Noticing our negative thoughts and detaching from them, help us to minimise distressing feelings. Oftentimes, emotional trouble starts when we become tightly fused to our negative thoughts, being our thoughts, instead of having our thoughts. Following on, how to detach from unwanted thoughts spins on ideas that start us distancing ourselves from the emotional pain caused by those thoughts. In plain, it helps us to stop buying into our negative thoughts, and carry on with our lives despite doubts and fears.
Further, detaching from our unwanted thoughts, taking a time-out from believing everything our minds come up with, promotes serenity. To stop identifying with negative thoughts, and observe them in the context of the many other thoughts and feelings experienced, lessens their power and frequency. Seeing the thoughts of rumination about the past or worry, as just “another thought,” can stop the process of rumination and worry.
How To Detach From Unwanted Thoughts Spotlights
1. Use Repetition To Detach Meaning From A Negative Label
First, find a private place to speak without any concern about being overheard. Then, sum up a negative thought you have about yourself, into one word. Select a harsh, emotionally-loaded word, like “loser,” “worthless,” “failure,” or “wimp.” This approach works well with a one- or two-syllable word. Forward, repeat the word out loud for twenty to forty-five seconds. With this approach, we can detach meaning from the negative word, and render it less painful and believable. This method was originally created by British psychologist Edward Titchener (1916).
2. Put Your Word Or Phrase On A Leaf And Let It Drift Away On The Current
At the outset, find a quiet place. Thereupon, sit down, close your eyes, and imagine that you are sitting on the banks of a slow-moving stream on a cool, peaceful day. From time to time, a leaf falls into the water, floating away on the current, drifting out of sight downstream. On that, start noticing your thoughts. Sum up into a simple word or phrase any negative thought that comes to mind. “Boring.” “Indecisive.” “Unhappy.” “Dumb.” “Hopeless situation.” Put your word or phrase on a leaf, and let it float away, out of sight and out of your mind.
Along with, if thoughts rear up as images, without specific words, place the images on the leaves. Let them float away. Avoid making the current flow faster or slower or changing what is on the leaves in any way. If the stream won’t flow or if you find yourself stuck on a leaf, refrain from worrying. The leaves disappearing, whole scene disappearing, or you going somewhere else mentally, just notice that these things happened. Then, return to the scene beside the stream. Doing this exercise for about five minutes can give us the experience of trying to let go of our troubling thoughts.
3. Describe A Thought As Something Your Mind Produces, Not Something You Are Or Something You Do
When you feel distressed, instead of dwelling on the distressing thought, ask yourself, “what’s my mind up to? Answering yourself requires you labeling each thought, as it arises in your mind. Labeling describes a thought as something your mind produces, not something you are or something you do.
Here are various ways of labeling your distressing thoughts, feelings or urges, to detach from them and minimise negative feelings. “I am having a thought that – – – – – -” (describe your thought). Next, “I am having the feeling that – – – – – -” (describe your feeling). “I am having a memory of – – – – – -” (describe your memory). Else, “I am feeling the bodily sensation of——” (describe your bodily sensation). “I am noticing a desire to – – – – – -” (describe your behavioural urge).
Furthermore, longer, wordier descriptions of our thoughts, sensations or urges, circumlocutions, stimulate us away from habitual ways of assessing our distressing thoughts. They help us to realise the transient nature of our thoughts. Also, they start us to the truth that our thoughts are creations of our minds, not true facts about our world. More, they slow down our stream of consciousness and help us to see what our mind is up to. This gives the go-by to other ideas behind how to detach from unwanted thoughts.
Detaching On The Go
Alternatively, we can label in the manner below, to detach from our distressing thoughts. These thoughts usually fit into the categories of worry, judgment, or planning. Instead of dwelling on distressing thoughts, ask yourself, “what’s my mind up to?” Then, answer yourself by labeling each thought presented by your mind. “Now my mind is having a – – – – – – thought.” “And now my mind is having a – – – – – – thought.” Labeling five to ten thoughts can give us a sense of distance from our distressing thoughts.
4. Breathe Mindfully While Observing Thoughts
Switching part of our attention to breathing, interrupts our thoughts and distracts us from giving them our full attention. Moreover, observing our breath and slowing it down, calms our body’s flight-or-fight response to stress. This sends our mind and body the message that everything is okay.
5. Ask Yourself How Old Is This Thought?
Every time you have a familiar distressing thought, ask yourself, “how old is this?” This reminds you that it is just a thought that has reared up before in your mind, that will continue to come up from time to time. This realisation fosters the belief that you will continue to survive the thought and carry on with your life, as always. Also, it helps to unriddle how to detach from unwanted thoughts.
6. Turn Your Hand Over As Though Letting Go Of A Small Stone
Each time a painful thought stirs your mind, let go of it by turning your hand over as though letting go of a small stone you’ve been carrying. Tell yourself, “there’s a thought. I let it go as I turn a hand.”
7. Write Your Bothersome Thoughts On A 3×5 Index Card And Carry It In Your Pocket
When one of these thoughts rear up in your mind, dismiss it by saying to yourself, “I’ve got that on the card.” Since you have your past mistakes, worries or shortcomings on a card, you don’t need to once again dwell on them. This primes us to practice upon more ideas of how to detach from our unwanted thoughts.
8. Ask Yourself What’s That In Service Of?
Plagued by intrusive thoughts, ask yourself, “what’s that in service of?” “What’s my mind trying to get me to do?” To see the purpose of an intrusive thought starts you realising that it is just your mind trying to make you do or not do something, that your thoughts do not equate to reality. Seeing the purpose is different from buying into the thought. Buying into a thought means that you are assuming it’s true. However, seeing that your intrusive thoughts are in the service of immobilising you from making constructive decisions, stimulates you away from them.
9. Expose The Consequences Of Being Your Thoughts By Asking, “And How Has That Thought Worked For Me?”
Oftentimes, the consequences of our distressing thoughts are we having diminished life and relationships. For instance, entertaining the thought, “what if we get mugged?” can keep us paralyzed and stuck at home, while others go out without us. Leaving this beaten path, and asking, “and how has that thought worked for me?” exposes the consequences of being your thoughts versus having your thoughts. This practice haves you distancing yourself from your distressing thoughts. Also, it stimulates you to appreciate the difference between what you think and who you are.
10. Tell Yourself “I’ll Take This Thought With Me.”
Detaching or creating some distance between you and your distressing thoughts, by reminding yourself that buying into the thoughts has not helped you in the past, primes you for this step. Next, tell yourself, “I’ll take this distressing thought with me, and still live my life, finish the report on time, tell her I love her, or ask for a raise. In plain, you are saying, “yes, I have this thought and it makes me feel anxious, depressed, angry, guilty, and so on, but it need not stop me from living my life.” You accept the distressing thought, and still commit to pursuing what you really value in life.
How to detach from unwanted thoughts revolves around ideas that help us to unlearn the old habit of accepting every random thought as true. Steadfastly practicing the above techniques, and detaching from habitual negative thoughts, makes them weaker and less frequent. More, we experience improved moods, and find it easier to live our lives according to our values and preferences, instead of our doubts and fears.