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An Interview with Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. on Mindfulness at Work

David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
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Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.In this edition of the Wise Counsel Podcast, Dr. Van Nuys interviews Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. on the topic of Mindfulness at Work. Dr. Goldstein, a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to Mental Help Net, is on his second career, his first having been sales. He talks about how he came to a realization that his efforts to secure financial success were ultimately seen to be unfullilling as he considered them from an end-of-life perspective. This realization pushed him to change careers go back to school and become a psychologist, and to focus on mindfulness, which, hot topic that it has become, is also an expression of and a set of techniques for achieving a balancing, clarifying and meaningfully-present perspective on life. Drs. Goldstein and Van Nuys talk about how the pressure of modern life pushes people to become less present and mindful, and how it takes deliberate practice to push back against this tide. Time management is less important than attention management, Dr. Goldstein contends. It is all to easy to react to seemingly urgent needs or to engage in escapist distraction. Harder to accomplish but ultimately better for you is to create a space where you can be thoughtfully proactive so as to plan for how to make your life better. Mindfulness practice helps people create and maintain this proactive space, which is part of why many businesses and business people are now pursuing mindfulness practices in the workplace. As the interview winds down, Dr. Goldstein describes some of the formal mindfulness practices and how they help people recognize and overcome common mental traps (also known as cognitive distortions) such as catastrophization.

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show we'll be talking about mindfulness as a tool for coping with stress at work with my guest, Dr. Elisha Goldstein. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., is in private practice in West Los Angeles, and he's co-author of a mindfulness-based stress reduction workbook with a forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He synthesizes the pearls of traditional psychotherapy with a progressive integration of mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing. He contends that we have the power to transform our traumas and habitual patterns that keep us stuck in perpetual stress, anxiety, depression or addiction, and step into greater freedom and peace. He offers practical strategies to calm our anxious minds, transform negative emotions and facilitate greater self-acceptance, freedom and inner peace. Dr. Goldstein, who comes from a family of psychologists, advocates that mental health comes from an approach that looks at all aspects of the self: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. He currently offers individual and group psychotherapy in West Los Angeles and does mindfulness-based coaching nationally and internationally via the phone.

Now, here's the interview.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Thank you, David, happy to be here.

David: Well, it's good to have the opportunity to interview you here, inasmuch as I interviewed your wife, Dr. Stephanie Goldstein, here a bit over a year ago on mindfulness in the treatment of addiction. And now I see that you've just brought out a new CD on mindfulness as a tool for coping with stress in the workplace, and I guess you know something about the workplace inasmuch as I have the impression that you had a rather interesting business career before becoming a psychologist. Do I have that right?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: You do absolutely have that right, David. I was working in both sales and management for a number of companies during the whole revolution, and what I found was how exciting that atmosphere was, but it was filled with so much stress and pressure. And that time, I was working hard and playing harder and really building quite a financial portfolio in that time, and really getting into the stock market and doing a lot of that. And as I was working with people, what I found was - what I was really most interested in was working with them in their lives - what I found was as they started to really pay attention more to their own lives, they started to become more successful at business. And then as the revolution crashed, I had that same sinking experience with it where I started to realize that what I had been focusing on in my life, which was building up my financial portfolio in that sense, wasn't really what was most important.

And it brought me back to a time that I had spent with my dad many years back, when he would sit with people on their deathbeds. And one time he was sitting with someone who was incredibly financially successful and had a lot of power in the business world. And what he said when he was sitting there, just with my dad - no family, no friends around him, because he didn't have a lot of people that were actually visiting him - was that what was most important in life, looking back, if he had to do it differently, what was most important in life was who you love and how you love them, and learning how to be more present to the connections in life and to life itself.

And in that moment, later on in life as I was going through that time in the business world, I came to a realization for myself that what was most important in my life? What was most important in my life? Many years from now, when I'm laying on my deathbed, looking back on my life, how do I wish I would have related to life? How do I wish I would have done things differently? And I came to the idea of mindfulness and the practice of it, and learning how to become more present to everyday life, to become more effective and happy myself.

