How to Declutter Your Mind – Keep a Journal: Ryder Carroll (Transcript)

We’re overwhelmed. We need room to think and to focus.


Like when you’re cleaning a pantry, we have to start by taking everything out. We have to externalize our thoughts to declutter our mind. A good way that I found to do this is to create a mental inventory.

Simply take a sheet of paper and a pen, write down the things that you need to do, the things that you should be doing, and the things that you want to do.

Holding thoughts in your mind is like trying to grasp water — it’s nearly impossible. But by writing down our thoughts, we can capture them clearly so we can work with them later.

So now we have this mental inventory.


This mental inventory will actually give you a pretty clear picture as to how you’re investing both your time and your energy.

So the next step is to ask yourself:

“Why?” Why am I doing these things?

It’s a simple question.

But you don’t have to dive down some existential rabbit hole; simply ask yourself, “Does it matter or is this actually holding me hostage?”

We burden ourselves with unnecessary responsibilities all the time. We’re so distracted by all the things that we should be doing and we could be doing but we completely forget to ask ourselves, “Why are we doing these things? Do I even want to be doing those things?”

But now we have a mental inventory to remind us.

So, for every item on this inventory, ask yourself two questions. One – “Is it vital?” Is this item vital, this task vital; think rent, taxes – that kind of thing.

Two – “Does it matter?” Does it actually matter to you or to someone that you love? If the answer is no to both of those things, you’ve just identified a distraction, and you can cross it off your list.

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For every item you cross off your list, you’re becoming less and less distracted OK, so now, your mental inventory is divided by the things you have to do, and the rest is probably related to things that you aspire to — your goals.

The key to setting goals is to set yourself up for success. And the best way I found to do that is to take your goals and to break them down into small actionable projects.

If you don’t know how to cook, but you want to learn, don’t start by tackling an incredibly complicated meal for six people. Even if you don’t make a total mess, the experience will have been so unpleasant that you run the risk of ruining your curiosity about cooking all together.

Natural curiosity is incredibly important because it’s genuine, it can’t be faked. These small projects allow us to cultivate our curiosities and help them grow; maybe even help some of them blossom into fully-fledged passions.

At the very least, we learn more about ourselves, about the things that we want.

So what do these small projects look like?

For one, they have to have no barriers to entry

What does that mean? You don’t have to wait on anybody or anything; you can get started right away.

Two – they have to have a very clearly defined list of actions and tasks.

And three – it should take less than a month to complete. If you estimate your project will take more than a month, that’s fine. Just break it into two smaller projects.

These projects don’t even have to be part of some big epic goal. They can be self-contained micro goals. The goal really here is to be able to indulge your curiosity, try it on for size and see if it fits so you don’t waste time.

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Unfortunately, time is not a renewable resource. You can’t make time. You can only take time.

It’s our responsibility to take the time to identify the things that interest us, to figure out ways to pursue them because project after project, goal after goal, we will learn what we want to eat, and we’ll have acquired all the skills that we need to prepare a beautiful meal.

We’ll go from this state to something more along these lines. But it takes time. And it takes dedication.

Please, raise your hands if you’ve ever accomplished the goal that you set for yourself. Congratulations.

Now please, raise your hands again, if by accomplishing a goal it was like a dream come true, it was exactly like you thought it was going to be. All right. Not as many hands.

Why is that? It’s because time has passed. You’ve learned new things, your circumstances have changed; you’re not the same person anymore.

This mental inventory is like a map and as we navigate our lives, we have to dedicate ourselves to a habit of keeping that map updated with all the new things that we discover.

If we don’t, our map becomes inaccurate, and we start to go off course, we drift. And all of a sudden, the distractions start leaking back into our lives.

Even if it’s only five minutes a day, just five minutes a day, we have to dedicate ourselves to a practice that allows us to keep our mental inventory updated.

Over time this skill, this practice will also provide you with a lot of personal data, and that data can provide profound insights into your life: what have you tried, what have you not tried, what should you do more of, what’s working, what’s not.

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