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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Life Feel Overwhelming? Lessons From a Dishwasher

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 17th 2009

washing dishesHere's the scenario: The dishes are piling up and there's no escape they need to be done and you're the designated driver. The thought pops up, "Why do I always have to do the dishes?" So you huff and  puff as you walk over to the sink wishing the dishes would just disappear so you could get on with all the various tasks on the to-do list or just get back to watching the tube. As you approach the dishes your speed begins to pick up and you hurriedly rinse, scrub, and rinse again to get through this pile as soon as possible.

If you were able to take a step back in your mind, you might notice an increase in irritated thoughts and tensing of muscles as frustration steadily permeates your mind and body.  You make it a point to rush through these so you can relax. Even after you finish the dishes your mind is saying "If someone asks me to do one more thing, I'm gonna lose it." What's going on here? How might you be sabotaging yourself?

In order to answer this question, let's briefly look into an automatic process all of our minds gravitate toward, that is called "Gap-Thinking." Gap-thinking is when the mind is focused on the space in between where you are now and where you would rather be. It does this because it is naturally driven to get things done day to day. We learned this from when we were young. At some point when we were potty trained we realized when pressure was coming and we had a mode of mind that focused on where we were, where we would rather be (the toilet), and so it quickly figured out the path to take to get to that desired goal. However, as adults, we get caught up in this gap and begin to stir around and around it and sometimes it's not quite as helpful.

How does gap-thinking affect you in daily life? How about if you're not currently in a relationship and wish you were and so the mind begins to do what it does, look for a solution. As it focuses on this gap a sense of dissatisfaction grows and associates with past relationships and thoughts that you are defective and a failure.  It begins to think toward the future and conjures up scenarios of you being all alone. Before you know it, you are in worse shape than when you started. Mark Twain once said that he had so many problems in life, most of which never happened. And so the mind plays these games on us. 

To bring us back to the dishwashing, the mind is doing the same thing. It is focused on the fact that you are not where you'd rather be. The immediate effect is a negative feeling because where you are right now is unsatisfactory-land.

What if you were able to recognize this little trap in your mind and intentionally choose to shift gears? You would choose to be present and slightly slow down in your dishwashing, let go of the thoughts of where you'd rather be, and then tune into the sensations of washing dishes; the warmth of the water, the smell of the soap, the sounds that come from washing. When the mind drifts back to "where it would rather be", notice that habit and gently guide it back. What might happen?

Let us know by interacting below. Your thoughts and comments here providing a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

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 to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Lovely share - Tawni Maughan - Dec 8th 2014

    Thank you for your writing.  This is a great article on "gap thinking".

    Learning to be appreciative of the fact we have dishes to wash, clean water to wash them in and a home to keep them in takes mindfulness.  

    I am a Montessori teacher and yoga teacher.  Teaching children these lessons in the early years is so important.  Without these lessons at an early age, it may take for granted the luxuries we have in the United States.  

     

    Thank you again

     

    kitchen porter - ray - Aug 9th 2012

    DISHWASHER IS VERY HARD WORK, BRUTAL JOB, POTWASH, KITCHEN PORTER, WASH , CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN NON STOP, NO BREAKS NOTHING, DONE IT FOR 3 YRS NOW I WORK WITH 2 FOREIGN LADS, A POISH GIY AND A LATVIAN GUY, IM ENGLISH, THEY BOTH BENE THERE 6 YRS THE REST JUST QUIT OR GET FIRED, ONLY LIKE 4 OF US SO ALWAYS UNDERSTAFFED AND ITS A BUSY PLACE TOO.

     

    YOU DO ALL OTHER JOBS, CLEAN BACK AREAS, CLEAN ALL KITCHEN, IF CHEF SHOUTS YOU TO FETCH STUFF YOU RUN AND DO IT AND PUT DELIVERIES AWAY, KUDOS TO MY FELLOW POTWAHSERS WHO CNA HACK IT.

    What if? - Bob S - Sep 26th 2010

    No matter what I'm doing, I get that feeling that I'd rather be doing something else, and when I get there, the feeling starts all over agian....What if you always have that feeling?

    Opinion - Robert Carter - Sep 8th 2010

    Life's not a pile of dishes.  If you're looking to help people with issue, try using things they can relate to.  Doing the dishes is simple.  

    Dishwashing - Dr. Dustin H. Jenson - Sep 7th 2009

    I find this is true all the time. I work weekends 8-11 hours a day doing dishes and if i cant find some mental strategy to avoid fatiugue, I'm done for. The gap thinking thing will help me more in the future. thanks

    Gap thinking is a Mental Amputation - 2002to2009 - Apr 18th 2009

    Ooops. I didn't realize only short comments were allowed. I'll post the big version under the "Feedback" thread for you with the same username.Here's the Cliff Notes:   It’s really crazy, when you think about it…in gap-thinking, you’re comparing yourself to a future that doesn’t exist and isn’t a part of reality. What kind of disjointed existence is that? Never mind how making yourself feel inadequate effects you, gap thinking is completely unnatural, like a mental amputation. I’m thoroughly convinced that humans are just smart enough to get themselves into trouble.   It would be a much better life—certainly a less stressful one, if we could just live in the moment…paying attention to the bubbles and warm water, in other words. :-)  A friend of mine who teaches martial arts tells me that he can always tell the people who will get a black belt from the ones who won’t. The ones who won’t never stop talking about the black belt. They fixate on it. The ones who do just come in and practice, even the basic stuff, everyday.&

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