Researchers say that we average between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day.
That’s a lot of activity! Each time we have a thought, it influences our feelings and the way we perceive things.
Psychologist and author Dr. Steven Hayes, the originator of ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, says, “Thoughts are like lenses through which we look at the world.”
How do we know which thoughts to believe? Think about it for a minute. Which thoughts make you feel badly or stuck, and which are helpful? It may be hard to sort through them because they move so quickly. But ultimately, we have the choice about which of our thoughts to follow.
Mindfulness skills help us defuse from painful, unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
Basically, mindfulness means paying attention to our moment-to-moment experience with flexibility, openness, and curiosity. It’s not thinking, it’s awareness.
When difficult thoughts or experiences arise, we don’t need to fight with them or push them away. We can simply acknowledge their presence with patience and compassion.
Author and ACT therapist Dr. Russ Harris gives four key principles for working mindfully with thoughts:
Defusion: distancing from and letting go of unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, memories, and other cognitions.
Acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges, and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle.
Contact with the present moment: engaging fully with our here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity.
Spacious awareness: accessing a spacious sense of self – the observing self: a transcendent aspect that is conscious of thoughts and feelings as passing experiences, but not identified with them.
The next time a difficult thought arises, ask yourself:
If I hold onto this thought and let it tell me what to do, will it make my life better, richer, and fuller? Or will it inhibit me from taking any action and make me feel stuck?
Here are some pointers from Russ Harris from his article, “Mindfulness Without Meditation”:
Put your negative self-judgment into a short sentence of the form, ‘I’m X.’ For example, ‘I’m boring’ or ‘I’m stupid’.
Fuse with this thought for 10 seconds – get caught up in it, give it your full attention and believe it as much as you possibly can.
Now silently replay the thought with this phrase in front of it: ‘I’m having the thought that …’ For example, ‘I’m having the thought that I’m a loser’.
Now replay it one more time, but this time add this phrase ‘I notice I’m having the thought that …’ For example, ‘I notice I’m having the thought that I’m a loser’.
What happened? Did you notice a sense of separation or distance from the thought? If not, run through the exercise again with a different thought. This is a nice simple exercise that gives an experience of defusion to almost everyone.
“Embrace your demons. Follow your heart.”