Negative self talk can be a big problem for many people. How many times have you done something stupid and then beaten yourself up verbally? When we start listening to our thoughts we often find that we are our own harshest critic. The technique I am going to talk about here can be used to distance you from your thoughts. It’s a basic ACT method known as defusion that I teach to my clients . When we are having thoughts it is common for us to start listening to them and treating them as fact. The reality is that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts are just words flowing through our heads, they have no power. So how can we separate ourselves from our thoughts? Try this:
A fictional person we will name “Jim” suffers with social anxiety. He may often have the thought “Nobody finds me interesting” when in company. This is a thought, it’s not a truth. When we fuse with our thoughts we accept them for truths – never great if we want to believe in ourselves.
Let’s take that thought and acknowledge that it is just a thought. Jim would say to himself,
“I’m having the thought that nobody finds me interesting“.
This has moved the thought one step away from an accepted truth. Next, Jim can move the thought two steps away with,
“I am noticing that I’m having the thought that nobody finds me interesting“.
This thought is now much further away from accepted reality and can be examined from afar. Jim is now separate from his thought, he has de-fused with it.
Finally, Jim can acknowledge where the thought came from – his mind,
“I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that nobody finds me interesting – thanks for that mind“.
Jim can now go into company much more detached from the anxiety he would normally feel when surrounded by others.
I’m not suggesting that Jim would not feel any anxiety when surrounded by others. He is, however, in a better place than he was before and he can choose to accept the feelings that come up for him if he knows that being in groups fits in with his values (more of that in a later blog).
Your homework? Try it then come back to this post and leave a comment about how you found it. It doesn’t matter what the thought is, if it’s not useful to you you can defuse from it. And remember, you are not your thoughts.
If you want to read more on defusion and other ACT techniques, check out “The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living“, by Russ Harris.