5 Effective Exercises to Help You Stop Believing Your Unwanted Automatic Thoughts (2023)

5 Effective Exercises to Help You Stop Believing Your Unwanted Automatic Thoughts (1)

Molly Snow

Most of us live with a constant stream of internal expressions, criticisms and orders running through our heads. But we have a choice: We don't have to let them define us, or our days, says psychology researcher Steven Hayes. See how we can set ourselves free.

When we are worried or unhappy, most of us will do anything.Nofeel these feelings. Instead, we avoid them, find something to distract or calm us down, or try to wriggle out of them.

Acceptance and Attachment Therapy (ACT)takes a different approach: it's about cultivating psychological flexibility so that we can live with the uncomfortable and not let it rule our lives. 🇧🇷Changing the way we relate to our thoughts and emotions, rather than trying to change their content, is key to healing and realizing our true potential."Steven C Hayes, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the creator and pioneering researcher of ACT.

Hayes and other colleagues have found that psychological flexibility is made up of six basic skills, including one they call "dismixing." Below, Hayes explains what it is and how we can learn to build it.

Most of the time, most of us live in a state of cognitive collapse: we fully accept what our mind tells us and allow it to excessively guide our actions and decisions.This happens because we are programmed to perceive the world in a structured way through our thoughts, but we miss the fact.usThey are the ones who have these thoughts.

The other side of fusion is when we see our thoughts for what they really are, that is, constant attempts to make sense of the world, and we empower them only to the extent that they actually serve us. We are able to perceive the act of thinking without becoming absorbed or caught up in our thoughts. Our made-up word for this act of perception is "unmix."

Helpful in learning defusion is understanding the cravings that drive our obsessive talk and problem solving.It is a desire to create coherence and understanding out of our mental cacophony, and it is a perfectly understandable desire. We feel vulnerable when our thoughts don't mesh perfectly, especially when they are contradictory.

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The first step to stop believing in our automatic thoughts is to become aware of how complicated our thought processes are.One way to start is to give your mind the freedom to think for a few minutes and then write down the sequence of thoughts that come to you.

I did this exercise first thing in the morning while writing this book and here are my thoughts:

It is time to wake up. No, it's not; It's only 6:00. That's seven hours of sleep. I need eight, that's the goal. I feel fat. Well, birthday cake, duh. I need to eat cake for my son's birthday. Maybe, but it's not that important. I bet I weigh up to 196 pounds. Shoot... when the Halloween/Turkey Day candy challenge starts, I'll be back with over 200. But maybe not. Maybe more like 193. Maybe train more. Everything would be "more". I have to concentrate. I have a chapter to write. I'm falling behind... and I'm gaining weight again. Watching the voices and letting them walk can be a good start to the chapter. Better go back to sleep. But maybe it could work. It was kind of Jacques to suggest that. She woke up early. Maybe it's her cold. Maybe she should get me up and see if she's okay. It's only 6:15. I need my eight hours. It's almost half past six. Not eight yet.

These thoughts are not only remarkably misleading, but most are about rules and punishment. Many of them are also contradictions with previous thoughts. He's probably familiar with this kind of mental back and forth.

Arguing with ourselves comes naturally to most of us.In fact, the old cartoon with a devil on one side and an angel on the other is understood even by small children. When we focus intensely on a mental task, our mindin a state of flux, in which our thinking, feeling and acting are temporarily synchronized. But our most common state isa vague ghost, which is usually characterized by a great deal of mental disagreement and detachment.

To get an idea of ​​how automatic and devious your own thinking is, take a minute to turn your thoughts in any direction.So accompany them on their way. Write down everything you observe.

After you finish this exercise, repeat it two more times, letting your mind work for one minute each time.In the second round, imagine that your task is to find out if each thought is true or reasonable. In the third round, imagine that your thoughts are like the voices of first graders fighting. Assume an attitude of curiosity and fun, but do not do more than notice them.

In the second round, he probably experienced the feeling of being pulled right into his mind. The size of it may have increased; His focus on your content may have increased. You may have gotten into a fight with your mind. By the third round, you will probably notice the general flow of your thoughts. Most likely, the specific content would seem less important and one would have the feeling of being out of any discussion.

