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Resource / Writing Exercise

Mental Clutter Free-Writing Exercise

Ronald L. Banks [An open letter to clarity seekers]

I started decluttering my life in 2016, and I’ve been on a mission to conquer my clutter, prioritize my values, and pursue meaningful work.

Throughout my experience and lessons learned, I’ve developed a singular belief:

There’s only one way to ensure you live a life you have creative control over – and it’s not wishing or hoping for it.

The only reliable way to find success on this journey is through constant, disciplined pursuit of more clarity.

The following guide and writing exercise will serve as a solid kick-off point for you.

I’ve been writing for many years, and ever since I started exploring how to gain clarity, I’ve expanded my writing practice to be much more than poems about the things I saw or experienced.

Writing has become a treasure trove of tools, and I can’t wait to hear about the patterns you uncover.

Talk soon!


- Ronald L. Banks

This exercise has two parts: 1) Brain Dumping and 2) Free-Writing.

Explore both in detail below.

Brain Dumping for Perspective

Before we start writing, it’s best to do a quick mental check-in and acknowledge how busy and noisy our minds are.

We often don’t realize the impact of our thinking and how much clutter it creates.

So, if our minds feel like an airport during holiday traveling or rush hour after a long work week, then we must find a way to process all that is happening.

We do that by emptying our minds onto paper (writing) until the noise has settled down — or the clutter no longer feels overwhelming.

This exercise is best known as “brain dumping,” but I prefer doing this with more intention than just dumping my thoughts into a bullet list or one long paragraph.

Here’s what I mean.

There are two steps to doing a brain dump effectively. Keeping these steps independent is how we exercise our ability to compartmentalize and process with wisdom.

Step 1: Unburden Our Working Memory

Our working or short-term memory is the first thing to become cluttered, and although our brains are incredible machines that can process a lot, our working memory is sadly limited.

Unlike our long-term memory, which is like a vast ocean, our working memory is like a shallow pool. It cannot hold too much information at a time without freezing up or encountering performance issues (aka overwhelm).

When we have an overburdened working memory, we’re more likely to make careless mistakes, make unwise decisions, or forget about something altogether.

So, what types of things fall within this bucket?

Anything on our to-do list.

  • Chores around the house
  • Errands we have to run
  • Meal prepping
  • Business meetings
  • Work-related decisions
  • Personal decisions
  • Self-care
  • Commitments for the kids
  • Projects we’ve started but have yet to finish
  • Etc.

Writing things like this down (regardless of the “do” date) means we no longer rely on our working memory to do the heavy lifting, leaving it free to help us process and prioritize.

Step 2: Unburden Our Heart

 In the second part of this brain dump, we must focus on the emotions that have created clutter in our hearts and minds.

We should dig as deep as we are comfortable going on our own. (If you need help, seek assistance from a licensed professional).

Translating this type of mental clutter to paper will be more challenging than the to-do list clutter from step one. Which further emphasizes the importance of keeping these steps independent.

So, what falls within this bucket?

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Heartbreak
  • Grief
  • Jealousy
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Negative self-talk
  • Etc. 

Writing things like this down takes the emotion we feel and the mental clutter it creates and makes it visible, which sets us up nicely for the next step.

From Brain Dump to Decluttering Checklist

After completing the brain dump exercise I outlined above, we should have an organized list of the things cluttering our minds.

But this isn’t just an ordinary list. It’s our decluttering checklist for the mental clutter we’ve accumulated, and we should treat it as such.

Which means:

  • We can prioritize our to-do list and not overwhelm ourselves with everything at once. (What is non-negotiable? What on my list, if done, would make everything else easier?)
  • We can resolve each emotion and the congestion it has created mentally, independently from the other emotions. (The exact steps you will need to take will depend on your situation and how deep the emotion runs)
  • We can discard the irrelevant bits that don’t require additional effort to declutter.

Free-Writing Exercise

In addition to brain dumping, a consistent writing routine is great for encouraging and supporting mental clarity.

The goal when writing is to find patterns of things that work and don’t work to help us live the life we want.

Here are three open-ended questions to answer:

  • What excites me?
  • What drains me of my energy?
  • What am I grateful for?

Regularly writing a response to these questions will put us on a path toward more clarity.

(Then it’s up to you to decide what to do about the patterns you uncover)

3 BONUS Tips to Make Writing a Habit

Here are a few of my best tips for building a writing habit:

  1. Stream of Consciousness Writing
    • Consider engaging in this exercise whenever you feel stuck and don’t know what to write about (writer’s block).
      • Write about what’s happening around you
      • Write about where you are in life
  2. Write First, Edit Second (or don’t)
    • Avoid getting hung up on spelling or grammar. Doing so can often create friction and prevent you from expressing yourself.

  3. Select the Style and Medium You Most Enjoy
    • The beautiful thing about writing is that it can take the shape of many different styles:
      • Poetry (my personal favorite)
      • Short stories
      • Letters unsent
      • Morning pages
      • Bullet list
      • Vision board journaling
      • Autobiographical “dear diary” writing
      • And many others.
    • Similarly to style, the medium you write in is entirely up to you as well:
      • Pen and paper
      • Digital (phone or computer)

Regardless of your style and medium, consistent practice and expression are the most important parts.

Ronald L Banks Headshot Photo
Ronald L. Banks

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