Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.
Our minds are busy. Overloaded in fact. Although no one can really put their finger on the number, research suggests we have 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Per day! That’s a lot of traffic for our brains to deal with. And of these thousands of thoughts, up to 80% are said to be negative and 95% are repetitive or recurring. No wonder we’re exhausted by nightfall.
Thoughts are thoughts, not facts
We do have a choice in how we deal with these thoughts however, and our minds are quite clever at finding ways to ease this congestion. As adults we know (although we often forget) that we are not our thoughts. After all, thoughts are just that. Thoughts! We know that the ‘busy’-ness in our heads is generally not fact but judgement, baseless worry or inane internal chatter. Yet some of us, adults and children alike, start to believe that chatter.
This strong belief in the literal content of our mind is known as cognitive fusion. It has its moments. Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and lost yourself in the story? Your emotions may have become attached to the series of events you’re reading about or viewing, even though they’re not real. This process of allowing your mind to fixate has helped you to really enjoy the experience. It can also help with decision-making and problem solving. But there’s a downside. Your mind can get stuck on autopilot. You start to take everything your mind is thinking seriously and literally, and you become ‘fused’ or attached to your thoughts and beliefs. Anxiety sets in and behaviours change.
For children this cognitive fusion can be confusing and scary. They often think their thoughts and worries are real. But it’s important for children and adults to understand that their thoughts are normal. We may have more negative thoughts than positive ones. And we may have some neutral and rather mundane ones. What’s key is how we deal with these thoughts or de-fuse them.
Much like some forms of meditation, cognitive ‘de-fusion’ is when we give our thoughts a wave or a nod but we don’t hang around for a chat! We are letting them come and go rather than holding on to them.
One powerful metaphor for cognitive de-fusion is the sushi train idea. Picture yourself out for dinner at a sushi train restaurant watching various dishes float past you. Standing in the middle is the chef who’s created all these dishes. The chef is like your mind. And the dishes are your thoughts, memories, and ideas running around your brain all day. Some of those dishes look utterly delicious. Some look utterly unappetising…and some you’re not bothered about either way. Your thoughts are much the same. Some are pleasant and give you joy, some are so unpleasant you want them gone. And some are neither positive nor negative.
Your mind is like a sushi chef
Your mind or the sushi chef continues to create dishes all day long and all day long these dishes or thoughts continue to come and go. But just because the dishes are there we don’t have to eat them. We can stand back from the sushi train. We can watch a pleasant dish go past without grabbing it greedily or we can watch an unpleasant dish go past without recoiling in horror. And we can do the same with our thoughts. We can step back and watch them pass by. We don’t have to dwell on them. And we certainly don’t have to believe them. They are just thoughts after all.
So as crowded as our minds might become we do have the mental agility to deal with our thoughts and any associated anxiety. If you need a little help, check out some breathing and mindfulness activities for you and your child (designed by experts) within the Parenting Toolbox – Beat Fears & Anxiety app –
see resources from module 7 and 8 for free:
And remember, don’t believe everything you think. The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it! *
Words by Sam Yetzes
*Echard Tolle – Writer and Public Speaker
If you’d like to learn more about cognitive de-fusion techniques, you can find out a dedicated module in the Parenting Toolbox – Beat Fears & Anxiety app.