A Healthy Distance from Thoughts

Our thoughts, feelings and ideas have the potential to be very powerful.  Often our thoughts influence our behavior in destructive ways as we tend to let our thoughts control important parts of our lives, such as decision-making, relationship patterns, and mood.  For instance, if we have the thought “nothing in the world ever works out for me,” we may act in ways to make this very thought come true.  We may end up believing our thought so much that it will actually come true as we watch things continuously fall apart.  When our thoughts control us to the point that they actually become our reality or prevent us from living the life that we had hoped for, our emotional health may be sacrificed and we may suffer deeply.

So what can you do to give your thoughts less power over you and your life? Check out the ideas below. Most of these pointers are rooted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness principles.

  • Find a way to be more accepting of your thoughts.  Try to make room for ALL thoughts, both positive and negative, instead of attempting to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts. This process is called acceptance.
  • Let your thoughts occur without feeling like you have to act on each and every one.  Remind yourself to step back and observe your thoughts opposed to reacting to them.  See your thoughts as streams of words that do not require action. Watch them go by without taking action.
  • Try to distance yourself from your thoughts.  Picture them floating away from you.  Another technique is to give your painful thought a color, shape and size in an attempt to externalize your thought.
  • Practice cognitive defusion (to see thoughts as what they are, not what they say they are).  Check out more defusion techniques by Steven Hayes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) therapist.
  • Use mindfulness to become in touch, aware and open the present moment.  Notice sensations, images, memories, thoughts and emotions in the present moment. When you are mindful, you are less likely to act on your thoughts or have them influence you.
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