David: Well, which came first, your switching into psychology and becoming a psychologist, or this engagement with mindfulness?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: The realization to become more present to my life, to cultivate more meaningful moments in my life, that came first. That laid the foundation for me making a career change and really wanting to work with people and helping them do the same. And that's when I sought out to get back into the world of psychology because I already had studied that in my undergraduate career, and to get back into that more as full force, more as a calling in my life, I would say, is what I was interested in.

And then I really was able to get into more mindfulness practice as I engaged in my graduate career, and I did a study of people across the country, and I created an intervention that had them do a mindfulness-based practice for five minutes a day for five days a week. And what I found was that, even in doing that, there was significant reduction in stress - significant reduction in stress, using well-tested methods, as well as a variety of areas in well-being people found an increase in.

David: That's great, and certainly I've been hearing more and more about mindfulness in lots of different spheres. Now, your recent work has been focusing particularly on stress in the workplace. What scientific information do we have about stress in the workplace?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: I would say that's kind of more budding research. More of the mindfulness-based community, or people practicing that, are teachers. Some of the leaders in the field like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli, who are the founders of a widely-spread program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, are really trying to bring this more into the workplace and in education as well.

But the research that's out there has found that going over some of these programs, going through some of these programs, there's a significant reduction in stress and anxiety. Also, in this workplace where the economy is having a difficult time, there's a lot more people that I'm seeing in my private practice that are coming in with increased anxiety, feeling more hopeless - which is a sign of depression - and there's been a lot of evidence in research by John Teasdale and Zindel Segal and Mark Williams in the area of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy that have found that working with these methods is helpful with not relapsing back into that kind of depressive place.

So a lot of very popular companies, successful companies, have grabbed a hold of this, like Apple, Yahoo, Nortel, Google. A lot of people are familiar with Phil Jackson of the Lakers and knowing how he has a big emphasis in working with mindfulness with his team players to become more successful and effective in what they do. And if you aren't aware, they just won the championship, the finals, during the last season. So a lot of people and companies are integrating mindfulness into the workplace right now.

David: Okay, and let me quote back to you - you sent me some material based on your recent CD, and something in that material that you sent that seems quite relevant - quoting you, you say: "The amount of workers today that say job stress is a major problem in their lives has doubled in the last decade. The US Department of Health reported that 70% of physical and mental complaints at work are related to stress, and stress related claims are costing corporations over $300 billion annually." So that certainly makes a case for the need for some kind of a stress-related intervention.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Absolutely. There's a major increase in stress and anxiety that we're seeing in our culture today, and certainly that's not just as a result of this economic collapse or this economic downturn that we've been experiencing. That's a result of just more pressure: people are working longer hours, they're asked to do this with less resources, and people are, frankly, getting burnt out. And that, I think, is a direct claim, too: this sense of job stress increasing twice as much as a decade ago, or health care expenditures going up for companies. And that's a huge problem on our economy as well when the companies have to cover that.

David: Yes, and somewhere I either read or heard - I can't remember if I heard it on a podcast or television or if I read this. Actually, I'm thinking now that it was at a presentation that Dacher Keltner gave on health and happiness - it's coming back to me. And I believe he cited statistics showing that Americans now are working more hours than any other industrialized nation. We used to think of the Japanese, for example, as being really obsessive in that regard, but it looks like we may have actually surpassed them in terms of how much and how hard we're working.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Wow, that's an amazing finding, and it's not that surprising to me. If you look in kindergarten nowadays, even from a very young age, we're seeing that kids are having less play time than ever before. They're having more time focused on tests and just learning and memorizing information. And so we're kind of breeding this culture from a very young age now, and in my mind, we're going in the wrong direction in that sense. People aren't more successful in their lives, they aren't happier, when they just work harder and harder and harder, and they have less time for renewal activities, or less time for themselves. It breeds a culture of learning how to avoid or run away from distress and leading to more sense of overwhelm, which isn't bad for my business, in a sense, because I'm a therapist, so that will bring more people into my business. But I would rather see more people being healthy and happy, which is much better for our culture and society.

