Although it’s easier to feel mentally resilient when life seems simple, the true potential of your mental health shines through in the face of adversity. Most of us often feel that our thoughts are in the driver’s seat and we’re just along for the ride. And it’s not unnatural to feel this way. Thoughts can be positive and helpful, but they can also be the cause of sleepless nights and stress, making us believe things that aren’t true. Sometimes our thoughts are so powerful, we’re rendered helpless against them. However, thought is just the beginning. You can choose to change your thoughts. And when you do, you hold the power to change your emotions, behaviour, and your outlook.
There are several factors that can contribute to our mental health such as:
- Biological factors like brain chemistry or genes.
- Experiences in life, such as abuse or trauma.
- Family history of mental issues or problems.
Mental health activities and exercises are designed to help someone cope with these issues.
So, What Are Thought Exercises?
Thought exercises are designed to help you separate yourself from your thoughts. A few mind-altering thought exercises can go a long way in breaking out of conventional thought patterns. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), founded by psychologist Steven C. Hayes is a type of psychological intervention using mindfulness and an array of behaviour-changing strategies to increase intellectual flexibility. “Changing our relationship to our thoughts and emotions, rather than trying to change their content, is key to healing and realizing their true potential,” says Steven C. Hayes, who is also a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
ACT explores the idea that our suffering isn’t correlated to our painful experiences. Often, we suffer because we struggle to face uncomfortable feelings and thoughts related to these experiences. This happens because we’re conditioned to notice the world through our thoughts and feelings, but we miss the fact that we are the ones in control of these thoughts. The flip side of this fusion is a made-up word called “defusion”, which explains the act of disentangling from our thoughts and noticing the act of thinking instead. Fortunately, there are several mental health exercises that can help you learn the act of defusion with ease.
3 Thought Exercises To Boost Mental Strength
The very first step in making this pivot is to become more aware of how our thought processes work. One way to do this is to give your mind free rein to think for a few minutes and then write down all the thoughts that come up. It’s easy to recognize that our thoughts are extremely circuitous, they go to-and-fro quite a bit. To help break from this pattern and give your thoughts direction, see the exercises below.
1. Thought direction
- Take a minute to point your thoughts in a particular direction, it could be anything. Let your thoughts run their course.
- Then, write down everything you notice.
- Repeat this exercise two more times, letting your thoughts run for one minute each.
- During the second time, imagine that your job is to figure out whether each thought is true or not.
- In the third time, become a conscious spectator of these thoughts, adopting a posture of curiosity and amusement. Refrain from judging, only notice.
2. Cognitive defusion exercise
- Think of a negative thought that evokes painful emotions
- Say the thought out loud several times
- To defuse the thought, start the phrase with, “I’m having the thought…”
- Further defuse it by then saying, “I notice I’m having the thought that…”
- Finally, take a moment to consider how different it felt to say these three phrases.
3. Thank your mind for the story
Our mind tells us a lot of stories about how we’re not good enough. It might say, “You’re a total failure” or “People don’t like you”.
- Whenever this happens, give this familiar story a name and thank your mind for narrating it.
- Then, focus on the task at hand while the story plays in the background.
- This will allow you to distance yourself without giving any power to the story.
This soothing, meditative music will help you accept your thoughts without judgment.
These thought exercises will help you see your thoughts clearly and objectively, without getting too invested in them. We need to recognize that our thoughts aren’t the ultimate truth. When we start to question their validity, we break away from distorted thinking and save ourselves from unnecessary pain. We become disentangled from them and see them as what they truly are: passing thoughts.