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“I will not hurt myself again today” (A Course in Miracles). 

The byproducts of poor thinking are a testament to destructive thinking, and to the absence of its opposite. In the realm of diseased reflection musings emanate from what Goleman (1995) refers to as emotional hijacking – a state in which your mind is seized by a negative or worrisome thought, ratcheting obsessively on the troublesome issue until you become exhausted.   

No one can hear his or her inner guidance, much less discern his destiny above inner shouts of raging emotion. Benson and Casey (2008, p. 27) explain the menacing nature of head trash as a “…barrage of negative thought that many people play through their minds on an endless loop, or flip on automatically when faced with certain people or situations.”   

The Dalai Lama corroborates this sentiment: “An undisciplined mind is like an elephant. If left to blunder around out of control, it will wreak havoc” (Lama & Muzenberg, 2009, p. 37).   

“Head trash,” or mental debris is comprised of the following behaviors:   

  • “Feeling inadequate, irrelevant, and just plain not good enough
  • Wallowing in regrets and mistakes of the past
  • The need to be right about how wrong everybody and everything is
  • The need to have everyone like you, or the inability to stop pleasing[1]
  • Thinking the worst
  • The need to feel secure
  • Choosing to “play small” so that others will not feel threatened” (Blanke, 2009)
  • All or nothing thinking
  • Overgeneralizations
  • Disqualifying the positive
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Personalization (Benson & Casey, 2008)
  • Fear of success
  • Narcissism (a spoiled and indulged modus of operandi, and a sense of entitlement which tramples the rights of other people; a self-centeredness and complete disregard for the presentation of one’s space and its impact on others)

 Similarly, Maltz (1960) describes the acronym “Failure” as  

  • Frustration, hopeless, futility
  • Agressiveness (misdirected)
  • Insecurity
  • Loneliness (lack of “oneness”)
  • Uncertainty
  • Resentment
  • Emptiness

To this list the Dalai Lama adds cheating, lying, hiding bad intentions, aggression, anger, arrogance, jealousy, malice, resentment, greed, self-centeredness, hatred, lust, fear, and lack of self-confidence. These types of emotions induce “psychic entropy,” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), and a weakening of the self “…to the point that it is no longer able to invest attention and pursue its goals” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 37).  

The clanging of negative thought can culminate in a mindset of worried paranoia, a constant unease, and in a lack of imagination that prevents us from envisioning foreseeable threats, and a more positive future. Continual focus on dark emotions creates a mental vice, or “claustrophobia,” (Canfield & Miller, 1996) which is a precursor of unipolar depression.  

If the mind is discordant, negative, fearful, and worried, it will manifest a less coherent set of circumstances. The resulting chaos creates negative synchronicity, or a series of harmful events that appear to snowball once an unhappy mindset has been activated.  

Dump your head trash by engaging in the following behaviors:  

  • Ruminate on the positive. Construct an “I love me” file (full of complimentary notes, recognition, and letters). Peruse it frequently. 
  • Make another person’s day. Not only does this make you feel better in the moment, but it results in “pay it forward” on the part of another person (and creates positive karma for you!). 
  • Think about the future. Zig Ziglar argues that he’s never seen a depressed person who has goals. Construct a five year plan (replete with detail and dates) for the following areas of your life: financial, spiritual, relationships, career, and family. Review and revise this list at regular intervals.
  • Realize you are the magistrate of your mental empire. From a Course in Miracles: I am only affected by my thoughts.
  • Keep yourself busy. A mind left to itself can get lost. The term “an idle mind is the devil’s play shop” is especially true for those whose mind may be their worst enemy. 



Benson, H., & Casey, A. (2008). Stress management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.   

Blanke, G. (2010). Throw out fifty things: Clear the clutter, find your life. New York: Hachette Book Group.   

Canfield, J., & Miller, J. (1996). Heart at work. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, Inc.   

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: the Psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.   

Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Dell.   

Hohlbaum, C. L. (2009). The power of slow: 101 ways to save time in our 24/7 world. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 

Lama, D., & van den Muyzenberg, L. (2009). The leader’s way: the art of making the right decisions in our careers, our companies, and the world at large. New York: Broadway Books.  

[1] Hohlbaum (2009) recommends polite (yet firm) refusals for those who have difficulty saying no: 

“Thank you so much of asking. I’m unavailable at this time.”
“It sounds like a terrific opportunity I’m going to miss.”
“To honor the integrity of my commitments, I have to decline right now. I appreciate your thinking of me!”
“I am so honored you’ve asked. Unfortunately, I have an overlapping commitment that day. Thank you anyway!”

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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One Response
  1. I love the idea of dumping head trash. That’s a marvelous image! Just this morning I taught my son a self-soothing technique when his head trash starts sloshing around in his mind. We developed a physical sign that he could give himself to recreate a sense of calm and coherence. He found the ‘OK’ sign with his fingers to be helpful. Thank you for the reminder that we all have these feelings and that it’s perfectly alright to acknowledge them, then give them a toss in a colorful mental bin! 😉

  2. Christine Hohlbaum on April 6th, 2011 at 12:36 am