Mental Minimalism - decluttering your mind by connecting with nature.
Wide awake at 3:09 a.m. on a week night. Insomnia...again. Why does this always hit when I have important things to do the next day? And why can’t I shut my mind off and just go back to sleep? No sleep is going to wreck my entire day making me far less productive than I need to be. This cycle doesn’t seem to end...
Sound familiar? This was me on a weekly basis when I was immersed in the corporate grind. Starting my day exhausted I would fuel up with energy drinks, coffee, soda, and anything else with caffeine. Obviously these are all horrible habits with numerous health side effects. For almost 20 years I tried to make this system work because I thought it was what I needed to do in order to “succeed”. As a salesperson or business owner, I’d work tirelessly in order to beat out my competition so I could claim victory. The more I worked and pushed back at the relentless hours, the less interested in life I became. Instead of feeling a level of accomplishment and satisfaction at each career milestone, I only felt more stress and the need to work even longer hours the further I climbed up the corporate ladder. I couldn’t see an end to this vicious cycle.
Happy hour, weekend parties with too much alcohol, concerts, all weekend long food/beer festivals, etc. - these were just distractions to keep my mind off the fact Monday was right around the corner. The grind was never too far away. I could feel it lurking in the shadows and my health began to suffer from all the sleep depravation and unhealthy habits. Change was imminent, I had to do something to stop the steady decline. I decided to be proactive and began to carefully scrutinize every aspect of my life. Lifestyle alterations were needed, I just needed to summon the courage to break free from my prison.
What is mental minimalism?
To me, mental minimalism is controlling the amount of information I process by only allowing thoughts of personal significance to occupy my mind fostering a positive outlook on life. It’s normal to keep up on current events but not healthy to take personal ownership of every problem/issue you see on the news or read online. Take Facebook as an example. Too often we see people get completely bent out of shape over a topic or current event which has little or nothing to do with them. We’ve all seen it and thought “man, that person really went off."
What causes someone to uncontrollably lash out and overreact? Why do people act out of character when confronted with a topic they don’t agree with? Why are the vast majority of Americans in the “Compare and Compete” mindset? The answer is simple, stress. Stress is a direct by-product of allowing too many thoughts or external stimulants to overload the mind. More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings, and that is forecasted to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression. In fact, city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people residing in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. What can you do to combat this? Be proactive, take control of your thoughts, change your life, and connect with nature.
I recently made the decision to live without a cell phone. Crazy right? Wrong. You wouldn’t believe how much happier I am without the constant distraction of a phone. I’m noticing my mind is much clearer and I thoroughly enjoy being in the now. Another lifestyle change I’ve adopted is to limit my time spent online. I limit my internet usage to 1 hour per day (10:00am-10:30am and 5:00pm-5:30pm) whereas before I would spend anywhere from 4-10 hours working and socializing on the Internet. Let’s take the low end of my previous daily online habits and annualize it - 4 hours X 365 days = 1,460 hours or 87,600 minutes PER YEAR. Was this the best use of my time? I didn’t think so. I’ve now set healthy boundaries to have more balance in my life.
Interested in doing the same for yourself? Here are some suggestions to calm your mind:
- Stop reading the news, especially the negative articles, and start reading books. Four of my favorite books are featured at the end of this blogpost.
- Take 90 minutes and go for a hike. A 2015 study by Stanford University found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
- Read a book in a quiet, nature setting without the distraction of a cell phone. Time spent in nature has been found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.
- Find a hobby. I suggest fly fishing, it will change your life. It has for me and I couldn’t be more thankful to have fly fishing as a positive influence on my mental health.
- Give yourself a break each day and schedule at least one hour to completely unplug from technology.
In closing, I encourage you to take ownership of your life. Remember, your life is yours. No one else has to live with your decisions but you. Find a happy balance and make the most out of your time spent here on Earth. And if you choose to spend time in nature, I think you’ll find it’s one of the best life decisions you could ever make.