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This difference explains how the practice of defusion weakens the connection between thoughts and automatic behaviors.Our ability to detach from our thoughts becomes stronger as we practice. When we learn defusion skills, we can take the energy of our self-defeating desires and direct it to learn to let our experiences gently guide us.

Here is a starter kit of commonly used defusion techniques. The first two are general deactivation exercises, and the others are designed to deactivate specific troubling thoughts. Think of this as the core of your defusion practice. Repeat this at least once a day for the first few weeks. If you're stuck on one thought during the day, use a few of these right now to free yourself.

While it's common, and even helpful, to feel a sense of freedom and detachment within minutes of doing these exercises, be careful.Your mind may be trying to convince you that you have solved your problems. Don't believe it: your inner dictator is giving you a dangerous new thought to get rid of.

No matter how good you are at deactivating, your mind will continue to form new thoughts that you will naturally merge with.An example is thinking, "I'm the world's leading detox expert!" It is important that you are aware of this development. I have been a defusion practitioner for over 30 years and still have to recover every day as I sink into my thoughts. For me, sometimes just picking up my thoughts is enough to break control, but if not, I immediately fall back on one of these practices. However, the merge sometimes eludes me for a while. Your goal is progress, not perfection.

One final caveat: some of these exercises may seem strange or even silly. Humans are strange creatures! Just work with them with a sense of self-compassion.

1. Ignore the purpose

Let me start with one that I'm sure will seem confusing. Trust me. Stand up and carry a phone, book, or other object with you as you slowly walk around the room, reading the following sentence aloud several times. Yes, read this sentence while you walk.

OK? Set up? Stand up, walk. Read. To go!

Here is the sentence: "I can't walk across this room."

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Keep going! Repeat this series slowly but clearly while walking at least five or six times. "I can't walk through this room." Now you can sit down again.

It's such a small thing, isn't it? It's a little stab in the eye of the inner dictator—that's what I call the dominant problem-solving part of our mind that constantly suggests "solutions" to our psychological pain—and a little tug on your superhero cape.

This exercise was one of our first Entfusion discoveries. Although it's a silly exercise, a team in Ireland recently showed in a lab experiment that it instantly increased tolerance to experimentally induced pain by almost 40%. In the study, people were willing to hold their hand over a very, very hot plate (not hot enough to cause pain, but hot enough to cause actual pain) 40% longer, after just a few moments while they did. said otherwise.

Even the smallest demonstration that the mind's power over you is an illusion can give you much more freedom to do difficult things. You can easily incorporate this into your life as a regular practice (now I'm thinking "I can't write that sentence!" as I type).

2. Express your opinion and listen politely

When we listen to another person, we decide whether or not we agree with what they have to say. With our inner voice, we often don't feel like we have the ability to agree or disagree, but I want you to try this attitude. Research has shown that naming your mind—call it something other than yourself—helps with this. Why? Because if your spirit has a different name, it is different from "you".

I call mine "George." Choose any name, even Mr. Mind or Ms. Mind will do. Now greet your spirit with your new name, as if you were being introduced to it at a party. Of course, when you are reading with other people, for example on a bus or train, you are doing it in your head.

3. Enjoy what your mind is trying to do.

If you hear your thoughts and notice when your mind starts to chatter, reply something like, "Thank you for that thought, George. Thank you really. If you talk down to your mind, it will proceed with problem solving, so be honest. You might add: "I really understand that you're trying to help, so thanks for that. But I'll take care of that. Say it out loud when you are alone or mentally when you are with others.

Your mind is likely to flash back with thoughts like, "This is silly, this isn't going to help!" Again, she responds with "Thanks for that thought, George. Thanks, I really see you're trying to be helpful. You can invite them to comment further by replying, "Anything else to say?"

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4. Sing

This method is effective when you have a very sticky thought. Turn that thought into a sentence and try singing it; repeat it out loud when you are alone or in your head when you have company. Any tune will do. My default setting is "Happy Birthday". Don't worry about the words or the rhyme scheme, you're not actingAmerica's Got Talent🇧🇷 Just repeat your thought with the melody you chose.

Now find a thought that bothers you and try it. Try different melodies or sing them fast or slow. How will you know if you were "successful"? It is not that the thought disappears or becomes unbelievable; is that you can see it more clearly as one more thought.

