I often talk in sessions about FUSION, and how our problem-solving minds can very quickly and easily get ‘hooked’ on an extremely painful and upsetting thoughts and beliefs.

  • “My boss/colleague doesn’t like me. They’ve got it in for me.”
  • “I’m going to get fired.”
  • “My husband/wife has lost interest in me. They’re going to leave me.”

Whatever the thought or belief is, if it’s part of our Not-Good-Enough Script, it basically boils down to “I’m Not Good Enough for this Person/Job/Task, and for this reason I’m going to be hurt in some way (fired, abandoned, betrayed, dismissed, criticised).”

We cannot change these thoughts, or argue against them because maybe your boss doesn’t like you (!), and maybe you don’t like them (!!), and that’s not really a train smash in the modern workplace where people get on with doing their jobs regardless of not being head over heels “in love” or even “in like” with everyone around them. But it can generate a lot of suffering for us, unnecessary suffering. It’s hard enough to take on board the pain that we’re not universally loved by everyone. I’d like to be universally loved by everyone (wouldn’t you?) and I find it a tad painful that I’m not! But it’s even harder when our suffering minds HOOK US into that thought or belief like a struggling fish, gasping for breath; feeling like we’re going to suffocate or even die for want of air.

Which is why it might be worth putting in some effort to de-fusing or unhooking from our thoughts particularly when we realise that they’ve pierced us to the very core. I’m going to share some methods with you that come from Russ Harris’s excellent book “The Confidence Gap”, which I’d recommend wholeheartedly, especially if you’re struggling with self-esteem issues. I use all of these methods myself, and I find them super-helpful in terms of unhooking from my Not-Good-Enough Script (“That wasn’t a good session Steve. You didn’t seem to help or connect with that person tonight. Maybe you should consider doing another job.” etc.).

As with any of these techniques, give them a go, even if your Cynical Mind, reading them says “That’ll never work!”

Hey Cynical Mind, what have you got to lose? Five minutes of your time, ten? Give them a go, and if they don’t take you even a little bit off suffering hook of that painful thought or belief, you don’t have to keep on using them. Russ gives a handful of AMAZING defusers below, but there are literally hundreds of great de-fusion techniques out there. So if these don’t float your boat, we can always talk about others and try out others in a session together.

It can also sometimes help to see these “in action” or “modelled” in some way. It’s a bit like doing some exercise at home watching a video on YouTube versus doing it in a gym or a yoga studio with other people around you: often the effects can feel very different. So even if they don’t work when you do them  by yourself, we might still give one or two of them a try the next time we meet and see if maybe doing them together can get for you the unhooking/defusion results we both want.

I’m now going to hand you over to Russ.

OK. I’m now going to take you through a whole stack of different defusion techniques so you can discover which ones best help you to unhook. Some of them may seem a bit weird or wacky, but please give them a go and see what happens. In each case, I’ll ask you first to fuse with the thought (i.e. buy into it, give it all your attention, believe it as much as you can), so you can get yourself well and truly hooked. Then I’ll help you to unhook again.

Before we embark, a word of caution: there’s no technique in the whole of psychology that always achieves the desired result. While most people find these techniques help them to detach, separate, or get some distance from their thoughts, occasionally the opposite may occur: you may find that the thought starts reeling you in! So adopt an attitude of curiosity towards these exercises; let go of your expectations and just see what happens. Notice whether the technique helps you to separate from the thought (defusion) or whether it seems to draw you in even closer (fusion).

(Note: fusion isn’t likely to happen with these exercises; I’m just warning you about it on the off-chance that it does. If it does, please regard it as a learning opportunity: a chance for you to notice what it’s like to get hooked. Then move on to the next exercise.)

For each exercise, read the instructions through first, then give it a go. And if a particular technique does not work for you, or you simply can’t do it, then move on to the next.

