Clean Thinking

My husband teases me about how excited I get by shopping at The Container Store or de-cluttering our house (especially when the de-cluttering is done by him). I also get excited by cleaning up mental spaces. The thing is, cleaning up your home and cleaning up your mind are so intertwined, you can't de-clutter one without creating some space in the other (more about that in a class or another post). Is anyone else getting excited? So, how to create a clean, clear space in your head so you feel peace and joy and can better use your mind to get you where you want to go?

As discussed in my last post, trying to control, resist, eliminate or avoid unwanted thoughts just makes things worse. If I asked you not to think about purple people-eaters right now, you probably wouldn't be able to stop thinking about them.

So here is a list of tips I have found helpful in clearing my own mind. As with everything you read on this site, try what appeals to you and feel no pressure to do anything (That would just create more clutter). This list will always be here when you need it.

These practices are helpful because they take you out of your "story" so that you become a present, nonjudgmental observer of your thoughts. It's not that happy people don't have negative, useless thoughts; they just don't believe all of their thoughts.

  • Label your thoughts & feelings: Instead of saying to yourself, "I'll never finish this," say, "I am having the thought that I will never finish this." Instead of "I am afraid," try, " I am having the feeling of fear." Acceptance and Commitment Therapists call this "defusion" and it removes you from the content of your thinking, creating space between you and your thoughts.
  • Do nothing/meditate, pray, do yoga. According to Robert Holden, Ph.D., in Be Happy, daily practices help you focus, wake up in your life, be here, connect to your joy, and feel grounded, centered, and strong.
  • Do The Work on your thoughts. This is Byron Katie's method of inquiry, or "thought work." Famous in the coaching world, it is a way to detach from a thought, examine it, then move away from it. According to Katie, all of our suffering comes from believing our thoughts. Questioning our thoughts leads to deeper awareness, acceptance of reality, and peace. The Work applies four questions to a stressful thought and then turns the thought around. This a powerful, elegant way to clean up your thinking. To try to summarize The Work here would not do it justice. Check out Katie's website or books and stay tuned to this blog.
  • Feel your feelings completely. Crappy feelings will pass more quickly when you surrender to them and feel them all the way through. Feeling your feelings will also help you identify the thoughts causing them. Then you can question the thoughts. Another thing to do when you identify a painful thought about a situation is to find another equally true, but better-feeling thought about the situation. Sit with the new thought, roll around in it, find evidence to support it.
  • Check out Oprah's interview with Jon Kabat Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic.  You can watch the two 20-minute interviews on your computer or download to your iPod. Dr. Kabat-Zinn discusses mindfulness. To read his poem, "A Taste of Mindfulness," click here.
  • Be in your body and engage your senses. This anchors you to the present, and if you are in the moment, it is impossible to get caught up in the clutter of thoughts. Smell the coffee, feel the smoothness of the magazine pages, look outside when the sun is setting, notice the freckles appearing on your child's face. Ellen Langer, Ph.D., recommends "actively noticing new things." By doing this, we snap out of our unconscious routine and realize that people and things constantly change...and then our thoughts change.
  • Along the same lines of being present, Eckhart Tolle recommends that we see the means and end as one. The most important thing, or your purpose, is whatever you are doing in this moment. Your goal may be grocery shopping, but your primary purpose in this moment is lifting your child into the car seat. You may be an account manager, but your primary job right now is typing an e-mail. You are cooking a meal, but right now you are opening the refrigerator door. You would like to be more alive in your life, so your purpose right now is reading these words (had to throw that in). When you are completely in this moment, there is a quality to everything you do. Each moment adds up to create your whole life. "And if the means did not contribute to human happiness, neither will the end." And all you ever need to handle is this moment, and you can always do that.
  • Breathe (You can't go wrong with this one)!

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There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.                                                                 -Anthony de Mello, Jesuit priest and psychotherapist