Our thoughts are useful, mostly. They keep us on track on how we should live and sometimes, keeping us safe. It’s important to remember though, at the end of the day, they’re just words – inside our heads. Just stories we tell ourselves. We may not always be able to control how those words pop-up but we do get to control what we do with the thoughts once they’re there.
Here are some ways to take back our control over the mean self-talk. Defusion techniques are part of what’s called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy(ACT). You can read an excellent overview of its core components by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D, here.
1. Label Your Thoughts
As soon as you hear yourself say “I’m a terrible friend.” tell yourself “I’m having the thought that I’m a terrible friend.” Change “I can’t be successful” to “I’m having the thought that I can’t be successful.” It may seem insignificant but it’s not. Separating yourself from your thoughts is key in taking the wind out of those mean self-talks.
2. Thank Your Mind
This one I am going to employ myself – as I am a victim of the useless self-talk of: “I hope this plane doesn’t crash…I hope the pilot knows what he’s doing…” You can deflate the angst by saying: “Thank you, mind. Thank you for trying to keep me safe. But there’s nothing that you really need to do right now. I’ve got it covered.” Letting your mind know you are grateful for keeping you safe but then letting it ‘take the day off” is useful in getting past anxious thoughts.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” — Norman Vincent Peale
3. Sing Your Thoughts or Use A Silly Voice
O.K. this one seems super fun to me. How long can those mean self-talks last if you are singing them to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or The Itsy Bitsy Spider? Or, better yet, say them in your best Elmer Fudd voice. I think you get the picture.
There are other techniques employed by ACT – like visualizing your negative thought on a leaf and imagine it floating down a stream or naming your story: “Oh, I am running the ‘I’m not smart enough’ story again.
Whichever technique(s) you choose to employ matters little. What matters is quieting the mean self-talk and breaking free into the wonderful you.