Exercise 1: I’m having the thought that …

  • Bring to mind a thought that readily hooks you, and pulls you away from the life you want to live. Ideally, for this exercise pick a negative self-judgement that plays a key role in the ‘I can’t do it’ story – eg ‘I’m not smart enough’, or ‘I don’t have what it takes’ or ‘I’m a loser.’
  • Silently say this thought to yourself, believing it as much as you can, and notice the effect it has on you.
  • Now replay that thought in your head, with this short phrase inserted immediately before it: ‘I’m having the thought that …’ For example, ‘I’m having the thought that I’m a loser.’
  • Now replay that thought once more, but this time the phrase to insert is: ‘I notice I’m having the thought that …’ For example, ‘I notice I’m having the thought that I’m a loser.’

So what happened? Most people get a sense of distance or separation from the thought. If this didn’t happen for you, please try again with another self-judgement. (And if you didn’t do the exercise at all, please note the reasons your mind gave you to skip it, then go back and do it anyway.)

Exercise 2: Singing thoughts

  • Use the same negative self-judgement as above, or if it has lost its impact, pick a different one.
  • Silently say this thought to yourself, believing it as much as you can, and notice what effect it has on you.
  • Now replay this thought, word for word the same, singing it to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Jingle Bells’. (You can either sing it silently or aloud.)
  • Now replay that thought once more, but this time, sing it to the tune of your choice.
  • What happened this time? Most people find the sense of distance or separation from the thought is greater than with the first exercise. Some people even find themselves smiling or chuckling, however that’s not the point of the exercise. The point is, when we hear our thoughts sung to music, it helps us to see their true nature: just like the lyrics in a song, our thoughts are nothing more nor less than words. (Of course, thoughts can also occur in the form of pictures or images, but for now we’re just dealing with words.)

Exercise 3: Silly voices

  • Use the same negative self-judgement as above, or if it has lost its impact, pick a different one.
  • Silently say this thought to yourself, believing it as much as you can.
  • Now replay it, word for word the same, hearing it in the voice of a cartoon character, movie star or sports commentator.
  • Now replay it again in yet another distinctive voice, for example that of a posh English actor or a sitcom character.
  • This technique is similar to singing our thoughts. When we hear our thoughts said in different voices, again it helps us to separate from them – and recognise that they are nothing more nor less than words.

Exercise 4: Computer screen

  • Use the same negative self-judgement as above, or if it has lost its impact, pick a different one.
  • Silently say this thought to yourself, believing it as much as you can.
  • Now close your eyes, imagine a computer, and see this thought as words on the screen, written in simple black text.
  • Now play around with the font and the colour of the text. Don’t change the words themselves; just see them in three or four different colours, and three or four different fonts.
  • Now put the words back into simple black text, and this time, play around with the formatting. First, space the words out – large gaps between them.
  • Now run all the words together – no gaps between them.
  • Now run the words vertically down the screen, underneath each other.
  • Finally, put the words back into simple black text, and this time add in a karaoke ball, bouncing from word to word, back and forth. And if you like, just for good measure, also sing the thought to the tune of your choice.

This exercise tends to be more effective for more ‘visual’ people. Again, hopefully it helped you to separate or distance from your thought: to see that it is constructed out of words.

Now, once again tune in to your mind, and for ten seconds, notice what it’s telling you.

So how’s your mind reacting? Maybe it’s excited: ‘Wow! That was amazing!’ Or maybe it’s all worked up: ‘How can he say that thoughts are “just words”? They’re true!’, ‘This guy is patronising me’, ‘He doesn’t get how it is for me; he doesn’t understand the way these thoughts kick me around.’ Or maybe it’s a bit disappointed: ‘These techniques are just silly tricks, they’re not going to help me.’

Whatever your mind is doing, please allow it to have its reaction. And if that reaction is particularly strong and unhelpful, then I invite you to try something. It’s a little technique, developed by Steve Hayes, called ‘thanking your mind’. [Steve (Wasserman) adds: I use this one a lot! I actually have a name for my mind when it’s coming up with negative or critical stuff about me or other people. I call my mind Dave – based on a person I went to University with who was a know-it-all bully. So whenever my mind is giving me a hard time, I often just say “Thank you, Dave!” I also like to vary the way I say Thank You depending on how I’m feeling.]

