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How To Reduce The Impact of Negative Thoughts And Emotions

This is really important work that I often use with clients who come to me complaining of a feeling of being overwhelmed, who have trouble focussing or who are a slave to negative thought patterns or feelings of low self worth. Also known as cognitive defusion, this is a basic overview of how to begin work in this area. Contact me if this issue resonates with you.




How to Practice Mindful Decentring: A Step-by-Step Guide

Mindful decentring is a powerful technique that helps you step back from your thoughts and emotions, viewing them as transient events rather than fixed realities. This method can significantly reduce anxiety and improve emotional regulation. Here's how you can practice mindful decentring:


1. Awareness and Observation

Start by bringing your awareness to your current thoughts and feelings. Instead of trying to change them, simply observe them. Use mindfulness practices such as focused breathing or body scanning to anchor yourself in the present moment.


2. Labelling Thoughts and Emotions

As thoughts and emotions arise, label them objectively. For example, say to yourself, "I am having a thought about failing," or "I am feeling anxious." This labeling helps create a sense of distance between you and your mental events.


3. Viewing Thoughts as Transient

Imagine your thoughts and feelings as passing events, like clouds moving across the sky or leaves floating down a stream. Recognize that these mental events are temporary and do not define you.


4. Non-Judgmental Acceptance

Accept your thoughts and emotions without judgment. Avoid labeling them as good or bad. Embrace a compassionate attitude towards yourself, acknowledging that it is natural to experience a range of thoughts and feelings.


5. Using Metaphors

Employ metaphors like the "waterfall" metaphor, where thoughts and sensations are viewed as transient events in a waterfall. This reinforces the idea that mental events are temporary and separate from your core self.


6. Refocusing Attention

Gently bring your focus back to the present moment whenever you notice that your mind has wandered. Use your breath, physical sensations, or the environment around you as anchors to the present.




Practical Example:

Imagine you are feeling anxious about an upcoming presentation. Here’s how you might practice mindful decentering:

  1. Awareness and Observation: Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths. Notice the anxious thoughts arising about the presentation.

  2. Labeling Thoughts and Emotions: Silently say to yourself, "I am having a thought about being unprepared," or "I am feeling nervous."

  3. Viewing Thoughts as Transient: Visualize these thoughts as clouds passing by in the sky, understanding that they will eventually dissipate.

  4. Non-Judgmental Acceptance: Accept these thoughts and feelings without trying to push them away. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel this way.

  5. Using Metaphors: Picture the thoughts as water flowing down a waterfall, continuously moving and changing, not staying fixed.

  6. Refocusing Attention: Focus back on your breathing or the sensation of your feet on the ground, bringing your awareness back to the present.


Benefits

Mindful decentering can help reduce the intensity of anxiety and other negative emotions, improve emotional regulation, and enhance overall mental well-being. By practicing this technique regularly, you can develop a more detached and balanced perspective on your thoughts and emotions.



References

  • Bos, D. P. A., Keesman, M., Roggeveen, A., Vase, L., Evers, A. W. M., & Peerdeman, K. J. (2024). Mindfulness effects on anxiety: Disentangling the role of decentering and treatment expectations. Behavior Therapy. Link to study

  • Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183

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