It’s already the beginning of May and that means it’s been four full months since New Years Resolutions were set. For those of you who are still committed to your resolutions, amazing work! I would love to hear what you’ve done to be successful. As for the rest of us, well, we know that the struggle is real.
I imagine that we’ve all had a similar experience before:
Me: I think I’m going to do 90 minutes on the treadmill today.
Brain: Great! We can totally crush it. Let’s get going.
(35 minutes later)
Brain: Dude, you should totally take a break. You’ve gone pretty far already and 90 minutes was just a random number you picked.
Me: Stop it. I need to keep going.
Brain: But do you? I mean, tomorrow is another day. You can try again then.
Me: Stop it. I’m not that tired.
Brain: But aren’t you? I think you feel a little discomfort in your legs; you should probably stop and walk.
It’s a torturous process. It prevents many people from achieving their goals. What is this phenomenon and what can we do about it?
We call this process Cognitive Fusion. Cognitive Fusion is when we get tangled up in our thoughts to the point where we get pushed around by them. I usually refer to these as “magnetic thoughts”. They come across our attention and we get stuck to them; we follow them around; we argue with them; we negotiate with them; we get defeated by them. In the case of my above-described dialogue, my brain hooked my attention and roped me into a battle.
Being fused to our thoughts makes them seem very “real” and draws us away from the experiences that we are currently engaged in. This results in an experience that isn’t fully enjoyed.
So what do we do about it? We work on Cognitive Defusion. Cognitive Defusion is a state in which we can observe our thoughts and feelings from a neutral perspective.
To better explain, I want you to imagine you are a leaf floating in a racing river. This is a visual for Fusion. The river has control of where you go and how fast you get there. You are merely a pawn in its game.
Now imagine you are a person sitting on the riverbank watching all the leaves float downstream. You can see what’s happening with the leaves but you don’t really have any attachment to them as they float by. This is a visual for Defusion.
Great, now that you understand, you’re probably wondering how you can actually move from Fusion to Defusion so that you can be successful in your goals. Here are a few ways:
Acknowledge to yourself what your brain is doing
It may look a little something like this: “Right now my brain is having the thought that I should quit. Now, it’s trying to find a reason to convince me that it’s right”. So on and so forth, as you begin to recognize that the distance is growing.
Take the thoughts you’re having, place their image on an imaginary leaf and let it float down the river.
It works just like in the example above, only you are actively taking them from your thoughts and putting them somewhere else.
Sing your thoughts.
This one is a personal favorite. It’s hard to be overly stuck on your thoughts when you find yourself singing “I am so stinking angry that the TV isn’t working” in an operatic voice.
Question the cause
Ask yourself this: “Can I have the thought that I should quit but still keep going”? Choosing something appropriate for the thoughts and feelings that you’re having.
Pretend you’re a three-year-old and repeatedly ask your brain “Why”?
Last but not least, if you’re feeling snarky with yourself you can always act like a petulant child toward your thoughts. The “Why?” Game can be irritating, even to your own self.
The goal of all of this is for you to allow for some space between you and your thoughts. This, in turn, will enable you to feel like they aren’t in control of you but rather are a part of your ecosystem. Thoughts are just that, thoughts. They don’t have to be taken literally. They don’t have to be acted on as “meaningful” all of the time.
When you move into this space, your life opens up to choices and flexibility. That is one of the key traits that will allow you to get after what you want and to live a life that you truly enjoy.
If you have any tricks that you use to both honor and give yourself space from your thoughts, I’d love to hear about them. And as always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out.
Until next time, enjoy your peace of mind.