How To Deal With Unhelpful Thoughts

Defusing From Thoughts With Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

My brain is a total meff, in fact, it usually talks utter rubbish.

Arguing with my brain is a complete waste of time.  It’s stubborn, always knows best, and stares back at me with an uncomprehending gawp if I disagree with it. If you have teenage kids, you’ll know the look I mean.

ACT Metaphor To The Rescue

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy there is a lovely metaphor about brains, The Over Enthusiastic Unhelpful Assistant.

Let me explain it to you.

I want you to imagine you have an assistant following you around all day,  I’ll illustrate by telling you about mine who I’ve named Daryl.

Daryl has buck teeth, wears a lab coat and is proud of his neatly arranged pens in his top pocket.  His glasses are bottle thick.

Daryl – God bless him

Daryl follows me around all day, every day.

Daryl’s job is to give me memos.  He scribbles these frantically onto the writing pad he has on the clipboard he always carries, then tears them off dramatically when he’s finished writing.

Daryl taps me on the shoulder whenever he likes and plonks the memo into my hands for me to read with a look of grave concern on his face.

“Ian, Ian,” he implores, “read this, it’s really important!”.

I look down and read “Hey Ian, you’re self employed, what happens if all your clients leave?  How you going to pay the mortgage?”

Thanks Daryl mate – you know I’m just on my way to a relaxing evening out right now don’t you? 

Defusing From Thoughts

It’s at this point I get two choices.

I can either get all caught up in the memo Daryl has sent me (in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy we call this fusing with the thought) or I can pop the note on the pile of memo’s that have come before this one (defusing from thoughts).

It’s Not His Fault

Daryl has one job – to keep me alive.  Being of an anxious disposition, and with rather poor judgement, he cannot discern whether a threat is real or imagined.

If he thinks it could be a problem, he just writes it down and passes it my way.  His job is done.

My job is to notice who has passed me the memo and 9 times out of 10, toss it onto the “whatevs” pile.

Because, and here’s the thing,  Daryl has sent me that memo about my business going belly up before.  He’s sent it hundreds of times.  Just like the weekly notes he’s sent me about my partner leaving me someone sexier (you’re right – they don’t exist), my kids becoming drug addicts (they won’t even take paracetamol) and the classic memo about me being killed in a high speed collision (in Manchester where the congestion keeps everyone at 5 mph). Daryl, relax old sausage!

Humans Are Naturally Pessimistic

We all have a Daryl because being anxious keeps us alive.  Those over optimistic, curious and happy-go-lucky cave people were the ones that got eaten and it removed their genes from the DNA pool.

This has left us all relatives of Anxious Amanda and Timid Tom. As Kelly Wilson, one of the co-founders of ACT said “It’s better to miss lunch than be lunch.”

Knowing the naturally cautious nature of your Over Enthusiastic Unhelpful Assistant, whenever they hand you a note you can decide what you will do with it.  You get to decide, not them.

They will mostly send you to be something that’s not useful to you, so you can shove it in the recycling with all the other useless memos.  

On very rare occasions you might have to take action. That’s OK because as an adult you can figure things out.

How To Decide If Your Memo Is Useful

At this point you may be unsure of how to tell the useful memos from the useless ones.  To do this with clarity your first step is to work out what’s important in your life.

If you go to this blog post here, I give you guidance on how to do this.

Once you’ve got that straight then you’ve got direction.  

When Daryl sends me a memo to tell me my business will fail I can step back, press pause, thank Daryl for doing his best to look after me and then continue to go to that relaxing evening.  

My values of connection and leisure are the direction I want to move towards, so having a melt down about something that will not happen just takes me away from my nice pint and pleasant chat with people I care about. 

Practise Makes Perfect

Defusion is something that you will have to practise.  Like all things, the more you do it the better you get at it.  The purpose of defusion is not to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings – that’s impossible, it’s allowing you to move toward what’s important in life. 

Read The Book

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World* by Mark Williams is a great book that explores how we get trapped by our minds. It gives guided meditations on the CD that accompanies the book, helping you learn to notice your mind and do what’s important.

Do The Course

If you’re up for a more in depth look at Acceptance and Commitment Therapy then my online course offers you an opportunity to get stuck in and work through the modality at your own pace. There’s videos, exercises (one about your Daryl is in there) and audio – all helping you move towards a richer, more fulfilling life.

Click here to be taken to the ACT Online course.

* Affiliate link. Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

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