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It's Time for a Spring Cleaning of Your Mind

After a long, hard year, your mental closet's looking pretty cluttered. Give your professional life a much-needed reset with this four-step spring cleaning to clear your mind of unnecessary stuff and make way for the things that bring you success.

By
Rachel Cooke
6-minute read
Episode #643

Here in the Northeastern U.S., spring has finally sprung. It’s sunny, breezy, delightful … and time for a spring cleaning.

I used to dread the spring cleaning—the switching out of seasonal clothes, the wiping down of fans, the whole drill. It was a chore, a drain of my time and energy. 

But one day a few years ago, I realized how much lighter I felt post-cleaning. That annual process I dreaded? It actually left me feeling refueled and ready to tackle the next big thing. I wondered if I could get that same sense of energy and renewal for my work life (not to mention life in general) with a little spring cleaning of the mind.

Why clean out your mental closet?

Our closets can get overwhelmed by an accumulation of things. So too can our minds. Unfortunately—unlike with excess shoes, clothes, and accessories—there's no charity organization or resale shop waiting to take in your mental clutter.

When I realized that my brain was suffering from an accumulation of unused junk, I roughed out a process and took myself through a professional spring cleaning. And it was a clear win!

Not only have I done a mental spring cleaning every year since, but I’ve also developed a version that leaders can use with their teams.

If you’re a leader (or an aspiring one) feel free to grab your guide to running a Team Renewal session here.

Ready to spring clean your mind? Awesome. Let's do this!

Set yourself up for success

This exercise can deliver a little value or a ton. If you’re here for a ton, then let’s start by setting you up for maximum success.

A great setup means focusing on three key factors: 

  1. Mindset. Look at this as that opportunity for renewal. Not only is it a chance to let go of anything that isn't functioning anymore, it's also an opportunity to dial up the things that are working. The process should feel like a gift, not a chore. Tell yourself this until you believe it.
     
  2. Time. Give yourself time to be reflective. You don’t want to race though this exercise. It should feel thoughtful and intentional. I typically set aside two to three hours, sometimes in a single block, or sometimes in smaller chunks. Whatever works for you is great.
     
  3. Space. Try to clear a space in which you’re unlikely to be distracted. Move physical clutter and ask anyone (big or little) who shares your space to steer clear of you. This isn’t a meditation retreat. Nothing has to be perfect. But try to separate yourself from “real life” as much as you can. 

Now you’re ready. So let’s get you renewed.

Run your renewal

The process I use, both for myself and with my clients, is comprised of four components.

1. Celebrate (and clear out) the past

A great renewal begins with a letting go of what’s non longer serving us. It gives us a clean slate. But letting go can be hard. So I’ve borrowed an insight from Marie Kondo.

A few years ago her “magical” KonMari method of home organizing took the world by storm. And one of the unique tenets of her method is the idea of honoring the past, expressing gratitude for what has served us.

In this HuffPo interview, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Yuko Hanakawa, explains that “By treating your items with respect, kindness and gratitude, you are enhancing the spirit of the given item. ... From that perspective…you are respecting the spirit of the items that you’re letting go of with gratitude, instead of getting rid of them with negativity or force.”

I’ve adapted this concept into my own process. This spring renewal process is about, in part, letting go of things no longer serving us. Instead of items we express gratitude to the projects, practices, and habits that helped us get to where we are but are no longer serving a purpose.

So, honor what’s served you previously—find a way to express gratitude for it getting you thiss far. And then find a way to let it go.

For me, in past years, I’ve celebrated but let go of:

  • Working with an amazing coach who had supported me … but who I’d outgrown
  • Reading every how-to book on starting a business … because mine was finally started
  • Offering free introductory sessions to new clients ... which I no longer needed to do because I was succeeding

I was able to appreciate the value each of these had delivered for me. Then I thanked them for their service and let them go with grace.

2. Define your Secret Sauce

Now that you’ve cleared out space in your intellectual closest, the next step is to identify what makes you truly stand out.

You want to be clear and purposeful so you can choose a handful of things you really want to dial up.

For me, there’s a lot I can do. I’ve built training programs on various leadership topics and I’ve done it well. I’m a good teacher. But I’ve realized I’m an excellent facilitator. 

I don’t want to just be good; I want to shine. We all deserve to shine.

I can teach a team how to do a thing. But what I really love is facilitating the dialog that enables the team to decide the right thing for them and their organization.

Whether it’s about defining an operating model or determining how best to lead their teams through change, I love providing a framework and then facilitating the build of a powerful action plan.

This is an important insight for me. It helps me focus on which projects and clients to pursue, and which to refer to my amazing colleagues. 

I don’t want to just be good; I want to shine. We all deserve to shine.

So what about you? What do you do well, and what do you do that really knocks people over? Figure out a way to dial up the latter. What do you need more of in your life?

3. Identify detractors

Now let's identify anything that distracts you from focusing on your secret sauce.

I’m not talking about the quick breaks you take to call a friend or watch a cat video. You deserve those. I’m talking about things you do as part of your workday that are inhibiting, not delivering, value.

Are you spending too many hours a week in meetings that don’t really require you? Managing a dashboard no one looks at? Do you talk too often to a colleague who is grumpy or cynical and might be bringing you down?

Think long and hard about where you’re spending your time and what activities may be keeping you off-purpose.

For me, as my business began to grow, I realized I was spending too much time on administrative work. I finally hired an accountant and am now on the hunt for a virtual assistant. Getting clear on what holds you back can really help inform your choices on how best to move forward.

4. Commit to habits and practices

Finally, it’s time to reflect on what you’ve learned, and to establish some new practices that will keep you on purpose and on track.

Maybe you commit to declining one meeting per week (to start) and see how it feels. Or you decide to repurpose your old “commute time” as listening-to-a-business-podcast time. Maybe you set aside some time each week to network, or an hour a day to walk. Or maybe you start and maintain a Bullet Journal to keep you focused.

This is not an exercise in goal-setting. Your focus should be on specific practices—things you can see (and satisfyingly check off!) once you’ve completed. them

There are no right or wrong answers, as long as you’re making choices with purpose and intention.

Here are some of the practices I’ve personally committed to over the years:

  1. I do quarterly check-ins with each member of my secret circle of mentors
  2. I send a relevant article per week to a past or current client. This keeps me top of mind while adding value for them
  3. I do monthly progress checks against my goals to determine where I’m on track and where I need to make change
  4. I do a weekly personal celebration by listing everything I accomplished that week that left me feeling proud. Celebrating myself keeps me motivated.

And there you have my four-step process for my intellectual spring cleaning. It leaves me refreshed and revived every time.

I hope you’ll take advantage and run your own.

Oh, and a little insider secret: mental spring cleaning works in any season. Any time you’re feeling the slog of overwhelm give this process a try. And let me know how it goes!

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.