A marvellous thing that happens when you take on an enormous challenge is that your priorities become incredibly clear. If something or somebody is not helping to get you closer to your goal, they fall by the wayside.


By the time I set my mind to rowing across oceans, I didn’t have much left in the way of material possessions, and I still try – and mostly succeed – in keeping it that way. A quote that I particularly love is from Tristan Jones, a one-legged Welsh sailor, who said that, “The only true riches in life are to be found between your ears”. When I look at things through that lens, stuff becomes remarkably irrelevant (and shopping even less so), which frees up an astonishing amount of headspace to focus on more important things.


covey_s_matrix_2Having a definite goal also helped me get really clear about which tasks were important and which weren’t. Some of you might be familiar with the Steven R Covey grid in which he plots urgent and non-urgent tasks against important and not-important.

It’s all too easy to get dragged into the urgent but not important, especially when it is somebody else’s important. It’s hard to resist that email that arrives with exclamation marks all over it and a demand for urgent action. I had to learn that somebody else’s important didn’t have to be my important, and that I should prioritise according to my own sense of urgency and importance.

I also adopted a habit of taking time out at least once a week to spend time with my journal – usually on a Friday morning, in a coffee shop with a cake and a café latte. I still do this at least once a week, taking time to think about where I want to go, and whether the things on my To Do list are taking me there.

If you think you don’t have time to write a journal, think again. The great news is that I often find that a lot of tasks fall away, because they aren’t in line with my long term strategy. That journal time pays huge dividends – I actually spend time to save time.

Self Limiting Beliefs

I also had to let go of a whole load of self-limiting beliefs, about what I could and couldn’t do, about what kind of person I was or wasn’t. I had thought I wasn’t creative, but when my project was about to run out of money, which has happened many times over the years – believe me, my accounting can become extremely creative!

I find it quite remarkable now, to look back at a lot of the things that I used to believe about myself, that I have now comprehensively disproved. I’m not yet completely free of self-limiting beliefs, but I’ve made good progress.

And here’s what I’ve learned along the way….

A belief is a thought that we have thought time and time again, so that it has become ingrained in the way we see ourselves and the way that we believe other people see us.

If you know a bit about neuroscience, you’ll know that the first time we think a thought, a new connection in our brain is created. At first it’s a weak, fragile little connection, but if we keep on thinking that same thought the connection goes from being like a thread to string to rope as the connection gets stronger and stronger. This is called neuroplasticity, meaning that the physical structure of our brain actually changes as a result of the thoughts that we think.

The funny thing is, the original thought doesn’t even have to be true for this to happen. Because our brain loves to be right, once it has an idea in its head (so to speak) it will distort, delete and generalize all incoming data to corroborate what it has already decided. We are bombarded with so much sensory input on a daily basis that our brain has to filter what comes in or it would explode. So it selects the input that tallies with its pre-existing view of how the world works, and ignores the rest.

If we’re lucky, and during our formative years we had amazing parents and supportive teachers who gave us lots of positive input about ourselves, our beliefs can form an incredibly powerful platform for success and happiness. We might believe things like:

I have the patience to sit with a problem until I find a solution.

I can learn anything when I put my mind to it.

I have the tenacity to see projects through to completion.

I get along well with people.

But most of us have a few rotten beliefs in there as well, some negative self-talk that constantly undermines us and our attempts to succeed in the world.

I think we all know those voices that tell us:

You’re not smart enough.

People don’t like you.

You’re not good at sports.

You don’t deserve it.

You’re unlucky.

You’re too young.

You’re too old.

You’re weird.

Or almost anything that starts with “you must”, “you should” or “you ought”.

chimp paradoxThere is also this thing called our Saboteur, or as the sports psychologist Prof Steve Peters calls it, our Chimp. Besides being rather susceptible to erroneous beliefs, we also have to contend with the fact that the brain doesn’t particularly like thinking about the future. To the brain, tomorrow looks uncertain and risky and so the brain reacts as if it is a physical threat. To quote “Neuroscience for Leadership” (Swart et al), “The ambiguity inherent in decisions about the future can lead to “safe” decisions, or, more worryingly, delay them. Creativity is constrained by fear of uncertainty.”

Steve Peters suggests that the Chimp tends to think in black-and-white extremes, that it can be paranoid and often catastrophizes things.

Put another way, the Chimp/Saboteur is really just an automated response from our brain, which has the good intention of trying to protect our safety, but it does so by attempting to stop us from trying anything new.

But if we carry on doing what we’ve always done, we will (probably) get the results we’ve always got.

So if we want a different result, we NEED to try something new!


And maybe the hardest kind of uncluttering is the people who sap our energy and drain our morale. You’ve heard of drains and radiators? When you’re on a mission you need all the radiators you can get.

And drains? This can be tricky, especially if you’re related to them. But what you can do is use their negativity to give more power to your elbow. If they say you can’t, show them that you can. Actions speak louder than words.

Jim Rohn said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So be careful of the company you keep. If you spend a lot of time around people who are going nowhere and doing nothing, it’s going to be that much harder for you to go somewhere and do something. Do your best to find people who inspire you and support your dreams rather than squashing them through their own apathy or negativity.


So, in summary:

– Stuff: takes up valuable headspace. Keep it to a minimum.

– Tasks: be sure that you make time for the important, rather than always reacting to urgent.

– Self-limiting beliefs: we all have them, but we can diminish their power by recognising that our Saboteur/Chimp is trying to protect us from harm, but can be over-zealous. Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

– People: surround yourself with cheerleaders who believe in you and support your goals.


What do you think? Any thoughts/stories to share?

If you’d like some help with decluttering your life, you know I’m here to help, as your friendly local coach and cheerleader. Feel free to drop me a line via my contact form.





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