Are you someone that struggles with anxiety, depression, procrastination, low self-
esteem, or some similarly nefarious mental health difficulty that impacts your well-being?
If so, keep reading to learn about a short exercise that may help you start feeling better
about things immediately.
Before we get to the exercise though, we need to first discuss some underlying
principles that drive the exercise. (If you want to skip straight to the bottom and just read the
exercise, feel free, just make sure that you come back and read this part so you can understand what the exercise is trying to accomplish.)
The exercise is from ACT Therapy, pioneered by Stephen Hayes, and recently the
subject of an excellent two part presentation from the CBTDBTCenter’s very own Dr. Sarah
During her presentation Dr. Green brought up the idea of cognitive defusion. In regular
people speak, cognitive defusion essentially means noticing that you're having a thought instead of identifying with the thought.
Too often people allow their thoughts of depression, anxiety, and low-self esteem to
become a part of who they are. We start thinking of ourselves as our mental health instead of
realizing that they are external difficulties that hinder us from living the life we want to live. We get so caught up in trying to find a way to feel better about ourselves, be happier, be more productive that mental well-being becomes the goal in and of itself.
Try thinking about it in terms of a marathon runner with an injured leg. The runner's goal
is to finish the marathon, the injury to his leg is simply an issue that is holding him back. So,
what does he do? He goes to physical therapy, he consults with doctors, makes sure to stretch and exercise properly and he does what he has to do to get his leg healthy and working. Why?
Not for simply the sake of having a healthy leg, it's so that he can run the marathon!
The same principle is true of our mental health. Any kind of issues with our mind and
mood can stop us from living the kind of life we want to live. It can be hard to stay active, build nourishing relationships, grow in our careers, or pursue whatever if our “psychological legs” aren’t working properly.
So, just like our injured runner, we do what we can to heal our “injuries”. This may mean
going to mental health counseling, learning better coping skills, taking up a mindfulness practice such as mediation, or yoga, or journaling. Why? Not simply so we can have healthier hearts and minds. It's so we can use our heart and mind to live our lives in the ways that we want to live them.
And that brings us to our exercise.
Grab a pen and paper, if you want to use your notes app on your phone that's fine too
but try not to let your phone distract you from the exercise.
Write down a sentence that describes a negative judgment that you have about yourself,
It could be that you are a procrastinator, a bad friend or spouse, a failure, a loser, not smart or talented, or anything negative that you feel about yourself.
-I am _________
Take a minute to really try and absorb what you just wrote. Read it and re-read it, a few
times to let it sink in. Then write the same sentence again, only this time add “I am having the thought..”, it should be like this.
-I am having the thought that I am _______
Again, take some time to absorb the feeling. Make sure to read it a little more slowly
then you might normally read and give yourself a minute to two to process the implications.
Then write a third sentence adding the phrase “I notice that I am having…
-I notice that I am having the thought that I am_______
Let it seep into you, then take a breath and see how you feel. Hopefully, you will be
feeling less defined by your thoughts about yourself and more aware that your negative
judgments are simply thoughts that you can choose to identify with, or ignore entirely!