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  • by Jaclyn Foster

Spring Cleaning for the Mind

Spring cleaning – ah, it can feel so good to clear out the old and welcome in the new. What better time than the close of winter to put our energies in this direction. Of course, this email is coming about a year into COVID at home orders, when many of us may have found ourselves in a yearlong declutter and home cleaning mode. I know I have!

So, instead of the usual spring cleaning – let’s highlight a deep, powerful, yet seemingly less tangible type of clearing out. I’m talking about clearing out those pesky thoughts that no longer serve us.

It can be easy to forget that our thoughts are things, but they are, and many thoughts we have circulating in our brains didn’t start with us. And do not serve us.

Thoughts are things.

Just like that scarf our mother gave us that we don’t wear anymore, or the hand me down pants that no longer fit us, we have thoughts we’ve stored in our “mental closet.” Thoughts that were passed down from our parents, authority figures, the town and neighborhoods we grow up in, all can circulate in our mind for decades. So much so that sometimes we don’t even question if they are true.

By bringing to light these thoughts and letting go of the ones that don’t serve us (just like we do with our physical belongings), we make room for something we do want to think instead as well as new creative ideas that are our own.

Thoughts can range from, “You are a bad girl/boy,” or “This going to be too hard,” or “The women in our family have always struggled with their weight,” or “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and many, many more.

It didn’t start with you.

Many of the thoughts in our brain didn’t start with us or with the person who passed them along to us. Thoughts often have a lineage to them and when we don’t realize we can choose our thoughts (which so many of us do not learn this as children) we end up taking these thoughts on as our own defaults. We adopt them as the truth about ourselves and our lives.

One painful danger when our predominant thoughts are not our own, is that we aren’t living to our true and authentic potential. We are more apt to live a rusty, beat-up old version, of what someone else has (most likely, unconsciously) limited themselves to. A “hand-me-down” life due to not knowing we can choose our own thoughts and create a life for ourselves as an individual.

If this feels true for you, you are not doing anything wrong. We are human and learning that we have power over what we think about ourselves and our lives is not yet the norm or encouraged in a wide-spread fashion. This is something that takes practice and awareness. The kinder and gentler we can be with ourselves in this process, the easier it is to make changes.

How can we make a fresh start?

So, how do we bring a fresh new look to not just our wardrobe, but also our thoughts?

Well, here comes spring cleaning! Just like you would go through your closet to try on items to see what fits and what doesn’t, you can sort through your thoughts in a similar way.

How do you find and identify negative thoughts, you might be thinking?

Try this four-step process to identify your thoughts and practice releasing them:

1. State a goal or a vision you have. The fastest way to see your resistance and negative thoughts are to state a goal or vision like you are living it in the present. To see how you respond, you can even say these words while looking into a mirror.

“I am at my goal weight of 140 and if feels amazing.” Pause and what are the first words you say and think.

“I am communicating well with my partner and life at home feels peaceful.” Again, pause and listen to your thoughts and take note of anything you say in response to that declaration.

2. Write down the resistant thoughts that arise. Write down all the thoughts that come up as you say these words to yourself.

A goal for example might be, “I weigh 140 pounds,” and then you say to yourself, “I can’t do that, I’ve already tried, it won’t work. My friend has been trying too and she hasn’t lost weight either, I don’t want her to feel bad. We struggle with this together.” Write down any and everything you are telling yourself.

This is not a time to lie to yourself (which can be very tempting.) Be honest. We can’t clear out what we can’t see, and definitely not what we aren’t willing to admit.

3. Get curious about what the thoughts mean. To really excavate your thoughts, ask yourself, “What am I making these thoughts mean about me?” Take the thoughts that don’t make a lot of sense to you or ones that you want to understand deeper and ask yourself this question.

One thought habit I found myself in was that I couldn’t accomplish my goal when I saw others struggling with theirs. I made that mean I had to struggle and focus on the needs of others above my own – always.

It made sense to me why I might think that way when I thought about my childhood, but as an adult with a different perspective and greater ability to take care of myself, I can see more and more how those thoughts only disempowered me - they didn’t help anyone else. I can’t control the outcome of anyone’s life but my own, yet I was hanging onto those thoughts as reasons why I couldn’t progress.

Getting to know our thoughts and the beliefs and needs driving them, all become ways to set ourselves free.

4. Symbolically release the thoughts. Unfortunately, there is no “donation box” for our thoughts. On second thought, it’s probably a great thing there isn’t so we don’t pass them onto someone else!

But I imagine you may be asking: How do I let them go? They are just stuck up there in my head. Well for one, awareness of these thoughts is massive. This awareness brings us to a point of no return where the more we say it, the more we can see if for what it is – a passed down thought that we don’t need to take on as fact.

If you are anything like me, you might enjoy symbolically taking an action to release those thoughts in a way that feels tangible. Here are a few steps you can take to tangibly release a thought.

1. Write a forgiveness release letter to yourself. It could say something like, “Sarah, for telling yourself and believing the following thoughts…. I forgive you. I now release these thoughts that I see no longer serve me. I love you.”

2. Read the letter our loud, as a bonus do it in the mirror.

3. Then dispose of the letter. Possibly tear it up and then throw it away or burn it.

See what you note after doing this practice. You may want to rinse and repeat this practice again and again if you like it. I find myself doing this often to clear the clutter and clean my mind, just like I shower daily to clean my body.

I find there are always new thoughts coming up and the more I can embrace this as a normal part of life, the easier it is to embrace that nothing is going wrong when I’m thinking thoughts that are painful. It just means that it’s time for another round of spring cleaning!

Would like some additional support? You are not alone, and change takes time! It’s a practice and often it can greatly benefit to reach out for support of a coach, friend, or mentor.

If you are a Whole Health Plan Member, the Medical & Wellness Centers located in Austin, Texas and Glendale, California are available for support. Give us a call.

If you are Whole Health Plan member and have not established care with the Center for your primary care services, call us to make an appointment or learn more about the benefits available to you as a patient of the Center.

You can explore our website to learn more about us as well.

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