David: Amen. Well, how would mindfulness go about impacting this stress that people experience at work?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Mindfulness is about the intentional placement of our awareness or attention and releasing ourselves of our habitual styles of judgment. So with mindfulness, what we get to do is learn how to become more present to what's really most important in any given moment. And what happens is, in the workplace in particular, we have a few different styles of attention that we're using.

Traditionally, a lot of business and coaching executives in the past have been focusing on this idea of time management which is if you just work harder and work more effectively, you're going to be more successful and happier at work and life. And I think what we're finding is that that's kind of erroneous; that's not really the things are working. It's much less about time management and it's much more about attention management.

Neuroscientists are even finding that how and what we place our attention on reshapes our brain right now. So there's this sense of plasticity in the brain. The brain actually continues to form and shape as we get older, and so if we're placing our attention on things like being distracted by unimportant phone calls and emails to avoid the overwhelm of impending deadlines or of just mounting projects, or let's say we're focusing on wasting our time just surfing the web for entertainment really as a means to just check out, not really intentionally, then maybe that's the way our brains are going too, to lead to us doing more and more of that and focusing less on what's really most important in this moment to get done effectively.

The more we're able to focus on what's most important, which is becoming more proactive of what we're doing in the workplace, the more we're going to see that we actually have more time. We have more time to ourselves, we have more time for renewal activities, because we're becoming more effective in our jobs, because we're actually tackling the stuff that's most important in the moment rather than becoming overwhelmed by it and falling back into states of distraction or wasted time.

David: Did you earlier in our conversation, I think, mention some major companies that we might have heard of that are actually introducing mindfulness training to reduce stress?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Yes, I think I said Apple, Yahoo, even Texas Instruments, which is a large company, Nortel, Google. All these companies have integrated mindfulness into the workplace. In fact, those people who want to can go over to YouTube right now and find a really great video - it's kind of long, it's about an hour long - of Jon Kabat-Zinn giving a talk at Google. But all these companies are integrating mindfulness because what they're finding is, if they can be more preventative about the stress in the workplace, if they can teach their employees to focus on one thing more effectively than trying to multitask many things at once, they'll be more successful: people will have less sick days, they'll be happier at the workplace because they'll feel more calm and relaxed, and they'll just basically be more effective at the actual work that they're doing.

I'll just relay one fact here which the American Psychological Association put out, which says the inability to focus, for even 10 minutes, on any one thing at a time, may be costing a person or a company 20 to 40% in terms of efficiency and productivity.

David: Wow.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Twenty to 40%. The inability to focus on one thing for even 10 minutes. That's significant.

David: Yes, it is. And, of course, I'm thinking about myself as I sit in front of the computer and am popping from email to website, to then remembering, oh, something that I need to add to my to do list, etc. And I'm supposedly retired, but I think I've been so steeped in this culture that I'm as subject to it as anybody else. Now, you talk about something that you've called the "stress cycle." Tell us about that.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Well, you know, the stress cycle is very important to be aware of because, once we become aware of it, we've stepped outside of it and can make a choice to do something about it. But when we're not aware of it, we get caught in it.

And so here's really what it is: the stress cycle is a combination of thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and our behavior - what we do about it. So, for example, if someone comes to your desk and piles on, and let's say you have a deadline of an hour to get some work done, and they pile on a whole bunch of extra work that has another 30 minutes and say they need to get this done, all of a sudden the thought that may come up is something like, "Oh, my God, I'll never get this done," and then a connection with another thought that might say, "This is always like this. I can't believe this is like this." Emotions of anger, frustration, or stress may come out, or anxiousness or fear, and the body starts to get tense. And before you know it, we're in a total state of overwhelm, and the mind checks out and begins to, maybe, just surf the web for something to just check out on more or less, more wasted time.

