In a previous post we looked at some ways to practice letting go of thoughts, but it can often be difficult to let of thoughts because they have such a powerful pull, especially when the thoughts are related to a strong emotion. In my post, What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?, we learned why acceptance is so important in ACT. Cognitive defusion is a way of accepting our thoughts, allowing them to pass into and out of our minds, without getting stuck in our heads.
Steven Hayes, who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), coined the term “cognitive fusion” to describe times when we are so tightly stuck to our thoughts, we become “fused” to them. When we’re experiencing cognitive fusion, we can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality. We feel removed from the world outside of our thoughts, removed from our senses, from what we’re doing, and even from the people around us.
The opposite of “cognitive fusion” is “cognitive defusion.” Cognitive defusion involves taking a step back from what’s going on in our minds, and detaching a little from our thoughts. In this state of defusion, we can observe our thoughts and other internal processes without getting lost in them, stuck in them or fused with them. We can simply notice our thoughts, watch them, accept them and let them go if we choose to.
It’s easy to get swept away by our thoughts, especially in the face of strong emotions. We get stuck ruminating and dwelling about the past, filled with guilt or regret. Or our minds start racing and we can’t stop worrying about the future and imagining all the things that could go wrong. Or we replay conversations over and over again in our heads, trying to make sense of them or figure out what we could have said differently.
When our minds get going like this, not only is it exhausting; these patterns of thinking tend to make us feel bad, intensifying the emotions we’re already feeling and generating additional negative emotions as well. Because this experience is so unpleasant, it’s natural to want to these thoughts to stop, and to be able to prevent yourself from even having them in the first place. We often wind up trying to make these thoughts go away, and shut them out completely and make sure they don’t come back. But just like we can’t control our emotions or suppress our emotions, neither can we control or suppress our thoughts.
In a previous post we practiced Following Our Breathing By Counting Breaths. Now we’re going to learn how to follow our breathing by measuring our breaths.
Measuring Your Breaths: Each time you take a breath, silently measure the length by counting to yourself:
Out … two … three … (four)
Becoming mindful of our breath is one of the cornerstones of mindfulness, and a practice that benefits us in many ways. Learn more about Following Your Breath Mindfully, and before trying this practice, you may wish to ensure that you’re using Abdominal Breathing, where you’ll also find a link to my posts on following your breath mindfully.
In a previous post about our breath we looked at the difference between abdominal breathing and breathing from your chest, and how abdominal breathing can help alleviate stress and calm your body, mind and emotions.
It’s as simple as bringing your attention to your breathing for a few minutes, or even just a few breaths. This is easier said than done, however, as our minds tend to wander a lot at the best of times, and when we’re in distress, it’s even more difficult to stay focused on our breath.
In the next few posts we’re going to practice some exercises to help keep your mind focused on your breathing, starting with Following Your Breathing By Counting Your Breaths.
You can do this meditation either sitting cross-legged on a cushion the floor, or on a firm chair with a straight back and preferably no armrests. You want to be in a comfortable but alert posture, with your back straight but not stiff, you shoulders relaxed, on your hands resting in your lap or on your knees.
When you’re ready, start the video below to play the guided mindfulness of the breath meditation.