Many of us are guilty of getting caught up in our thoughts and allowing this to shape our behaviour. We can become so engrossed in negative thinking that our attention is stuck in our own minds and we miss much of the world around us. We often allow automatic thought patterns to run on auto-pilot, unchecked and unchallenged, as if they are undeniable truths controlling how we feel and act. For example, maybe you’re looking for a new job and because the process is taking a long time, you jump to the negative conclusion that there’s something wrong with you, and you fixate on those feelings until it makes it difficult or near impossible to reach your goal. These types of thoughts linger in our heads and can cause us an immense amount of stress and anxiety. However, there is a very helpful technique known as cognitive defusion that can help you overcome these difficult feelings. Cognitive defusion is an aspect of acceptance. Instead of fixating on these negative thoughts, you realize they are there, understand them, and let them come and go. The next time you feel your inner demons holding you back from reaching your goals, try one of these helpful techniques.
It all starts with awareness.
For cognitive defusion to take place, you first need to be aware of the negative thoughts when they come into your head. In other words, you need a certain degree of self-awareness. This is where our mindfulness thinking comes in handy as I discussed in my previous two blogs. Once you are more self-aware, identifying these feelings when they arise will be much easier. Before you begin defusing, check in with yourself physically first. We usually have different physical reactions to stress and anxiety. Look for those physical areas of stress and let your body relax. Now you’re ready to jump into trying one of these 5 defusing techniques.
- Leaves on a Stream: This is a very popular practice developed by Steven Hayes, the founder of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). This type of therapy was developed to teach people to stop avoiding and struggling with their inner thoughts and allow them to accept these feelings. Having negative emotions are natural, but they shouldn’t stop you from moving forward in your life. For this technique, sit quietly with your eyes closed. Imagine you are sitting in front of a stream. With each negative thought you have, place it on a leaf and then place that leaf on the stream, and watch it sail away.
- Hands in front of your face: Cover your face with your hands so you can’t see anything. Then simply move your hands back, as though you are brushing the thoughts away from your mind.
- ‘I’m having a thought that…’: When you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself or something, stop yourself and review the thought in your head. Why are you having this thought? Is it actually true? Even if you believe it, at least you are now seeing it as a thought about the world rather than the thought being of the world itself.
- Write it out: Another helpful practice is to take your thoughts and write them out. Analyze them and try to understand where the feelings are coming from. Once you’re done, throw them away or even burn them as a symbolic way to remove the feeling from your life.
- Your mind isn’t always a reflection of who you are: Our mind is quick to tell us what’s wrong with us and point out our flaws, and at times this can be overwhelming. Don’t just accept the thoughts that come into your mind, learn to challenge your thoughts and disagree with what you’re thinking.
Whatever technique you choose is up to you. There are many defusing practices to choose from so don’t be afraid to try different methods until you land on something you find effective. Also, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away as well. Practicing mindfulness and cognitive defusing takes a lot of practice. The next time you see your inner demons on the sidelines, look but don’t stare. We can’t completely ignore the negative thoughts that enter our minds but fixating on them isn’t good either. Notice your thoughts rather than being caught up in them, and let your thoughts come and go rather than engaging and holding on to them. Don’t let your inner thoughts be the thing that stops you from reaching new heights.
“The mind loves telling stories; in fact, it never stops.” – Russ Harris