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

How to Gain Control of Your Mind, Instead of Your Mind Controlling You

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 3rd 2009

fighting coupleA couple is standing in the kitchen and one asks the other, "Would you like vegetarian or beef for dinner?" and the other replies, "I don't mind." Check for a minute how automatically your mind thought who was asking and who was answering.

Later when the couple goes to therapy and she remembers the account as her asking him what he wanted for dinner and him replying "he didn't care." He remembers it as just being open to whatever she wanted and was trying to be helpful. What's going on here?

This was a scenario brought up in the book Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse.

Oh boy! Notice how easily it is for the same situation to be interpreted very differently. Our minds are constantly interpreting, anticipating and making meaning out of factual events.

Imagine how this affects someone who is depressed. If you have been depressed you know how the mind constantly turns inward to self-deprecating thoughts that feverishly pick away at whatever self esteem seems to be there. The common unremitting interpretations are "I am worthless" or "I am a failure" or "I am hopeless."

If there is any evidence to the contrary it seems to fly through consciousness without recognition.

This auto-pilot of interpretation has great effects on our physical body leaving us tired or tense and emotionally numb or feeling shame. It makes us want to isolate more and retreat. This only feeds these thoughts.

A key aspect of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is to help us shift our relationship to these thoughts. Recognizing them as mental events in the mind that are habitual and often brought on by mood. In other words, we can begin to reduce our identification with these thoughts seeing them for what they are mental events in the mind that seemingly come and go.

In other words, we can shift our relationship so we no longer identify "from our thoughts, but to our thoughts."

In his book Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom, Joseph Goldstein has a good way of putting this:

"When we lose ourselves in thought, thought seeps up our mind and carries it away, and in a very short time we can be carried far indeed. We hop a train of association not knowing that we have hoped on, and certainly not knowing the destination. Somewhere down the line we may wake up and realize that we have been thinking that we have been taken for a ride. And when we step down from the train, it may be in a very different state of mind from where we jumped aboard."

Try doing this:

Sit or lie down and just for a few minutes, bring your attention up into the mind. Pretend as if you are in a movie theater watching, with a friendly interest, the images and talking on the screen. There is no need to judge these things as good or bad, but your just bearing witness to what is there.

When the mind gets lost in the images or talking, just notice that it has done so and go back to sitting in your seat, just watching.

This is a practice in allowing us to step out of the tangle of thoughts and actually ask the question, "What am I thinking and feeling right now in this moment?" Stepping out of the fray and asking this question allows us to step out of the vicious downward cycle, be present and choose to pay attention to what we're really intending to in that moment.

It's a practice and the insights will come from your own experience. Give it a try for a week and see what happens.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides 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.

Thanks - - Sep 25th 2012

The tangle of thoughts you describe is exactly what I'm having trouble seems to gain speed the longer you let it go on but it's so hard to recognize when it starts. I can make the thoughts come to a halt, or at least dim them, but I can't get rid of the way they make me feel, even if I can recognize them as irrational.

SYMPTOM - VINOD - Dec 10th 2009


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