Whatever your mind says – no matter how provocative, nasty or scary it may be – you silently reply, with a sense of humour, ‘Thanks mind.’ You can of course vary this as desired, for example, ‘Thanks for sharing’ or ‘Thanks mind, good story.’ Personally, it’s one of my favourite defusion exercises [SW: mine too!], so play around with it and see what you think. Remember, we’re not trying to stop our minds from having these reactions; this technique is simply to help us detach from those thoughts.

Exercise 5: Thanks mind

  • Notice your mind is saying something negative or critical about you or another person. Or any thought that feels unpleasant and triggering to you.
  • Say aloud, or silently: “Thank you, mind.” Or, if you want to give your mind a name: “Thank you Dave, Mildred, Govinda.”
  • Go back to doing whatever you were doing before your mind interrupted you with its commentary.

THE POWER OF WORDS

You’ve probably heard the quotation, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ This saying succinctly reminds us that words can have an enormous influence over our behaviour. For example, books, scriptures and manifestos can, in certain situations, shape entire nations far more powerfully than violence, bloodshed and warfare.

Likewise, in a state of fusion, those words inside our heads can have a huge impact upon us. They can dredge up panic or despair; they can feel like a kick in the guts or a plank on our chest; they can drag us down into the depths and sap all our strength.

However, in a state of defusion, our thoughts are nothing more nor less than words. Hopefully you got to experience that, at least to some degree, in the previous exercises. If you didn’t, no matter; I’m sure we’ll get a chance to do some defusion in a future session.

When doing this, it is important to remember that the spirit we do all of this in, is a kind and loving one. We do not belittle our challenges or patronise them; we don’t try to deny the powerful impact that thoughts can have on our actions. We simply aim to empower you and ourselves; to increase the choices available to you in your life. Once we can defuse from our thoughts – i.e. separate from them and see them for what they are – we have many more options in life. No longer are we at the mercy of our minds, pushed around by ingrained patterns of unhelpful automatic thinking. Instead we can choose to pursue what truly matters to us – even when our minds make it hard with all that reason-giving.

One final one!

IF YOUR HANDS WERE YOUR THOUGHTS

Many people misunderstand the point of defusion. They either think it’s a way to get rid of negative thoughts, or a way to control your feelings. But it’s neither. Here’s an exercise to clarify what it’s for.

  • In this exercise, pretend that your hands are your thoughts.
  • Place them in front of you, palms upwards, side-by-side – as if they were the open pages of a book.
  • Ever so slowly, raise them up towards your face.
  • Gradually bring them closer, until they are covering your eyes.
  • Keeping your hands over your eyes, look at the world around you. How much are you missing out on? Imagine going around all day like this. How hard would it be to act effectively and do the things that make your life work?
  • Now, ever so slowly, lower your hands.
  • As the gap between your hands and face increases, notice what happens. How much better is your view of the world around you? How much more information can you take in? How much more effectively can you act?
  • Now let your hands rest. Notice they have not disappeared. They are still with you. If there’s some way you can use them to improve your life, you are free to use them. If there’s nothing they’re useful for right now, you can give them some space to rest and just let them be.

So here you see the two main purposes of defusion. Firstly, it enables us to ‘be present’: to connect with the world around us, and engage in whatever we are doing. Secondly, it enables us to take effective action. Obviously if our thoughts are helpful, we will make use of them. But if they’re not, we’ll just give them plenty of space and let them be.

To develop genuine confidence, we need to be fully present and engaged in whatever we are doing – whether it’s playing golf, giving a speech, making conversation or making love. And we also need to be capable of effective action. Defusion enables both of these things.

