Overthinking, endless internal dialogue, excessive imagination and worry… These are internal processes that sometimes plague our lives that we cannot seem to control. We begin to lose track of the present, forget where we are and who we are with. And time begins to slip past before we know it. This is when we lose the monitoring and control of our mental processes, and the primal part of prefrontal cortex takes over. Losing mental acuity is losing our being, and it is important that we learn how to seize back that awareness.
In psychology, we call this cognitive fusion, whereby the mind has the life of its own. What I usually train my clients in is the process of cognitive defusion, to create the awareness, consciousness, seat of the soul (etc…) that we somehow lose along the way.
Try this the next time you feel mentally swarmed:
1. Create the Awareness. Slow down, lean back and open up your mind. Ask yourself “what am I thinking right now?”, and explicitly reply start with this phrase “I have a thought right now that I am thinking…”. And go along with growing this awareness for a while, until that train of thought slows down.
2. Assess Value. What value has this thinking got for you? Sometimes it helps us to plan, organise, conceptualise and create. Other times, it has absolutely no value, such as daydreams and replaying the past that can’t be changed.
3. Assess Functionality. Is this thinking process working for you at this moment? How is it making you feel? How are you evaluating its effect on you? Some individuals get depressed and anxious as they obsess into such thinking process. Others get distracted from the present that has bigger value for them. At better times, it does reduce their stress and spark their creativity.
4. Assess Time. Is this the best time to do this? Many thinking processes are invaluable to our development, but when the timing is wrong, such processes cannot be fully thought out. Rather than having a split-mind approach, write it down and save it for the right time.
Once your awareness is created, if discovered that the value, functionality and time assessments are inadequate, it is time to take specific actions/behaviours by means of getting up physically and do something that is of value to you that will take up your absolute focus and concentration, to break that mental state. In this process, you will seize back control and gain back mental acuity. In a future post, I will talk about using neuro-linguistic programming for breaking states, which is faster and more lasting.
Note that these tips are for everyday general distractions. I will use a more layered approach for serious cases of ruminations and catastrophising thinking, especially when infused with strong emotions.
Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.