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  • Sonya Deol

"Defusing" Your Mind

a happy woman dancing in the park

Our brain is a complex organ that creates endless thoughts throughout any given day. For most of us, these thoughts are filled with worry for the future, fear of the unknown, or difficult past experiences. This is completely normal because our minds are biologically designed to focus on negative information over positive information. Through research, this phenomenon is called the “negativity bias”.

Think of our ancestors – they would have had to focus on potential threats in order to ensure their survival. This meant their brains would be alert to negative information over positive information, something that continues to show up in modern day. For us in the present, this could mean experiencing higher levels of stress, constantly looking for problems to solve, and having trouble feeling joy.

We may no longer be faced with the same threats as our ancestors, but our brains are programmed to think so. By understanding the biology of our brains, we can learn to “reprogram” them.

So what does “defusing” your mind mean, then?

an illustration of a brain

What is “defusion”?

Defusion is a term used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help create distance between ourselves and our thoughts. It means separating from our thoughts and seeing them for what they are, letting them just be.

Research shows that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day and 80% of them are negative. These thoughts then lead to our feelings which govern our behaviour. We can’t control what thoughts will come up in our mind – they are based mostly on data collected from our past experiences. We don’t choose how to filter through these thoughts, and we can’t “stop” them.

Try this experiment with yourself: for the next minute, whatever you do don’t think about vanilla ice cream …the way it tastes on a summer’s day…the way it drips down the cone…Are you thinking about it? Yes!

ACT talks about a part of ourselves called the observing self – it’s the part of us that can notice or observe that we are having a thought or a feeling. Through defusion, our observing self can notice difficult thoughts or feelings from a distance instead of feeling like they are taking over.

a hand with a pen and notepad

How can defusion be helpful?

When we have a thought, we can quickly become “hooked” by it where our attention is taken away from the present moment and we spiral further into difficult thoughts. For example, we may feel judgment towards ourselves or others, we may start thinking about past painful memories, we may think of all the “shoulds” and “what ifs”.

Before we know it, we have become trapped by our thoughts and feelings. This is when we can practice “unhooking” or “defusing” from them. Defusion doesn’t get rid of difficult thoughts or feelings, it simply takes away power from them.

a woman lying down surrounded by different objects

Techniques for "defusing" your mind

There are several different ways to practice defusion and different techniques work for different people. I will share the defusion techniques I have learned through ACT that have helped me the most.

Naming the story

If all your difficult thoughts and feelings were made into a movie, what would that movie be titled? Ex. “the XYZ story”. Practice naming this story every time it comes up, be curious: “Oh yeah, there it is again, the XYZ story.”

Noticing from your noticing self

Take a deep breath and pause. Name the thought or feeling that is coming up, then notice it. You can use the following script with yourself:

“I am sad/angry/anxious, etc.” “I am feeling sad/angry/anxious, etc.”

“I am noticing that I’m feeling sad/angry/anxious, etc.”

Thanking your mind

Whenever a difficult thought or feeling comes up, remember that your mind is programmed to think this way and is ultimately trying to be helpful. Try thanking your mind for the thought: “Thank you mind for sharing this anxious thought, however, I don’t need it right now.”

Picturing thoughts on a movie screen

Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting in a movie theatre watching the blank screen in front of you. Slow down your thoughts and watch them go by on the screen from a distance.

Questioning how helpful the thought or feeling is

When you notice a difficult thought or feeling hook you, ask yourself whether it is helpful to you or not. Is it helpful in the kind of person you want to be? Is it helpful in getting you through this moment? Is it offering you helpful advice or guidance?

Just like anything, defusion takes a lot of time, effort, and consistent practice. Don’t get discouraged if you find it hard at first. Although the goal of defusion isn’t to reduce unpleasant thoughts or feelings, people often find relief from them when they practice. Our minds may frustrate us, but they can also be moulded to think and feel in new ways. Each time you practice defusion, you may be creating new neural pathways in your brain which will be beneficial to you in the long run.


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