So why do some people get totally the wrong idea? Why do they think defusion is a clever way to get rid of negative thoughts? Because very often, when we defuse from a thought, it disappears. And often, over time, it shows up with lesser frequency. However, this is just a bonus; it’s a by-product of defusion, not the main purpose.

Other people mistake defusion as a way to control unpleasant feelings. Why? Because often when we defuse from negative thoughts, we feel better, calmer or happier. But again, this is just a lucky bonus, not the main aim; and it certainly won’t always happen. The purpose of defusion is this: to be present and take effective action.

So here’s my guarantee: if you start using defusion techniques to try to get rid of negative thoughts or to control how you feel, you’ll soon be disappointed or frustrated. Why? Well, firstly, it won’t work. Sure, it may work as a quick-fix technique in an unchallenging situation, but once you get into the real-life challenging situation, it will not have the desired effect. Secondly, if you’re trying to control how you feel, then you’ve once again gotten stuck inside ‘the confidence gap’ (that place we get stuck when fear gets in the way of our dreams and ambitions. You know you’re stuck in the confidence gap if you believe something like this: I can’t achieve my goals, perform at my peak, do the things I want to do, or behave like the person I want to be, until I feel more confident.)

Once again, you’re playing by the wrong rules: I have to feel confident before I do what matters; or I have to get rid of negative thoughts, and reduce my fear or anxiety, before I can behave like the person I want to be.

So one more time, for good measure: the purpose of defusion is to help us be present and take effective action.

THE POWER OF PRACTICE

Improving our lives requires committed action. That often means learning new skills or working on old ones. And obviously, if we want to become skilful at anything, we need to practise. This goes for psychological skills as well as physical ones. We can’t develop good defusion skills without practice. And we all need these skills, because the reason-giving machine is here to stay. It’s not going to suddenly transform into your own personal cheerleader or motivational guru. It’s going to keep on telling you multiple versions of the ‘I can’t do it’ story. So are you willing to practise the techniques listed above?

What I’m asking you to do is very simple. The moment you notice you’ve been hooked by an unworkable thought, acknowledge it. Silently say to yourself, ‘Just got hooked!’ Then replay the thought using any technique you like: I’m Having the Thought That, Singing Thoughts, Silly Voices or The Computer Screen. (And keep in mind, these techniques are like training wheels on a bicycle. You won’t have to go for the rest of your life singing your thoughts to ‘Happy Birthday’ or hearing them in the voice of Homer Simpson. This is just a convenient place to start.)

I invite you to do this as an experiment; to let go of any expectations you may have, and bring an attitude of genuine curiosity to your experience. Notice what happens, or doesn’t happen. Don’t expect any miraculous overnight changes. And if you do notice high expectations popping up, then gently unhook yourself; for example, you might say, ‘I’m having the thought that this should magically solve all my problems.’

At times you may be hooked for hours before you realise it – worrying, ruminating, over-analysing or ‘stressing out’. No problem. The moment you realise you’re hooked, gently acknowledge it: ‘Hooked again!’ Then pick the thought that’s hooking you the most, and replay it with the technique of your choice.

So are you willing to give it a go? Just pause for ten seconds, and again notice what your mind is saying.

What’s it doing this time? Is it all revved up and eager to practise? Or is it cranking out reasons not to do it: ‘It’s too silly’, ‘It won’t work’, ‘I’ll do it later’, ‘I can’t be bothered’, ‘It doesn’t really matter’ and so on. If the latter, no surprises there! Let your mind try its best to dissuade you – then do it anyway. And if you should at some point find yourself hooked by all that reason-giving, then you know the drill: acknowledge ‘Just got hooked!’, then do a replay.

I recommend you use these techniques at least five times a day, to begin with; the more the better. And if you don’t use them, notice how your mind talked you out of it: did it come up with some really good new reasons, or did it pull out the same old ones it’s been using for years?

The good thing is, you’ll have plenty of material to practise with, because your mind is …

 

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