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Brain Decluttering a la Harry Potter

My daughter grew up on the Harry Potter books - and in some ways, so did I.  So, in honor of today's release of the last of the movie series, I offer a mind clearing technique inspired by Harry Potter.

If you are a Potter fan , you are familiar with Professor Dumbledore’s magical Pensieve.  And, if you're not a Potter fan, you have probably already stopped reading. 

The Pensieve is a stone basin etched with runes and filled with a shimmering, viscous silver substance that we eventually find out are peoples' memories.  Dumbledore, the school Headmaster, can ”download” his thoughts for retrieval and examination at a later time by pressing his magic wand to his temple and extracting material from his brain (which is, despite appearances, a harmless, painless process).  This allows him to “declutter” his mind, which aids him in focusing his full attention and considerable brain power on the matter at hand, and allows him to view his memories from a "third-person" perspective.

"I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”  [Boy, do I know that feeling!] …One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.  It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”  (Prof. Dumbledore to Harry Potter, Goblet of Fire, pg. 597)

What a wonderful invention!  How much more present, attentive and effective could I be if I could download all the clutter that rattles around in my brain?

Alas, I am a mere Muggle (a non-magical person, in Potter-speak).  What’s a poor Muggle to do?

Write it down.  Make a pencil-and-paper (or electronic) version of a Pensieve.  When my brain gets so cluttered with “to-dos” that I don’t know where to start, it often helps to “download” everything to paper.  I was reminded of that this week, when I got overwhelmed with an accumulation of big and small projects.  I was having a hard time doing anything – but then I remembered the magical Pensieve. Make a massive “To-Do” list (use your laptop or iphone if you prefer).

You may find that you have 50 to 100 items on your mind - no wonder it’s hard to focus!  Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind, whether it needs to be done in the next 5 minutes or the next 5 years, whether it will take 5 minutes or 5 years.   If it’s taking up space in your mind, download it to the paper.  Don’t worry about priority at this point.  Once it is on paper, it will be much easier to prioritize the items into “do, dump or delegate” categories,  and to set up reminder systems for those items that need attention at a later time.

Dump the baggage.  Journal, talk to a friend or coach or get therapy to unload excess baggage from the past.  Do you really want to keep cluttering your brain with that old junk?  And it’s not worth putting in the Pensieve, either.  While in the Harry Potter novels, the Pensieve is used as a flashback device to educate Harry about the events of the past and how they have shaped present reality, not all past events are worth retaining.  Most of us would be loath to give up memories of our baby’s first smile or our teenager's  junior prom, but do we really need to remember every past slight, or hold onto anger, or wallow in self-pity?

Focus.  Meditate, pray or connect with Nature to quiet your mind and access your inner wisdom.  Many people find that focusing the mind on a single point, whether it be the breath, a candle, or the presence of God, substantially quiets the internal “chatter” that often disturbs our peace.  Instead of random thoughts pinging here and there like steel marbles in a pinball machine, we can feel the wholeness of the Universe and more clearly see our direction in it.

These techniques are so powerful, they are almost like magic.  Harry Potter would be impressed.

Full disclosure:  this is an update of a post I wrote in 2007.  But it's still timely - brain decluttering is a task that needs to be repeated from time to time.   I know that I could benefit from doing it at least once a week!