Refocusing away from negative thoughts
In this article we are focusing on the third step in the 4-step method I am showing you. Along with the fourth ‘step’ – mindfulness practice.
The four steps are:
- Change Position
- Change Attitude
- Change Focus
- Practice Mindfulness
The third step is change focus. Meaning that, as soon as you have separated away from the thought and dismissed it, you refocus your attention on something productive.
Changing your relationship to negative thoughts
Once you have changed your relationship to thoughts, and changed your attitude to a specific negative thought, you are in position to gracefully pivot away from the thought you are working on, refocusing your attention on something worthwhile.
For some people this step can be difficult to achieve at first, simply because they have spent so long listening to negative thoughts they have been conditioned to take them seriously and, as a result, they become entangled with them.
This programming can be broken up though, and sometimes that can happen surprisingly quickly. However, for most people, breaking the pattern takes time and practice. Bear this in mind when using any of the ideas and techniques described in this series: daily practice is essential. Don’t wait for anxiety attacks to happen to you before working with the four steps; practice on minor worries and obsessions three or four times a day, then build up to bigger ones.
How to refocus away from negative thoughts
Your ability to refocus away from negative thought depends to a large extent on your success with the first two steps. If you have separated away from the thought and dismissed it for good, this third step should be simple to do. If it is not simple, you may have to revisit the earlier steps.
A further key to successful refocusing is that you must select an activity which fully absorbs the conscious mind in a way that is more compelling than listening to the worry, obsession, guilt-trip etc. You don’t in fact need a technique to do this, useful as those can be. All you need are your ordinary daily activities.
Here are the most popular:
- Aerobic exercise
- Music (preferably loud!)
- Social contact (includes texts/emails)
- Tai Chi
- Entertaining DVDs
- Creative tasks
- Satisfying chores
- Games (of any kind)
- Engaging with anyone or anything that makes you laugh
- Grounding techniques. See this article here for suggestions.
Remember that speed is vital. Do not dally with the thoughts but ignore them and throw yourself into activity. As a general rule, activities that keep you grounded in the body work best, particularly (hard) exercise, dance and creative work.
Mindfulness is key to overcoming negative thoughts
The final ‘step’ in this four-step process is not really a step at all. It is the ground for the other three steps. When you learn to practice mindfulness you are – by that very fact – changing your relationship to thought. For meditation is the art of separating from thought. Looking at thoughts, rather than through them. As you do that it becomes easier to separate from, dismiss and focus away from the specific negative thoughts you identify.
If you are experienced in mindfulness or meditation then that is also a way to refocus. If you are new to meditation, or if you are dealing with particularly loud worries and obsessions, then you can use an auditory tape, like this one: