I was a grub and didn’t realise. Are you?

I thought I led a reasonably hygienic existence.

I used a hanky, changed my undies daily as a child, ate my crusts and washed my hands after the toilet. I keep salmonella and e coli at bay at home (given the limits on time, motivation, where I’m at with my writing, and my belief that children should be exposed to enough germs to develop healthy immune systems). I vaccinated my children (even my dogs), gird my loins for the dentist and regular pap smears . (OK, I don’t floss as much as I should. Have a secret theory that all that flicking will eventually push my gums back). I provide my family with enough vitamin C to keep scurvy at bay, spray enough bleach around the bathroom before visitors come to make it at least smell like the local pool, etc etc. You get my drift.


So it was a surprise to recently be told by my doctor that I lacked good sleep hygiene. Hmm. Then, last week I attended an inspirational staff training session on emotional resilience. Here I discovered that I also have poor mental hygiene. Mental hygiene!!?? 

Photo credit: exm.nr/1gsz1si

The word hygiene originates from the Greek words hugieinē (tekhnē), meaning the art of maintaining health. But I’d always believed hygiene was a physical activity. In the training session I learnt that mental hygiene has a lot to do with building and maintaining emotional resilience, ie. behaviours that help us bounce back after life’s challenges.

How does one maintain a clean and tidy mind, besides avoiding porn? In a nutshell, get enough sleep, and be mindful of crappy, self-defeating thoughts. Theoretically, most of us allow loads of negative thoughts to march through our heads, all day, every day. Negative thoughts—the chatter of our primal, monkey mind—are not always true, and are like pollution to the soul. Bad mental hygiene is deluding ourselves into thinking these thoughts are true. We all have our own versions, but here are some common examples-

  • I’m not a good enough, thin enough, beautiful, or clever enough.
  • She never rang back / turned up, so she must hate me
  • No one ever listens to me
  • I could never do that. I’m a failure.
  • I don’t deserve to be loved like that

Why do we have so many negative thoughts? Being alert to negative things around us kept us alive and out of harms way in the past. But there aren’t so many sabre tooth tigers or robbers/ murderers around every corner nowadays.

It’s important to let the higher order thinking part of our brains (the later evolutionary add-on, the frontal lobes) to recognise, label and immunise ourselves against the negative chatter in our brains, otherwise it can lead us very far astray from what is good for us.


What goes on in your mind all day long can determine your behaviour, can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, someone who believes he/she’s not worthy of love may not have high expectations in relationships, or make wise choices in partners.

Also, negative chatter can stop us realising our dreams, we may not even dare to dream.


In the training my colleagues and I were taught to develop a mindfulness that acknowledges these often untrue and unhelpful thoughts as an unhelpful outsider, and put them away. For example, “Thanks for the doubts, Susan’s monkey mind. I’m not going to listen to you. Instead, I’m just going to go and do this anyway.”

Other useful points about mental hygiene –

negative 1

  • During sleep and meditation we process our thoughts. Not giving ourselves enough sleep can lead to anxiety and stress from not giving our minds the space to filter and process what is happening to us. Giving a challenging feeling its space and acknowledging it can actually help it move on. Meditation is useful too.
  • The psychologist recommended we not look at computer or mobile screens two hours before bed. Our brains are tricked into thinking the screen light is dawn and we start to release a hormone that keeps us awake.
  • That we need breaks from social media ‘rabbit holes’ , from comparing other people’s ‘shiny exteriors’ with our own messy interiors.
  • The mind is a good servant but a terrible master.
  • Everyone should have their own non-negotiable self-care plan (whether that is your need to exercise, get enough sleep, boundaries / time with friends and family, time for yourself)
  • Maintaining realistic optimism in life and being adaptable to change is a large part of being emotionally resilient.

Photo credit: National Geographic

  • Emotionally resilient people work more on things they have control over.
  • Psychological flexibility is being able to be compassionate with ourselves, to defuse from the negative chatter of our primal monkey mind. This awareness guards against the fear of making mistakes, feeling anxiety, shame, not feeling good enough…
  • Emotions are contagious. Surround yourself with positive people. As Dr Amen states – Deciding that you don’t want to spend time with people who are going to have an adverse effect on you doesn’t mean you have to blame them for the way they are. It simply means you have the right to choose a better life for yourself.’
  • Apparently Einstein said, Great discoveries are made when brain has time to breathe.