But meanwhile what's happening is there's a combination of things happening between the body, the emotions, and the thoughts. And there's a cycle, and it cycles on itself. The more our mind starts to become anxious or fearful, the more fear arises as an emotion - oftentimes in the body - and the more the body reacts by getting tense or maybe a constriction in the chest or rapid breathing or rapid heart rate, and this continues to cycle on itself. This can happen for an hour or so at a time without our being aware of it. And our behavior is - once I said again - to check out or do something, maybe to have a panic attack even. And this disables us entirely.

David: Boy, I can really relate to what you're saying. Although I don't really work in the corporate world and I describe myself as retired, I actually do have a market research consulting practice, and I do get corporate clients. And there certainly have been occasions where they always want to have everything yesterday. You can't do anything fast enough for anybody in today's world. And I had some projects where the demands were really strong and things were starting to go bad; something wasn't working right. And I could really feel it in my body, in my psyche and in my body. And I can think of one occasion in which I got sick after the project was over. So I've tried to learn to become more mindful about that sort of thing. I think I've gotten better at it, but I sure understand this phenomenon that you're talking about.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: A key aspect - I mean, I think a lot of people can relate to this - a key aspect to this in working with this is, once we become aware that our mind is in an anxious mode and that our body is maybe feeling constricted, one thing that we often do, an automatic thing that we do, is judge ourselves: "I can't believe I fell into this again. Oh, my God, I'm such an idiot," or whatever it is, "I'll never get this right" - that kind of stuff. That's also an automatic reaction to this habitual style of the stress reaction.

What we want to do in working with mindfulness, and this is key, remember it's just a practice, so we won't get it perfect every time or even like that; that's not the point. The point is just to kind of practice it. The point is to notice when we're judging ourselves and, if we can notice it at all, that's just a thought event in our mind. It's just thinking. Thinking is happening right now that's being colored by our mood of stress or anxiety; so just thinking is happening.

And what we can do is not judge ourselves in that moment - try to not judge ourselves - and instead bring our awareness to the fact that a stress cycle is happening, our stress reaction is happening right now. And maybe bring our awareness to our body, our breath in our moment, and just see if we can notice what's happening right now in this present moment and then ask ourselves the question of, "Okay, so what's most important to do right now?" And if we don't know, then maybe we can just start to make a list.

And then we may get caught up in the stress reaction again without being aware of it, for about five minutes, and then once we notice that the stress reaction is happening again, we've stepped outside of it and then can choose to ask ourselves the question again, "Okay, so what's important right now?" and come back to this. And we might do this over and over again, but the idea is to start to disengage from this stress reaction, be able to notice it and acknowledge it, not judge it as a good or a bad thing, but just notice it and be curious about it. This is the way my mind's working right now as a reaction to this event, or whatever. And then choose to gently bring our attention back to what's most important right now.

David: Yes, and also I find it's important to remind myself of the big picture. How important is this in the big picture of my life, and what's really important in life? We can get so worked up about things that are not that important in the long run.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: And really get wrapped up in them. And we have a very narrow focus in that moment. Sometimes I explain it like this - and see if you relate to this, David - where I say at some point in our development as a human being - our brains are growing, it's constantly growing - I say that almost like a cluster of neurotransmitters or just brain matter clusters together and becomes kind of a ball, and that ball is like a stress trap. And so what happens is you're going along and thinking, and the event happens, and all of a sudden your thought gets caught in that stress trap and it just starts looping around, over and over again, and it affects your body physically, it affects your emotions and you're getting all worked up, and all you can see is this narrow focus because you're caught in this little ball.

And then as soon as you're aware that you're in that ball, you've stepped outside of it, but until then your thought is kind of trapped, you're kind of trapped in that little ball in your brain, and then once you're aware of it, you're outside of it and you see that there's this whole brain. There's a bigger picture there, and I think that was a great question that you said you ask yourself: how important is this in the big picture of my life? A year from now, will this matter?

