Five simple ways to declutter your brain – and stop the mind chatter

Her practice blends modern psychology with the 30,000-year-old ancient belief system of shamanism, although she says: “You won’t see me with my face painted and dancing around in head gear. I prefer a corporate suit.” Negus claims to have always had a special quality ever since her childhood. (Coincidentally, her surname, taken from her previous marriage in her 20s, derives from Ethiopian meaning “king” and ancient Egyptian meaning “shaman”.)

The “push energy” makes sense when you consider a study carried out by researchers at Queen’s University in Canada in 2020, who found the average person will typically have more than 6,000 thoughts in a single day. A previous study by the National Science Foundation, which analysed daily thoughts, found that 80 per cent were negative, and 95 per cent were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.

Negus calls the negative or repetitive thoughts “mind chatter”. “Some of the negative thoughts or internal rhetoric may sound trivial, but it’s often layered on top of something deeper,” she warns.

“For example, as a child, you may have felt like your teacher never listened to you or asked your opinion. The chances are, you’re playing out a similar thought pattern in the work environment. But the truth is this is an outdated thought pattern. The issue we have is that beliefs that we lay down when we’re children, when we are emotionally immature, create unhelpful thought patterns. If this was food past its sell-by date, you’d throw it out.”

Changing these negative thought cycles and breaking down the mind chatter should be an ongoing process, which over time, you get better at. Negus says: “Connecting with your subconscious mind chatter can help you make informed choices based on what you actually want. This can change how you live, it’s really powerful.”

Negus refuses to work with anyone for less than three months – usually six months to two years – to gain results. “A lot of what I’m dealing with is stuff that people are not fully aware they’re carrying,” she says. “I work with clients to help improve their emotional intelligence, which is key.”

This is where a slight gender divide creeps in. Negus notices some clients, more often women, automatically react to negative thought patterns by people- pleasing. “People-pleasing is a trauma response based on the need to survive – or fit in and keep everyone happy,” explains Negus. “A healthier approach would be to express your emotions and realise your emotions have value. Allow vulnerability to be a strength and have an ability to leverage relationships.” Again, something women aren’t so good at, according to Negus. “When someone’s very independent and resilient, they don’t ask for help. It’s only when they’ve tried everything and are burnt out that they shout for help.”

While men do have emotional intelligence, they often use it to be resilient and lead. “Leading with drive to succeed is a masculine trait. But true leadership needs compassion, empathy and innovation and these are feminine qualities. If we lean too heavily on masculinity – and we have a toxic masculinity in our society – we build a life where we have to keep succeeding,” says Negus. “I believe that success is something that happens within us. It’s not about what we’ve got or what we show the world, it’s how we actually show up within us.”

Although lockdowns were tough for various reasons, Negus reveals it was a positive time for some of her clients, who could slow down and feel more grounded. “I think many people were able to re-evaluate what was important to them without the usual distractions. Clients also spent more time in nature – something I also recommend as it allows you to feel more grounded,” she says.

“Too many of us are ‘managing’ to live our lives by pushing on, but is that good enough? It shouldn’t just be about surviving. We should be able to experience life fully, vibrantly and with vitality,” says Negus.

Negus’s hacks to declutter your mind

Meditate for four minutes every day

“Sitting with yourself for four minutes in a meditative state doesn’t take long. But to experience a shift, you have to do the work. A child can do homework on their own, but they do much better when a parent sits with them.”

Free-writing

“This is very different to journalling or jotting down a to-do list. Spend five minutes each day for a few weeks allowing yourself to write down your thoughts however they appear, like a brain dump to clear your mind. Lots of people start with: “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, God, I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to write, I’m so frustrated I have to do this, I have to do that.’ The theme is they’re frustrated because they’re feeling obligated. You can start to make choices about what you do. And when you’re making a choice for the right reason, it shifts to a positive thought and frees up space in your head.”

Tidying and organising

“As with everything, taking action alongside these always helps – clearing out the loft, or garage, or garden shed, will mirror the mind-dump of free-writing; it is methodical, it requires you to let go of things that are outdated and no longer have relevance in your life. Think about when you’re clearing out the kitchen cupboard, you have to unpack it. Usually, its contents go all over the kitchen, and when you look around, you think, “Oh my god, what have I done?”. But that thought is momentary, because then what happens is you start tidying things up and organising, and by doing this, you’re creating something much more effective that will help you in terms of how you want to live.”

Take a “power pause”

“Take a moment whenever you are challenged or triggered to take stock of how you want to respond. Do you want to respond on auto-pilot, or do you want to respond mindfully and from your best self?”

Sarah Negus is the author of Modern Day Shaman: Find a Deeper Connection With Life; sarahnegus.com

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