There’s a lot of advice out there about how to improve your thinking. This is not surprising. We all have a voice in our head we would pay good money to make go away. Yours may be unrelenting self-criticism or insidious shame and self-loathing. Mine is non-stop list-making of all the ways the other shoe is about to drop.

Guess what? This makes you human. Welcome to the club.

I have another secret for you. We don’t need to change our thoughts in order to get control over them.

The problem with our thoughts is not in their content or intensity. What truly gets us in to trouble when it comes to our thinking is when we use our thoughts to guide our actions.

Your mind tells you that you’re a failure so you don’t raise our hand for an opportunity. Or, you so deeply hold the belief that you’re unlovable you run away from intimacy. At times, I’ve been completely convinced that all of the good in my life will be taken away to the point I don’t allow myself to feel joy or gratitude.

What have your thoughts cost you when you’ve bought in to them?

Defusion is a skill that allows us to get control over our thoughts by getting space from them. It is founded in research based on language, cognition and mindfulness and has demonstrated effectiveness in improving numerous mental health outcomes. Read below from an excerpt of Learning to Thrive: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Workbook to learn why you can’t believe everything you think. 

“Defusion is the act of getting unstuck from our thoughts. When we’re defused from our thoughts we’re looking at them. Being fused with our thoughts, on the other hand, means looking from them.

When we’re fused with our thoughts, it’s like we’re wearing a pair of sunglasses that filters the way we see the world. Some sunglasses filter things in a sad way, others maybe have a more anxious tint. Everything is passed through this lens and becomes somewhat distorted.

When you defuse from your thoughts, you take off glasses and put them down on the coffee table in front of you. As you see the glasses from a few feet away, you have the ability to label them for what they are. A pair of sunglasses with a biased tint.

Our mind starts pitching us thoughts from the moment we wake up to the second we finally fall asleep. Like the machines that spit out balls on the tennis court, they may start out slow and eventually pick up speed as the day gets going. Sometimes we are fully aware of these thoughts and at other points during the day they may just be like background noise.

Some thoughts feel more real than others. Over time, a passing thought can become a belief, or something that we come to regard as a truth or fact. These beliefs in and of themselves can’t hurt us. It’s only when we use them to direct our actions that we can get in to hot water.

So, if we don’t want to buy in to our thoughts, what on earth do we do with them? Your first instinct may be to try and fix or change them. This is certainly reinforced by many messages in society about our capacity to control our thinking. You might be surprised to learn that defusion doesn’t mean changing our thoughts. 

Actually, this is the last thing we want to do.  Trying to change our thoughts means spending more time in our head, tangled up with our thinking. Defusion means looking at our thoughts and then letting them come and go without any interference. It is by seeing our thoughts as thoughts, and not facts, that they lose their power.

You may thinking, “But you don’t know how nasty my thoughts are.” I get it. As critical as our mind can be, those thoughts are just that- mean, nasty thoughts. Nothing more. Seeing thoughts in their truest nature gives us the power to respond flexibility and with intention.

Try the following brief exercise to get a sense of what it is like to defuse. The first step is to fill in the sentence “I am…” with a word that tends to come up when things get dark. My go to is I am a fraud. Whatever your particular word is, let that thought burn in to your mind. Repeat the phrase over and over for at least 30 seconds.

Notice how your mind responds to this experience of being temporarily fused. Did any emotions or memories come up? Our mind loves to confirm what it is thinking, and will often pull supporting evidence for the statements it is making. I always notice my heart rate go up slightly after a few seconds of fusing with this thought.

Next, add “I’m having the thought that” to the beginning of the same phrase. I’m having the thought that I am a fraud. Mull this sentence over for at least 30 seconds.

How is this experience different? Did you notice less intensity in your mind’s response? This simple addition illustrates the power of taking off the filtered glasses, or having some space from our thinking. We didn’t change the content of the thought. Again, that doesn’t matter. It’s just chatter. Instead, see it for what it is. Just a thought.

Over time, as you notice your thoughts coming and going, you will see your thoughts are simply a combination of words and images that our mind produces over the course of the day. Some thoughts are helpful, while others are very unhelpful. Without our thoughts getting in the way of decision-making, we can listen to what’s really most important and make decisions based on our values and authentic desires.”

Copyright line: Excerpt from Learning to Thrive: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Workbook, by Giulia Suro PhD, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2019 by Callisto Media. All rights reserved.

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