How to declutter your mind and develop personal agency

March 29, 2022
How to declutter your mind and develop personal agency

The mind is a powerful tool: it is necessary to take stock of our mental well-being from time-to-time and create the best version of our mind that is in line with our values, interests, and passions. This is referred to as personal agency and is fundamental to mental health.

“You do always have a choice,” said psychology consultant Dr. Paul Napper – Dr. Napper is the co-author of a cult favourite book on personal agency. “It may not be a great choice, but examining your options helps you to adapt to your circumstances.”

Like Dr. Napper, American psychology specialists and meditation practitioners have teamed up to offer some advice to better your mental health. Their suggestions are simple:


Mindfulness meditation, a practice that helps you remember to return to the present when you become distracted, has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety over the stresses of daily life.

“Being a human, particularly right now, is stressful,” said meditation guide Nkechi Njaka, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as various political upheavals in the last two years. “And when we think of how degenerative stress is and how harmful [it is] to the body, we need something that can help mitigate it.”

To refocus on the present instead of the past or future, start by noticing the sensations in the body, in the moment. It is normal for the mind to wander, Njaka said; when this happens, gently steer your awareness to your breathing and come back to the present. Approaching mindfulness meditation with curiosity, openness, and forgiveness, is more likely to yield results.


A recent exercise in mindfulness created by digital designer and author Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method, is one that requires you to continually re-evaluate how you are investing your time and energy. And then you get to decide whether those things are actually worth spending time and energy on.

Just as well: studies have proven that jotting down thoughts in a journal can improve well-being.

Carroll, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), initially started journalling to help him stay focused and succeed in his career, but then he began exploring how he felt about the tasks he was accomplishing. Through journaling, he experienced a newfound sense of purpose and pride from helping others and performing acts of service.


“Now is the time to completely overhaul your news consumption,” said Dr. Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Cal has advised choosing just one or two reliable news sources to browse through at a specific time each day, to avoid being overwhelmed and spiralling into depression.

Dr. Newport also recommended taking a 30-day break from the technologies in your life that are optional including some social media applications.

So instead of reflexively watching TikTok or scrolling through Instagram during your free time, think about what you could be doing otherwise: Reading a novel? Taking a restorative walk in nature? Relaxing and listening to music? Set aside time for those activities.


If you haven’t tackled your pile of clutter, now might be a good time to do it.

“Messy spaces tend to prevent clear cognitive thinking,” said Professor Dr. Catherine Roster of the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico, who revealed cluttered homes have a “distorting affect” on a person’s emotional state and productivity.

Dr. Roster suggested a cleaning buddy – ideally someone who is also decluttering their home – to motivate you to do the same. Together, the two of you can serve as a sounding board for each other to make decisions about what to keep and stay on schedule.


Clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg has noticed patients seem to be “emotionally cluttered” as of late, likely due to causes such as social isolation.

If there are people you care about whom you have lost touch with during the pandemic, don’t be shy about getting back in touch, she urged.

Reach out with honesty and intention, “We need the support and levity of people who make us feel good,” – it might even inspire a “chain of positivity” where the person you contacted feels inspired to do the same with others.

“Truly, everybody wants to get that call,” Dr. Greenberg said.

Read: Resilience key to boosting mental health

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Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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