So I will be cleaning up my act and –

  1. Learn to recognise, catch and defuse my negative thoughts.
  2. No blaming, of myself or others! (Reflecting, yes, but no blaming.)
  3. Not look at my computer or mobile after 8pm (now having the best sleep in years)
  4. Start to meditate again
  5. Give the realistic optimist in me a louder voice.
  6. No caffeine after 3pm
  7. Will play the ‘3 good things about today’ game around the family dinner table. Cheesy but has great results!!

The session helped me, so thought I’d share. Any thoughts or comments?


The Human Mind by Robert Winston

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr Daniel Amen

Life Unlimited

The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman






This entry was posted in emotional resilience, mental hygiene, monkey mind, negative thoughts, realistic optimism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to I was a grub and didn’t realise. Are you?

  1. A very helpful post Susan. I have an obsession with my health and always think the worst of every little ache and pain. I’m trying to train myself otherwise. I must admit my emotional resilience has improved with age. I have distanced myself from negative people as well which has been most beneficial. Also adopting the ‘grumpy old woman’ persona has stopped me worrying about what other people think 🙂

    • How do we slide into that ‘grumpy old woman’ thing? I think a lot of it is having the courage to state your beliefs in the face of opposition. Perhaps that’s what having teenagers is for? And some people are draining, but that might be because our friendship stars aren’t aligned. I really do appreciate the positive people in my life. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Pinkie. 🙂 🙂

  2. age does give us more insight…and realization that we can be a better person…by letting ourselves be our true selves…no imitating…no being influenced into things we don’t want to do…and being around people who bring us down…wisdom it seems comes from years of learning!

  3. jbw0123 says:

    I volunteer as a yoga teacher at with kids at a juvenile detention center, and this is exactly what I try to help them learn. Love your Rumi quote, and appreciate the concise summary. Maybe the outline for several lesson plans. Best !

  4. Love the post, Susan, and especially the fabulous quotes. I’m all for making every day count, and I think your post will help a lot of folks try to do so.

  5. Kim Saeed says:

    Awesome post…gonna share it all over the place 🙂

  6. You’re awesome. Your posts have really helped me, Kim! 🙂

  7. suzjones says:

    Ahh the monkey mind. Forever on the move and hard to get under control. 🙂

  8. Good post, Susan 🙂 We just need to turn off our brains sometimes, and push ego out the door.

  9. Great post, Susan. I could take these point by point and keep myself busy for years.

    Always loved -Don’t believe everything you think. That was the only bumper sticker I ever put on my car.

    Thanks for this!

  10. Lee-Anne says:

    Love that quote about getting more done in ten minutes before visitors arrive – so true… basically the only time I properly clean the house is when guests are expected!

    We have a variation on your dinner game of 3 good things – 2 good/1 bad. It stems from my teacher training when we were told we could only say a negative thing if we said two positive ones in reports.

    I agree we must consciously block negative thoughts and if possible, replace with a positive.

    A lovely post, Susan. 🙂

  11. Thanks Lee-Anne. Someone at work brought up the 2 good, 1 bad suggestion.

  12. Debbish says:

    Great post Susan – SO much I need to remember here! I do all of the stuff I know I shouldn’t do – negative thoughts and I hold onto bad stuff, use my iPad in bed, sometimes check emails during the night… And – emotional resilience is a big problem for me… (well, I should flip that to a positive – it’s something I could work on!) 😉

    • Thanks for visiting. I weaken and go to the dark side more than I care to admit, especially in the latter part of the day. But I did meditate this evening. Cheers 🙂

      • Debbish says:

        I meditated last night cos I got myself into a really bad place. I listened to a recording I have for about 30mins and was then ready to get on with my night!

      • I hope meditating helped get you into another orbit. 🙂 I really will try to do it more often. You don’t hear about depressed Tibetan monks, and I might wake up less at night with little concerns that grow out of proportion. Hope things have improved! 🙂

  13. Peekiequeen says:

    Thanks Susan. So helpful and enlightening.

  14. Mags Corner says:

    Wonderful post sweet Susan. I didn’t know it until I read your post but I was a “grub” for a whole lot of years. After I reached the age of 65 that all changed. Now I take time to meditate, enjoy life, people and nature. What a heavy burden lifted from me when I learned to just be “me” take care of myself and enjoy every day to the fullest. Hugs

    • Hi Maggie. You sound like a great role model. I think being comfortable to be yourself is a powerful, satisfying and liberating goal. Thanks for the reminder. PS Love that cheeky squirrel on your blog. 🙂

  15. Really enjoyed this piece. Beautiful.

  16. I’ll keep an eye on him, and YOU then! 🙂

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