Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental Breaks

Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental Breaks

Steven Hayes is a clinical psychologist and creator of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

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ACT is one of the leading so-called 3rd wave therapies – a new generation of therapies that are built on cognitive-behavioral foundations. ACT in my opinion this is the one of the most effective and scientifically backed type of therapies out there.

Bad thoughts that sticks

When Steven Hayes was a young boy he played by burning tarantula’s butt in order to see „how quickly it can go”. He remember the scared and disgusted face his mom had when one day he caught him. “You are mean” is the thought that stuck to him for decades. Many people experience thoughts like: "You are not lovable", "Life is not livable", "You are bad". Thoughts like this can stick this way for a long time and drive our behavior. And no matter how smart you are you are not gonna think your way out of this associations. Our brain doesn't have an option to unlearn something. What ever comes in stays in with different level of access. (If you forget it it is still there and you will be able to learn faster the second time you stumble upon it). So if there is no unlearning we need techniques to be able to build distance to unfunctional thoughts.

Techniques

Following techniques create a distance between thoughts and your brain. Some of them might feel silly but they actually work and are backed by studies.

  • name your brain. Hayes names his brain „George” in order to build sufficient distance to thoughts that the brain produces.
  • Techniques for treating thoughts
    • sing the thought in a silly tune of “happy birthday” or say it in a silly a voice from a silly cartoon
    • say it out loud as fast as you can for one minute
    • imagine yourself as a really young boy saying the painful thought (compassion kicks in)
    • publicize it, put in on your t-shirt, or a screensaver “I am mean”
  • mindful awareness of thoughts – watch your thoughts come and go with a sense of distance and dispassionate curiosity