who can work with you to figure out if there are underlying issues that are keeping you awake at night.
8. Exercise And Eat A Healthy Diet
Just like the rest of your body, your brain thrives on regular movement and the right foods.
This means a nourishing diet that includes a good balance of leafy vegetables, fatty fish, berries, walnuts, tea and coffee (in moderation), as well as two hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week (think brisk walking, swimming, stair climbing, tennis or even dancing), all of which have been shown to help keep your brain sharp.
9. Spend Time In Nature
Getting outside and moving isn’t just good for your body — it’s also good for your mental health.
In fact, it’s so good for your brain that studies are indicating that time spent in Mother Nature shouldn’t be a nice to have; it should be a must-have for anyone who wants to lower their blood pressure, stress hormone levels and anxiety, as well as improve their self-esteem and mood.
10. Limit The Time You Spend On Social Media
If spending time on social media is leaving you feeling unfocused and worse about yourself, you’re not alone.
There’s growing evidence that shows the more time we spend online, the more mental distress people (particularly the young) tend to experience.
To break free from the addictive, happiness-inducing dopamine hits that come with getting likes, messages and comments online, try prioritizing in-person conversations instead of sending messages to start with.
Another way to cut down on your dependence on your phone? Remove as many non-essential apps as possible.
Going cold turkey will be painful for a little while, but the return of your sanity will be well worth it.
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Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo Being able to pay attention to the little things in your life starts with decluttering — not the easiest thing to do if your living (or even work) space is disorganised and drowning in stuff. This is my bible as far as tidying up my space and keeping it that way goes.
Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill This classic is so much more than what its title implies — it’s also a guide to taking control of the biggest driver behind everything you do and the reality you create for yourself: Your mind.
The Simple Living Guide When life feels overwhelming, this guide-and-workbook-in-one will help you gain clarity with your values, well-being, career, relationships and money.
The Good Morning Guide If your mornings are typically rushed, chaotic and stressful, I made this guide to help you start your day calm, sane and strong.
Tribe Of Mentors: Short Life Advice From The Best In The World by Timothy Ferriss Nothing beats having a mentor in your life who can personally guide you from day one. But not everyone does, and if (like me), you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the best virtually or through books. Take what you need from the likes of Ray Dalio, Ben Stiller, Bear Grylls and more in this varied but comprehensive compilation of bite-sized advice on life, work and purpose from some of the best minds in the world.
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