David: Yes. Now, something else that you talk about that you've been influenced by is the four zones model. What are the four zones and how do they apply to what you've been saying?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: This model I've taken from a coaching executive company that I really respect out there, who also works with some mindfulness work in the way that they work in the business world, and their name is Stagen, the Stagen Institute. And Rand Stagen came up with this model, the Attention Zones Model. And there's four attention zones, and I kind of alluded to this a little earlier. Each one of these zones have two qualities to them. In this zone of attention, something's either important or urgent, or important and urgent, or neither. And it's important to know that so we know what to pay attention to.

So the first zone, or one of the zones - there's no real order to these zones - but one of the zones is called a reactive zone, it's a reactive zone. So in the reactive zone, you're often reacting things that are coming to you, like urgent demands or crises. Something comes up and it's really urgent or it's a crisis, and you feel like, "I have to. This is important." And it's true; in that moment that thing is important and urgent. That's absolutely true; you have to respond to it.

Then there's the proactive zone. This is a zone that most of us are really unaware of. We don't spend much time in it because it's important but it's not urgent. So this is a time we're intentionally strategizing, preparing, planning. We're looking towards the future and saying, "What's most important for me to really be focusing on to really go forward in my work or be more successful or more happy in my personal life or work?" Either one. And, again, in this zone things are important but not urgent. And because they're important and not urgent, it's easy to put it on the back burner, thinking that we really don't have any time to do it. And so that's something to just know. This proactive zone is so important but we often put it aside because other things come up, like other things in the reactive zone or a couple things that I'll talk about in a minute.

So this is the first two zones: reactive zone and proactive zone. The next zone is called a distracted zone. A lot of us are - well, I know from myself - a lot of us can really understand this one, which is the one where you're engaging in interruptions or things in life that are really unnecessary like unimportant phone calls or emails. And so we might enter into this type of reactive zone because we're feeling overwhelmed, because there's something that's in front us - a work project in front of us - that we don't really know how to go about it or something, and so we're starting to feel like maybe it's too much work in our minds. So we'd rather just, "I think I should just answer these calls," or "Maybe let's just check my email to see what I need to respond to. Oh, look, there's some kind of spam thing that I want to pay attention to." There's easy ways to get distracted.

In this zone it's important that we understand that things appear urgent; an email comes up from a friend - "Oh, I got to respond to that." They appear urgent because it's right in front of us, but they're really not important, and that's key. But because they appear urgent, we get distracted by them. So then that's the third zone, the distracted zone.

And so the fourth zone is a wasteful zone. This is where we're just wasting our time surfing the web for entertainment. It's one thing if we're saying to ourselves, "You know, as a renewal activity, as some kind of reward for myself for working so hard, I'm going to spend 15 minutes and just kind of check out and surf the web." There's nothing wrong with that. But when we're doing it to avoid something that's in front of us or what's most important because our mind just habitually checks out on auto-pilot because we're feeling overwhelmed, that becomes a problem. Now we're wasting time, and we're going to be more stressed later because projects are going to continue to mount, and we're going to feel like we have less and less time, and we're going to say to ourselves, "I don't know how I'm going to handle all this stuff. I have no time to do it." And meanwhile, we've been spending a lot of time in the distracted and wasteful zone and very little time in the proactive zone actually planning and preparing for becoming more effective in our - this is for our work life and for our personal life, both.

David: Yes, well, I certainly recognize all four of those zones, and certainly one of the things that I know that it's good to do is when you find yourself caught in that big ball of brain fuzz that you were talking about earlier, is to be able to step back and remind yourself, "Well, is there anything that I can do that's proactive?" to bring yourself into that, as you pointed out, that sort of neglected but very important proactive zone.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Right, and what I would suggest is actually building that proactive zone, so being mindful about it means being intentional, being intentional about it. And so building that into your week, building that proactive zone into your week so that you actually have time. It's like a doctor's appointment or something like that, or like a business appointment, or whatever it is, where you actually build in time for an hour, half an hour, whatever you need, to be able to review the week or look back and see in this coming week what's most important for me to be focusing on, and how should I focus on it. How should I spend my attention in this week?

