Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Clear Away the Mental Clutter

Clear Away the Mental Clutter

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 8th 2011
mental clutterA few days ago while waking up in the morning I found myself automatically drawn to making my morning coffee, checking the email on my phone and running through my unending to-do list in my mind. Right beside me sat my 2 year old little boy playing as I sipped my warm drink. A thought popped in my mind, “Why are you going through all your mental clutter when you could be enjoying your coffee and this sweet moment with your little boy next to you?” “Good question,” I replied to myself as I put down the phone and tuned into the morning.
We all have mental clutter; it’s the default state of our minds nowadays with the endless amount of “to-do’s,” that we can’t seem to get away from. Unfortunately, when we’re caught up in our mental clutter, we don’t focus as well and are easily swayed into distraction, procrastination, and increased stress.
Usually when I notice the mental clutter piling up, I can also find tension in my shoulders moving down my back. I have no doubt in my mind this is a direct result of me trying “to do” too many things at once. When I’m aware enough I can call it out and use my body as a barometer to let me know when I need to “pause,” check-in and refocus.  In this case, as I tuned into my drink and began playing with my little boy, lightness came over me and I realized I had space to enjoy this time.
We all have these choices in life, but more often than not; we live in a state of auto-pilot, unintentionally piling up the mental clutter, allowing it to control us as we fill the spaces of our lives.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once said, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and freedom.” The problem is we’re often unaware of the spaces of choice all around us. In order to truly recognize the choice to gain control over our mental clutter, we need to get back in touch with the spaces of awareness that are happening all around us.
Here’s a practice to sprinkle into your life appropriately called STOP:
The acronym STOP can help us clear away the mental clutter, calm our minds and help us refocus on what’s most important.  Note: Set aside your thoughts or judgments about whether this will “work” for you right now or not and just bring fresh eyes to it, engaging in the practice.  
1.       S – Stop what you’re doing right now.
2.       T – Take a few deep breaths. Imagine a balloon in your abdomen, filling it up and the releasing the air.  
3.       O – Observe your experience. Your experience includes your body, emotions and thoughts. Check in to see if there’s any tension in your body and see if you can relax it. Notice what emotions are present (e.g., anxiety, stress, frustration, sadness, etc…). Also notice if your mind is full of mental clutter or is it calm.
4.       P – Proceed by asking yourself the question – “What is most important for me to be focusing on right now.”
STOP a few times a day to drop into a space of awareness and being the practice of clearing away your mental clutter.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. He is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, February 2010).
Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.
If you're wanting an interactive program to find relief from anxiety and stress, check out Dr. Goldstein's progressive online behavioral change program in Aliveworld.
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