In CBT we modify the content of our thoughts. For example, let’s say automatic negative thoughts A, B and C are having a negative effect on how we’re feeling. We then transform these thoughts into alternative or more balanced thoughts X, Y and Z. And changing the content of our thoughts from A, B and C to X, Y and Z helps us feel better.
But a challenge with CBT is that once we start dwelling, ruminating, or worrying about something, our minds tend to start to race. If we attempt to engage with our thoughts while our minds are racing, it often doesn’t end well. If we try modifying racing thoughts, we often end up just having even more thoughts, many of them negative. And then our minds wind up racing even more.
But there’s an alternative to trying to change the content of our thoughts. Instead, we can change how we relate to our thoughts. And this ties back into when we learned that our Thoughts are not Facts. Because our thoughts aren’t facts, when they’re not needed for whatever we’re doing at the time, we don’t need to pay attention to them. We can just let these thoughts go.
If we’re cooking dinner and start worrying about work, we can let those thoughts go. If we’re watching TV and start dwelling on an argument we had, we can just let those thoughts go. Once we learn to acknowledge our automatic negative thoughts and just let them go, they lose their power over how we feel. They become like mental background noise. They come in one ear, and go right out the other, before they have a chance to negatively affect our moods.
Letting Go Of Thoughts
This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.
We have tens of thousands of thoughts a day but most of them barely register. And the ones that we do notice often aren’t even related to anything we’re doing at the time. Usually the best way to deal with automatic negative thoughts is to not give them your attention in the first place.
They’re like a clickbait headline that looks like it’s gonna be really interesting, but once you click there’s really nothing worth seeing and the best course of action is to just not click on them in the first place. But sometimes we can’t resist and we click anyway. And then we find ourselves going down that rabbit hole and keep clicking on another and another and another, at which point it can take quite a bit of effort to pull ourselves back out.
And the same is true once we start following our automatic negative thoughts. A big part of mindfulness is about learning to let go of these types of thoughts and refocus our attention in the present moment. But that’s often easier said than done for a couple of reasons.
First we tend to believe that if we have a thought it’s somehow interesting or important and something we should pay attention to, so we don’t want to just let it go. But of our tens of thousands of thoughts every day, most of them are just noise in our head, mindless distractions that don’t need our attention at all. And once we come to terms with this it’s a lot easier to just allow these thoughts to pass from our mind without even thinking about them.
But secondly, the thoughts that we tend to notice are the ones that provoke an emotional reaction. And these are not as easy to simply let pass from our minds, because as we’ve seen once our thoughts and emotions start interacting together, they feed into and reinforce each other. And as a result thoughts that carry some emotional weight are much more difficult to just let go, as the emotion acts as a kind of magnet, and keeps pulling these thoughts back into our head.
One way to let go of thoughts is to treat them as if they were just sounds going on in the background. We generally don’t pay attention to these sounds or think about them very much, and we just allow them to pass in one ear and right out the other. And we can do the same sort of thing with our thoughts, not give them any undue attention and think about them or try to figure out what they mean, and just treat them like mental noise in the background allow them to pass into our mind and then right out again.
Another metaphor for this way of relating to our thoughts is to simply treat our thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky, noticing as a cloud or a thought passes into our field of awareness, sticks around for a while, and then continues to float through the sky or through our mind until it passes away.
Or sitting back and observing our thoughts as if we were at the movies and watching our thoughts being projected on the screen in front of us, not actively participating or getting caught up in the action on the screen that is our thoughts, and just sitting back and watching them as they unfold.
But often it’s not that easy to just sit back and watch our thoughts, and in the next video we’ll learn some additional strategies and techniques we can use to help us step back from our thoughts and let them go called cognitive defusion.
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