Acting, Reflecting and the Cycle of Learning
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Decluttering for Learning

I don't know about you, but sometimes my brain can begin to resemble an episode of Hoarders, crammed so full of junk that I barely have room to move around in it! When it gets this way, I tend to get overwhelmed. There isn't an ounce of brain power (or space) for learning. 

In my experience, we learn best when we have cleared an area for new ideas and skills to take root. This isn't just about forgetting a fact from middle school to make room for a work fact now. This is really about slowing our brains down, helping them to move processing power from our cluttered thoughts to the learning we want to gain. Decluttering also helps us become more productive because it improves our ability to focus. 

In the trainings and workshops I run, as well as in my own personal professional development, I try to include some kind of "decluttering" activities. Here are some that have worked well for me:

5-Minute Free Write

Take a piece of paper, set a timer for 5 minutes, and just write down whatever is flowing through your brain. This is stream of consciousness writing and it's an excellent way to clear clutter before embarking on a particular activity or to begin and end your day. I've also modified it to 3 minutes or as long as 10 minutes, depending on the audience. 

Morning Pages

Morning Pages expand the idea of stream of consciousness writing. Every morning, first thing, you write three pages--no more, no less. This is a technique borrowed from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and I've been doing it religiously for a few years now. With it, I'm able to start my day with a fresh approach (usually) and over time, it helps me to learn from patterns and trends in my thinking. 

List of 100

When I find myself fixated on a particular topic, I will sometimes do a List of 100. In this exercise, you simply write your question or topic at the top of a sheet of paper, and then you list 100 things related to it. These can be things that are bothering you about the issue, possible solutions or answers, whatever. It's just a way to force you to examine the issue in much greater detail. I've done Lists of 100 around particular fears or worries and found it to be a great way to defuse the topic. 

Box it Up

This is a strategy that works well for workshops, but that you could also do individually. I hand out pieces of paper or index cards and suggest that people write one thing that is cluttering up their mind on each piece of paper. They can do as many as they wish. I then collect the cards and put them in a box, telling people that they are welcome to take them back at the end of the session if they'd like. No one ever takes me up on the offer though. . . 

Visual De-Cluttering

One of my favorite tools is Christine Martell's VisualsSpeak Image Set. In face-to-face settings, I use the "hard copy" tools and in online workshops, I use her fabulous online Image Center. With both, I will ask people to select some images that represent a few of the things that are on their mind. Depending on time constraints, I may have them create a collage or just select some images. If they'd like, they are able to discuss with the group, and we talk about what they are "letting go of," to make room for learning in the session. 


I probably shouldn't say this, but sometimes this blog is a great de-cluttering tool. I'll have a bunch of ideas floating around in my brain that are driving me crazy as I try to find some coherence, something to DO with them. Having this blog as an outlet for my thoughts helps me de-clutter by organizing them into something that's (hopefully) more useful--kind of like turning garbage into art. And sharing these thoughts, even if they've been about things like feeling like dirt or being snowed under with work, has helped me to process them and remove them from my mind. I also find that I'm not alone and that it helps other people to know that my brain is as cluttered as their's is. 

Some Additional Ideas

These are some of the de-cluttering strategies I've had the most success using. For more ideas, check out these articles:

How do you declutter your brain? 


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Actual physical decluttering can help too. I feel squeezed and frustrated when I'm surrounded by mess. Cleaning it up is invigorating and sets the mind free again.

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