5. Take it with you

Write a recurring critical thought on a small piece of paper. Maybe it's "I'm stupid" or "I'm not nice" or "I'll fail." Once you've finished writing, hold the paper and look at it as if it were a valuable and fragile page from an ancient manuscript. These words are an echo of his story.

As painful as the thought is, ask yourself if you would be willing to honor this history by choosing to carry this paper with you. If you manage to get to “yes”, put it in your pocket, wallet or bag and let it continue on its journey. During the days you use it, occasionally tap your wallet or bag (or wherever you keep it) to acknowledge that it's part of your journey and welcome.

By practicing such exercises, we can begin to eliminate useless thoughts that have been guiding us for years.If we can learn to see our inner voice as a guide instead of a dictator, it can help us a lot. We come to realize that our mind itself is not bad or harmful, as long as we don't allow it to rigidly dictate our behavior. It is a tool and if we learn to use it on a leash, it can serve us even better.

Excerpt from the new book courtesyA free mind: how to focus on what mattersby Steven C Hayes. Published by Avery, a brand of Penguin Random House, LLC. © 2019 Steven C. Hayes.

Watch his talk at TEDxUniversityofNevada now:

(Video) Wired for Success | Neuro-Linguistic Programming | Activate Your Brain | Audiobook

About the Author

Dr. Steven C. Hayes, is a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the author of 43 books and more than 600 scientific articles, has served as president of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, and is one of the most cited psychologists in the world. Dr. Hayes pioneered the development of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Relational Structure Theory (RFT), the cognitive approach on which ACT is based.

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What exercises get rid of intrusive thoughts? ›

Practice mindfulness.

This will help you stay grounded when you start to have intrusive thoughts or if they get worse. Yoga and meditation are great ways to practice mindfulness. While mindfulness can be a challenging skill to learn, it is a great way to beat your intrusive thoughts.

What are thought exercises? ›

What is a thought exercise? Thought exercises are new ways to think about a given circumstance or experience that can help us get out of a stuck or unhelpful way of thinking.

What are act exercises? ›

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is about helping people to relate to their thoughts and feelings in a more flexible and effective ways and to focus their attention on living well, in line with their deepest values.

Why does my mind make me believe unwanted thoughts? ›

Intrusive thoughts are often triggered by stress or anxiety. They may also be a short-term problem brought on by biological factors, such as hormone shifts. For example, a woman might experience an uptick in intrusive thoughts after the birth of a child.

How can I permanently remove negative thoughts from my mind? ›

Simple Steps to Stop Negative Thoughts
  1. Pause a Moment. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or stuck in negative thinking patterns, PAUSE. ...
  2. Notice the Difference. NOTICE the difference between being stuck in your thoughts vs. ...
  3. Label Your Thoughts. ...
  4. Choose Your Intention.
Dec 3, 2022

How do I stop intrusive and irrational thoughts? ›

7 Tips on How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts
  1. Understand Why Intrusive Thoughts Disturb You. ...
  2. Attend the Intrusive Thoughts. ...
  3. Don't Fear the Thoughts. ...
  4. Take Intrusive Thoughts Less Personally. ...
  5. Stop Changing Your Behaviors. ...
  6. Cognitive Therapy for Treatment of OCD Intrusive Thoughts. ...
  7. Medications that Help with Intrusive Thoughts.
Sep 25, 2020

Is there a cure for intrusive thoughts? ›

While anyone can experience unwanted intrusive thoughts, they're especially common among those who have OCD or PTSD. Through a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care strategies, you can learn to manage intrusive thoughts.


1. Two Easily Remembered Questions That Silence Negative Thoughts | Anthony Metivier | TEDxDocklands
(TEDx Talks)
2. Simple Trick To Stop Negative Thoughts
(Scott Ste Marie)
3. How To Stop Unwanted Automatic Thoughts
(Christopher Walch)
4. Tony Robbins on How to Break Your Negative Thinking
5. Your brain is wired for negative thoughts. Here’s how to change it.
(Fig. 1 by University of California)
6. A Simple Exercise Will Reboot Your Brain In 30 Seconds


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