Thought Diffusion - How to use it to your advantage

Updated: May 20, 2020

Thoughts and emotions can become overwhelming. Our brain is just doing its job, but sometimes, it doesn't know how to sort through the less-than-helpful flags that can sometimes steal our attention. This is when thoughts themselves can become over-controlling preventing us from seeing other options.

The 'sorting through part' is called 'cognitive (or thought) defusion/ diffusion'.

It's May - Mental Health Awareness Month, which can be triggering for some. The best way we can support those suffering from a mental illness or mental illness symptoms, is to offer digestible educational opportunities, so let's dive into the strategy of cognitive diffusion.

So how do we practice cognitive defusion?

According to the University of Sydney's Psychology Dept, you can practice cognitive defusion in a number of different ways. Try practising each of the techniques on the next page for 30 seconds each and see if your thought seems as powerful as it did when you began.

External voice: Instead of saying “I’m going to fail,” say, “I’m having the thought that I’m going to fail”, thereby creating some space between you and the thought.

Name the story (Name it to tame it):

If all these thoughts and feelings were put into a movie titled “the something something story”, what would you call it? For example, “the I’m going to fail story” or the “no one likes my story”.

Type it out (Or write it out):

Imagine your thought on a computer screen (or journal page), then play with it by changing the font, colour and formatting.

Pop-up mind:

Imagine that your unhelpful thought is like an internet pop-up ad. Practice closing the pop-up windows that do not serve you.

Passengers on the bus (Love this one):

Imagine yourself driving a bus. Treat difficult thoughts as rowdy/annoying passengers. See if you can keep driving, rather than stopping when they want or trying to kick them off. Can you stay focused on driving your bus safely to your destination?

Say it slowly (Or sing it):

Say the thought in slow motion, or sing it! What do you notice about the power of the thought now? Is it as painful or uncomfortable as it was before you practised this strategy?

Leaves on a stream:

When the thought pops up, imagine placing it on a leaf on top of a gentle stream and watching as it disappears.

Thanking your mind:

Next time an unhelpful thought pops into your head, try saying “thanks for that brain.” After all, your brain thinks it’s helping.

Carrying cards:

Write difficult thoughts on small cards and carry them with you. It helps show you that you can carry your history without losing your ability to control your life.

See the full brief here.