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5 Cognitive Defusion Strategies to Quell Negative Thoughts

December 18, 2020

My neighbors have a rooster. It crows at four o’clock in morning, four o’clock in the afternoon, even ten o’clock at night. The confused rooster is loud and really irritating. And the more I try to not hear him, the louder he seems. The rooster reminds me a lot of our minds. Sometimes our mind […]

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Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion

hello,

My neighbors have a rooster. It crows at four o’clock in morning, four o’clock in the afternoon, even ten o’clock at night. The confused rooster is loud and really irritating. And the more I try to not hear him, the louder he seems.

The rooster reminds me a lot of our minds. Sometimes our mind can be quite bothersome, producing unhelpful thoughts at all hours of the day.

In addition to being disruptive, our minds have a negativity bias. For evolutionary reasons our minds tend to stick on negative experiences and neglect the positive ones. As Rick Hanson said in my interview with him, “our minds are like velcro for the positive but teflon for the negative.”  For example:

  • When you’re working on something especially important to you your mind might crow: You aren’t doing a good enough job.
  • In the middle of the night your mind might crow: You have to solve this problem right now!
  • When you’re trying to start a morning exercise habit your mind might crow: This is going to really be hard. Maybe you should get back in bed.

And, much like my rooster, paying attention to every “crow” the mind makes can make your life miserable. On the other hand, like the rooster, the more you try to not hear it, the louder your mind becomes. According to the ironic processing theory, the more we attempt to suppress thoughts, the stronger they rebound.

So, how can we approach our crowing minds, and the roosters in our neighbor’s yard in a way that won’t make things worse? By using the ACT Process of Cognitive Defusion. Cognitive Defusion involves:

  • Stepping back from your thoughts rather than being caught up in them
  • Recognizing that you are not your thoughts
  • Letting go of fighting your thoughts

There are numerous cognitive defusion strategies. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Thank your mind: When your mind has something unhelpful to say, notice it, say, “thank you, mind” and move on
  2. Choose your thoughts: Ask yourself, is this thought helpful to my goals and values? If so, pay attention to it. If not, let it pass like a leaf in a stream of consciousness.
  3. Label your thoughts by categorizing them as they arise: Ask yourself: “Is this thought a judgment? A worry? A rigid rule?” Then say, “I am having the [INSERT CATEGORY] thought that…” OR “I am having the judgment that…”
  4. Get perspective: Imagine someone you love, a friend, or even an acquaintance having the same thought, and telling you about it. How would it change your perspective on it?
  5. See your mind as a rooster: It’s just doing what it’s supposed to do. Crowing away!

For more on cognitive defusion strategies, check out my upcoming book, ACT Daily Journal, which guides you step-by-step and day-by-day on how to get unstuck from your mind’s mental chatter so you can focus on what really matters most!

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  1. […] your Thoughts: Cognitive defusion involves seeing your thoughts for what they are – words, sounds, and images that your mind […]

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