Though the word less has become routinely synonymous with the minimalist conversation, it seems to me, our desire for less stems from the common theme of seeking to gain more of something in exchange.
More purpose. More experiences with our loved ones. More time to be. More room for joy. More freedom or flexibility. More peace and sanity.
While I am a believer that all of these are worth fighting for, to truly live out the intentional life we seek to gain by living with less, we first need to free up more mental space.
I consider mental space the freedom for your spirit to be, that can become squandered by societal roles and perceived pressures, guilt, comparison, or information overload. No mental space, means no room to fully engage in any dialogue, experience, or opportunity, because the mind is already at capacity.
Personally, I find myself with more time and less possessions than ever, and yet my mind still feels overloaded. I am learning through my daily struggle, just how crucial having more mental space is, to be both present in the moment and grounded in my existence.
How to Create Mental Space
For me, creating more of this desired internal space means working hour by hour, day by day, to eliminate the practices that aren’t building my spirit up, and getting rid of habits that keep my mind bogged down.
Here are five things I’m constantly working to cut from my life in an effort to free up more mental space.
1. Cut out scrolling.
Many of us feel the pressure to remain active on social media, either for family wanting to know what or how we’re doing, for work and other promotional purposes, or just to feel connected to those far and wide.
By cutting down on social media time, be it scrolling, reading, or engaging in meaningless dialogue, the time I do spend on social media has become more targeted, limited, and intentional. Cutting out scrolling and the stress of feeling as though I have to share, means I can focus more time on editing my own story, rather than my Instagram stories or captions.
For me, the cutting out begins the moment I catch myself reaching for my phone whenever there is blank space or free time, and choosing to redirect my mind to something else.
2. Cut out guilt.
The truth is, you can’t possibly make the best decision for yourself if you let guilt into the driver’s seat. Yet, all it takes is one voice from the outside giving you a hard time or questioning your choices, and suddenly, there it is again.
Guilt isn’t something you can cut out without getting to the root of why it’s there in the first place. For many, and for me, guilt stems from the misguided desire to please others whom we love, respect, or don’t want to let down.
No matter what sort of request or pressure is coming at me, when I sit back and remind myself I’m only one person, I remember the boundaries needed for my own wellbeing. When I make sure I’m doing the best I can, and am doing so with love, there’s no room for guilt to try and guide me.
3. Cut out replacement distractions.
When what’s on your plate appears difficult or daunting, it’s easy to turn to a task that’s controllable and even mindless. I call these replacement distractions.
Though it might feel like it’s not taking up too much of your energy, whatever that distraction is still demands attention, and is most likely taking your focus away from something else. Whether it’s time in front of a screen, social time, or even work that’s not as crucial as what you really want to accomplish, identify what it is that’s truly holding you back from your goals, and rid yourself of it.
My replacement distractions are spending too much time working on household tasks or quick projects that can wait, rather than putting in the hard focus and heavy lifting it takes to finish one big project I’ve started.
4. Cut out comparison.
Since the social connectedness of the world allows us to see how our peers are doing at any given moment, it’s no wonder we get lost in comparison. Still, for me, it’s another kind of comparison that gets me the most—self-comparison. When I find room to doubt myself, I quickly slip into the trap of comparing myself to past versions of me.
Remember Sarah who ran a marathon, why is she struggling to run a couple of miles now? Remember Sarah who has traveled to other countries by herself, why is she nervous about pursuing a new opportunity? Encouraging yourself is one thing, and it’s a good thing in fact. Self-shaming or otherwise putting yourself down is another.
Present-day Sarah, the one who is living and breathing now, is the only me that’s here today. And she’s the only one worth fighting to make stronger and better.
5. Cut out fear.
If I’m being honest with myself, most of my free mental space that doesn’t get soaked up by one of the above, goes straight to fear. Be it fear of harm to those I love, fear of failure, fear of being not enough, or fear of the overwhelming magnitude of the unanswered questions of this reality, fear meets me in the quiet moments, and brings on a fierce attack.
I recently spotted one of the best fear quotes I’ve seen, while driving out into the country with my husband to entertain a potentially crazy idea, or perhaps the best idea we’ve ever had. While we drove to the middle of nowhere Florida asking ourselves what on earth we were doing and should we be doing this at all, we passed the most timely words on a church marquee. It read:
“Fear is just a lie you’re believing.”
Until we stop believing the fear lie, we will never have the mental space, freedom, and self-belief we need to truly gain more or what we’re seeking in this world, or to truly live a life with less.