David: Yes, if I find that I'm worrying about something, going over and over it and getting stressed out about it, once I become mindful enough about it, I can ask myself - well, maybe I'm feeling really overwhelmed by it - "Is there anything that I can concretely do to move forward with this issue? And if so, is there even one small step that I can take right now?" And that's always helpful to me when I come to that awareness because I can set aside the worrying and take that one specific step, even though it may be small, but doing that each day the project that was overwhelming ends up moving forward.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: That's a great point, and that's a point we often suggest for people who are also just not even feeling well, or feeling depressed even, or just feeling overwhelmed, as you said. Just what's one small step I can take forward?

Just to get practical for a second, so that your listeners have even another step in how to really do this. When you're feeling overwhelmed worrying, sometimes it's good, if possible, to try and dis-identify from the worrying or make it less personal in a way by just seeing if you can wrap it up in your mind for a second, and just say - even wrap it up with the word "worrying" - worrying is happening right now, rather than "I am worrying." Worrying is happening right now. And then as soon as we do that, it feels there's more of a felt sense that we've actually stepped outside of it.

I often quote this past psychiatrist and neurologist - he's also a holocaust survivor - named Victor Frankl, who says, "Between stimulus and a response there's a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." So there's a space in between the moment that we're worrying and we're reacting, and so by saying to ourselves "worrying, worrying is happening right now," we all of a sudden have stepped outside, and now we're kind of in that space, that space of choice, where now we can say what you had mentioned, which was: what's one small step I can take towards moving forward with this thing that I'm worrying about. Or maybe this thing that I'm worrying about is not relevant even right now, but my mind just tends to cycle or worry about things.

So we can just kind of notice it, let it be - not let it go and try and push it away, because that's impossible to do, more or less, and so we'll just further frustrate ourselves - but see if we can let it be - these words are important - and gently bring our attention back to what's important right now, which might be what you said was, what's more important is how can I take a single step towards moving towards this goal.

David: I love that quote that you gave of Victor Frankl, because it's really something, a place - you know, he was an existentially oriented psychoanalyst - it's a place where existential therapy and humanistic psychotherapy and Eastern approaches and cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness can all agree on that, that choice point between stimulus and response. I love that. Now, you also talk about mind traps. Is that what we've been talking about? Or is there something else that you're getting at there?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: No, mind traps is another layer, so in a way it works in a similar way to worrying, saying "worrying, worrying," but it's getting more specific, to really understanding how our minds work and noticing the traps that are laid in there, more the habitual thinking styles that render us disabled or ineffective at what we're doing.

And so I lay out a number of mind traps, and one of these, as an example, is catastrophizing. Catastrophizing, as some people may have heard, is exactly what it sounds like. We're creating a catastrophe in our minds. Something might happen: for example, our boss may walk by us or someone we know or are familiar with may walk by us, and we look at them and smile - and this is classic scenario - we look at them and smile, and they look at us and just continue on. We might say, what happened in that moment? And we might have feelings of being rejected, or our mind might start worrying about something we might have done wrong. What's going on? Am I going to get fired? Or am I losing this friend, or whatever it is? And our mind starts compounding on itself and creating a catastrophe, some kind of impending doom that's about to happen. And it says what if this happens, what if that happens, what if this happens? And it continues to cycle on itself. That's called catastrophizing.

The important aspect of these mind traps - and that's just one of them - the important aspect of these mind traps is so we can label them. Labeling is so incredibly important and helpful when it comes to our habitual thought styles that are unhelpful to us, because as soon as we label them, we've stepped outside of them, and we've entered into that space that we were just talking about with Frankl's quote. We've entered into that space. So as soon as we've labeled them, then we've entered into it.

