Our minds are constantly generating thoughts. This is their job, but most of the time we are not even aware of it. We may be so focused on our thoughts that we are not aware of what is happening around us. This can be harmless if we are just enjoying a good book or a thought-provoking conversation. However, it can also be harmful if we are lost in negative thoughts, such as:
"I'm not going to be able to finish this by today. I'm doomed."
"Everybody's going to think I'm stupid when I present later. I'm going to be sick."
"I'm such a failure. Why can't I get anything right?"
"Everything needs to be perfect at the next event, or else (insert some irrational fear)."
When we spend too much time fused with these negative thoughts, they can start to control our emotions and behavior. We might start to feel anxious, panicky, or upset. We might also engage in unhelpful behaviors, such as procrastinating, avoiding challenges, or self-sabotage.
Cognitive defusion is a practice that can help us to distance ourselves from our thoughts and see them for what they are: just thoughts. It is one of the key components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
When we practice cognitive defusion, we learn to:
Notice our thoughts without getting caught up in them.
See our thoughts as temporary events that come and go.
Not take our thoughts too seriously.
Recognize that our thoughts do not define us.
Cognitive defusion does not mean that our thoughts will disappear. It simply means that we can learn to let go of the power that our thoughts have over us. This allows us to choose our behaviors based on our values, rather than on our thoughts.
Here are some examples of cognitive defusion techniques:
Labeling our thoughts: When we notice a negative thought, we can simply label it as "thought" or "judgment." This helps us to distance ourselves from the thought and see it for what it is.
Observing our thoughts: We can also observe our thoughts without judgment. This means simply noticing them as they come and go, without getting caught up in them.
Changing the voice of our thoughts: We can change the voice of our thoughts to make them seem less real. For example, we can imagine our thoughts being spoken by a cartoon character or a celebrity.
Mindful breathing: Mindful breathing can help us to focus on the present moment and let go of our thoughts.
Here are some additional tips for dealing with negative thoughts:
Remember that your thoughts are not facts. Just because you have a thought, it does not mean that it is true.
Challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support your thought. Are you making any assumptions?
Focus on the present moment. When you find yourself getting caught up in negative thoughts, bring your attention back to the present moment. Notice what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself when you have negative thoughts. Remember that everyone has negative thoughts from time to time.
With practice, you can learn to decouple from your thoughts and live a more fulfilling life.
So check out the worksheet below.
Note the two parts of the worksheet:
A list of common cognitive defusion strategies - please try each one and practice the one that suits you best!
A log or diary for you to record down your practice.