You might think that you’re alone on this experience of intrusive thoughts, but guess what? It’s really common. So common, in fact, that even my previous therapist told me he experienced intrusive thoughts. He once said to me, “The difference between me and you is not about having intrusive thoughts. It’s that I know how to let mine pass and you get scared, which has you holding on to them or working hard to fight them.”
I learned this skill called Cognitive Diffusion. First, let me remind you that thoughts aren’t really things. They’re an activity. We can tend to fuse with our thoughts as if they are us, belong to us.
Then we try to push the thoughts away. That takes lots of energy, doesn’t it? Or how about believing our thoughts? How helpful is that?
So, try some of these exercises:
- Write down all the thoughts going through your mind. Choose mild thoughts, not intense ones for now. Say, for example, one of your thoughts is “this is a dumb exercise”. Write it down. Next, write “I’m having this thought that this is a dumb exercise “.
Did you notice a little sense of separation between you and the thought?
- Write the thought on a piece of paper. Then crumple or tear it up and say, “Thank you thought, but I don’t need you”.
- Write an affirmation on a piece of paper, or a card, or a small rock and carry it with you. Take it out and read it when you need a positive reminder. Better yet, have a good friend, family member, your pastor, or therapist write a short positive phrase like “You are important “, “I appreciate you”, “This too shall pass”, “Thoughts are like clouds”, as examples.
- Ask yourself, “Is accepting this thought helping me?”. When you answer “no” then remind yourself you don’t have to believe or fight the thought. “I can let this pass”.
Give these a try and let us know in the comments what was most helpful.