For years and years, I have taken my mind far too seriously. I willingly listened to it, was convinced it only had good and rational advice and that it was the only one who could protect me from failure and disasters. I considered her as my best friend, someone who was handling my best interests. We were one.
Of course, as best friends do from time to time, there were moments we disagreed and vigorously argued. But hey, it was always to achieve the better and naturally in my best interest.
There were times I was disappointed I was advised not to take a risk, or warned how I should not engage in a project because I would not have the necessary competencies. And it can be tiring to listen to stories warning me how I would get lost, or how other people would cheat or annoy me, even before they had done something. And somehow I knew that my mind was playing safe, being secure, and in a bit of a hidden way holding me back from the way I actually wanted to explore things. But there was always a good and very convincing reason not to do a thing. And really, there was not so much to complain about, I had a great life, doing a lot of the things that were important to me. So, I didn’t have much of a problem with this, till recently.
Even though I still hear my mind chatting away, and hear her advice, the practice of mindfulness and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy or Acceptance CommitmentTraining) have helped me to develop a more healthy relationship with my mind. It has helped me take some distance from her by learning to recognise the stories, her way of doing things, and by giving her a name, Roosje. I feel that I now have more room to explore my own way even while Roosje is warning me of the dangers to come. And even more importantly, it helps me develop better relationships with others, with Jim, my family and friends and colleagues. And I feel less of an urge to be perfect before I do something.
I realise she is part of me, and sometimes has very valuable advice, but also that there is a different part, that has for too long been ignored, that doesn’t want to live solely under the sole dominance of sweet and obedient Roosje.
Interested in finding out whether this also might work for you? See here under a short description of the two exercises “Give your mind a name” and “naming the story”, and links to a few more exercises that can help you to defuse from your mind.
Exercise 1: Give your mind a name
Sources (amongst others): Gijs Jansen & Tim Batink (2014). Time to ACT: Het basisboek voor professionals. Thema.
The human mind is almost constantly emitting a chat that judges and evaluates everything. Even if your mind says you cannot do or handle certain things, you have the choice to do these things anyway. Knowing how to distance yourself from the content of your mind helps you to avoid getting caught up in that chatter so that you can freely choose which voice to pay attention to and which not.
One way to do this is to give your mind a nickname. It may be a personal name of someone you like but isn’t a great friend, or the name of a character from a series or film. Or you can give it a descriptive name, such as The Conservative Mind. Whatever you prefer.
Then, when a thought arises in your mind, you can say, “The Conservative Mind is telling me I cannot do this right.” As you can see, just adding those words sounds very different from: “I cannot do this right.”
Then you can decide whether you believe the thought or not, whether you want to take the thought seriously or not. The question is whether you’re willing to do what you think is important while your mind is telling you that you cannot do it or handle it.
Exercise 2: Naming the story
Source: Harris, Russ, (2009). ACT with Love: Stop Struggling, Reconcile Differences, and Strengthen Your Relationship with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
If you took any unhelpful thought, feeling, and memory connected to, for example, your relationship issues, and put them all into a book or a movie, what title would you give it? You can be as creative or literal as you like.
For the next few weeks, as soon as you recognise any feeling, thought, or memory connected with this story, simply name it: ‘Aha. Here’s the life sucks story again’.
Of course, sometimes you will get hooked into the story before you realise it. No problem. The moment you realise what has happened, just name it. Aha, just got hooked by the ‘nag story’ again.
Aim to do this with a sense of humour and playfulness; lighten up instead of being too serious about it. Over time, it should help you to hold the story more loosely and let it go more easily.
In English on the website of Russ Harris:
- Information: http://www.actmindfully.com.au/acceptance_&_commitment_therapy
- Free resources: http://www.actmindfully.com.au/free_resources
In Dutch on the website of Gijs and Tim Batink:
- Information: http://www.timetoact.nl/act
- Free resources: http://www.timetoact.nl/downloads/aanvullend-materiaal