Spring cleaning: How to clear your mind of psychological clutter

Spring is a great time to sweep out junk and debris that's collected over the past year.

But sometimes the household isn't the only thing that needs clearing.

According to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman, it's easy to become bogged down with unnecessary psychological clutter over the year.

Fortunately, there's a few tricks to help clear your mind — and she shared them with host Rick Cluff on CBC's The Early Edition.

Rick Cluff: What do you mean by psychological clutter and how does it affect workers? 

Jennifer Newman:  Psychological clutter is a metaphor for the things we hang onto about ourselves and others at work.

Workers develop ideas about themselves and their work. And these ideas accumulate over the years.

Unfortunately, without a spring cleaning, workers can collect bad habits and outmoded ways of seeing themselves and others.

Spring can be a great time to reflect on what workers are hanging on to and what has become outmoded in their working lives.

What other kinds of psychological clutter do workers contend with? 

Interpersonal clutter can accumulate over time at work — that's where you see a worker dragging around grudges, unresolved tensions, hard feelings or small annoyances. These build-up over time — and it's usually due to workers not dealing with co-workers when things come up between them.

Spring cleaning interpersonal relationships at work means letting go of grudges, wiping slates clean or taking a break from negativity.

And, if that's impossible, it means something needs to be hashed-out so workers can make a fresh start.

What other psychological clutter needs a thorough sorting?

Workers can freshen up their cognitive space. One habit of mind is living in the past or worrying about the future.

You'll see this when workers find themselves negatively focused on past errors or how great things used to be.

This can create feelings of sadness and hopelessness if taken to the extreme. As well, workers can clog up their minds with worry about the future.

One way to short circuit unhelpful thoughts is to focus on the present moment. Concentrate on your here and now even if it means noticing only your breathing. It will briefly disconnect you from cognitive clutter.

Another way is to focus on your self-talk. Do you habitually say: "I should," or "I always" or "I never" to yourself?

This might indicate a need to challenge your own thoughts. Examine if what you are telling yourself is actually true. This can give workers a break from ruminating on unhappy past events, or creating scary future scenarios.

You mentioned emotions can cause clutter — how do workers sweep pesky unwanted feelings away when they arise at work?

Emotions can come and go over a work day.

Emotional clutter is caused when workers think they have to fix what they feel. To clean out the emotional closet, consider taking an inventory of what's in there. Just because an emotion comes up, it doesn't mean it has to be acted upon right away.

Create some space.

Spring cleaning emotionally doesn't mean getting rid of feelings — it means choosing to act on them differently.

This interview has been edited and condensed