And there's been a lot of research that has come out, out of UCLA and other places, that say labeling how we're feeling or labeling how we're doing has really positive effects on our sympathetic nervous systems, meaning it actually calms us down. And from a more calm place, we tend to be more open to alternatives that may be happening at that moment. Maybe the person that passed us by was in their head, or maybe they had problems going on, or who knows what was happening at home, or maybe they're about to get fired, who knows? It may have nothing to do with us at all, but when we're catastrophizing, we're again focused very narrowly on cycling within ourselves about what the issue is and pop potential doomsday, future scenarios that may happen.

Another thing that we often do - I'll just give you one more mind trap - is we play the "shoulds" game. So, for example, one scenario I give on my CD is this real-life scenario of a client of mine who didn't get the promotion that he was looking for, and he didn't ever ask for a promotion because the "my boss should know I deserve one." And so with that, he had all kinds of cycling that happened about how terrible everything was, he was going to quit his job, he was blaming everyone, which is another mind trap. And as soon as he noticed that the "shoulds" were happening, which is a habitual thought style that can get us in trouble, he noticed that he was able to step back from it and actually go to them and ask them what they thought of his performance, and was he up for a raise. And they were able to communicate with him; it turned out that his boss at the time had a ton of personal stuff going on and so wasn't really communicating with him that the boss thought that he needed to be doing better in certain aspects of his job. And so he went back and did that and was more effective in those areas, and eventually got that raise.

So these mind traps really hold us back in a lot of ways. And without awareness, without awareness that they're happening, it's difficult to break free, it's difficult to become more successful and effective at your work and your life.

David: Okay, now you make a distinction between informal and formal mindfulness, so say a little bit about that.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Okay, so this is a classic distinction. So once again for the listener, this is getting very practical for how to integrate mindfulness into your daily life. There's two different ways of doing this, and mindfulness is often considered to be a way of life, and that includes both this formal and informal practice.

So formal practice is exactly what it sounds like. It's formal, which means that you're intentionally putting structured time aside to engage in a mindfulness practice. This can be a practice such as the body scan, it can be a practice such as a sitting practice, could be a walking practice, could be a number of practices. So with formal practices, I really suggest - and this is why I created these CDs or there's tons of other CDs out there - that you be guided. It's a lot easier to sit, stand, or lie down and listen to someone actually guiding you through a practice than to try and do it on your own where you have to think about what to do, and then you actually have to try to do the practice as well. So that's the formal practice. On a number of my CDs I have a handful of different formal practices that I guide people through.

But the informal practice is about how do I bring this sense of mindfulness, this present moment awareness, into my daily life and to the daily activities that I'm already doing? So, for example, when we wake up in the morning, we already start our day. Our minds wake up in the morning, for some of us, really busy, moving really fast, thinking already about what needs to happen at work. So already, in the beginning of our day - let's say we stepped into the shower - we're thinking about all the things we need to do at work. And our mind's already starting to worry, we're already starting to get tense, and instead of doing that and noticing that our mind is in the future, what we can do is start to bring mindfulness to this moment.

And what we do is we notice that our mind's in the future, and we just say to ourselves, "Thinking, thinking." Or maybe we label it as "future, future" or whatever word works for you. The labeling is important. And then gently, and not judging ourselves for actually being there, but gently bringing our attention now to focusing on our senses in this moment: so noticing the feeling of the water on the shoulders or the body. Is the water hot or cold? Noticing the sensation of that, noticing the smell of the soap. A number of people I've worked with, actually in doing this, they've realized that they didn't even like the soap that they were using, and so they switched their soaps because they wanted some more fragrance or something more natural. Or feeling, or singing, the mist in the shower, whatever it is.

Just even practicing becoming more present to the actual moment of what's happening has an effect on the sympathetic nervous system, which means it often has an effect of calming or easing ourselves in that moment to help us be more prepared for the next moment, feeling more at ease rather than if we're feeling tense when we get out of the shower. And let's say our partner comes out to us and says, "Hey, can you do this?" our minds are already overwhelmed, so we snap at them and say, "No, I can't do that. I got other things to do." And all of a sudden, now you've got tension in your relationship.

David: Yeah, we probably should begin to wind down here. Now you've mentioned having a number of CDs, and I will put a link to your website in our show notes, and I will also give out that address in my post interview comments, so we don't need to put that out here right now. But I'm wondering if there is a book or two - and I will mention also that your website is full of wonderful resources - but I'm wondering if there's a book or two that you'd recommend to any listeners who might want to get more information on what we've been talking about here.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Yes, there are. Some of the most classic books out there, this guy doesn't need any recommendation because his book's already out there and have been doing really well for quite some time. A good introductory book is Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I absolutely recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. That's a really accessible book, and it's very small and short, so it's easy to read. And there's a number of workbooks out there that are coming out or have come out that help people through mindfulness as well.

David: Did you mention to me that you're working on a book?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: I've co-authored a mindfulness-based stress reduction workbook, with a forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn and afterward by Saki Santorelli, which is kind of couched in between the two founders and leaders in this field right now. And I'm proud of it. It's amazing; it comes with a tremendous amount of audio guidance, which is probably about $80 to $100 worth of audio guidance but that's all given for free within the book. And that comes out in February. So we're really proud of that, so if you want to wait till then you're welcome to do that, but go ahead and get something as an introduction before then. But that'll bring you through a whole program of integrating mindfulness into your life and stress reduction.

David: Okay, that's great. Dr. Elisha Goldstein, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein: Thank you, David. I really appreciate it. It's been fun.

David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with Dr. Elisha Goldstein and picked up some practical tips for handling stress at work and in your non-work life. You can find out a lot more about Dr. Goldstein by visiting the website he shares with his wife, Dr. Stephanie Goldstein, at You'll find links there to their audio CD, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and Relapse Prevention, as well as other helpful materials. Among other things, you'll also find inspirational poetry on their site.

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

    • Dr. Goldstein conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. His website,, co-maintained with his wife psychologist Stephanie Goldstein, Ph.D., provides contact information, numerous articles about mindfulness practices, and links to guided meditation CDs that the Goldsteins have produced.

About Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is in private practice in West Los Angeles and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook,Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn (New Harbinger, February 2010). He synthesizes the pearls of traditional psychotherapy with a progressive integration of mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing. He contends that we have the power to transform our traumas and habitual patterns that keep us stuck in perpetual stress, anxiety, depression, or addiction and step into greater freedom and peace. He offers practical strategies to calm our anxious minds, transform negative emotions and facilitate greater self acceptance, freedom and inner peace.

Dr. Goldstein, who comes from a family of psychologists, advocates that mental health comes from an approach that looks at all aspects of the self - physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual.

As a licensed Psychologist, he teaches mindfulness-based programs on his own and through InsightLA. He has spoken at the UCLA Semel Institute and Anxiety Disorder Clinic, the UCLA Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Conference headlining Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, and Dr. Daniel Siegel, University of Washington, among others, and blogs for and He has been published in The Journal of Clinical Psychology and quoted in the New York Daily News, Reuters, NPR, UCLA Today, and The Week Magazine.

In his new book, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, February 2010), he and Bob Stahl, Ph.D. offer professionals and lay people a book that takes them step-by-step through the clinically proven program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and provide over 8.5 hours of audio for guided meditation practice to support the transformation of stress, pain, and illness into greater awareness, freedom, and peace. His previous popular CDs include Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and Relapse Prevention, Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at work, Mindful Solutions for Adults with ADD/ADHD (October, 2009) - produced in collaboration with Lidia Zylowska M.D.) and an online multimedia program, Mindfulness, Anxiety, and Stress.

He currently offers individual and group psychotherapy in West Los Angeles and does mindfulness-based coaching nationally and internationally via the phone.