Cognitive Defusion: 3 tips to deal with negative thoughts

What is Cognitive Defusion?

To understand cognitive defusion, it can be helpful to talk about it’s opposite… cognitive fusion. Cognitive fusion occurs when we become fused with our thoughts. We sometimes refer to this as being hooked by our thoughts. We can tell we have been hooked by a thought when we start replaying the thought in our mind, become emotionally impacted by the thought, or become so distracted by the thought we find it difficult to be present. Cognitive defusion is a technique used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which may help us to unhook or de-fuse from our thoughts.

Mind full of Thoughts or mindful of thoughts

Cognitive defusion is a mindfulness-based technique. As such, the goal with cognitive defusion is not to get rid of negative thoughts. Rather, with practice it may help us to experience a sense of space or distance from our thoughts. The mindful approach takes the view that the thoughts themselves are not the problem. Instead, it is how much we buy into or believe the thought that can create problems for us. When we truly believe a thought, we are said to be hooked by the thought. Once we are hooked, our emotions and behaviour tend to be influenced by the thought.

An analogy may be helpful to understand this concept. Our brains create thousands of thoughts each day. Some thoughts will be positive, some neutral, and others negative. Our thoughts are like a radio station that can’t be turned off. The radio station is always broadcasting. When the volume on the radio is really high, it can be very distracting. This may make it difficult for us to focus on the things which matter to us. This is often what happens with our thoughts. We become so distracted by them that it’s hard for us to engage with anything else. Cognitive defusion enables us to turn the volume down on the radio. When the volume is lower, we’re more able to remain present and act in a way that is consistent with our values.

how to do cognitive defusion

Below are three techniques which may be helpful when attempting to unhook or de-fuse from negative thoughts:

1. Observing thoughts

When we find ourselves becoming hooked or fused with our thoughts, it may be helpful to practice observing our thoughts. To do this, we can try adding “I’m having the thought…” or “I notice I’m having the thought…” to the start of each thought we have. We can practice saying this out loud or adding it internally to the start of each thought. Using the thought “I’m a failure” as an example. We might say “I’m having the thought that I’m a failure” or we might think “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m a failure”.

2. Notice and name the story

Using the radio station analogy again, it may be helpful to give the radio station a name. We might name this radio station something like “The Negative News Nightly”. Once we have come up with a name for the radio station, we practice noticing when we are tuned into or hooked by this station. As soon as we notice that we are tuned in we may say to ourselves, “Ah, I’ve tuned into the Negative News Nightly again”. As much as possible, we want to cultivate a sense of non-judgmental awareness when noticing we have tuned into the radio station. Be as creative as you like with the name for your radio station.

3. Write thoughts down

Writing our thoughts down can be a helpful way to experience some separation or distance from our thoughts. Many of us have probably tried journaling in the past. Journaling is simply writing down our thoughts; it can help us to experience and interact with our thoughts differently. When writing thoughts down, we may notice that we become hooked by a specific thought or thoughts more often than others. If so, it may be helpful to try using different fonts or colours when writing down the thought. For example:

I’m a failure

I’m a failure

I’m a failure

Cognitive Defusion practice

It may be helpful to practice some of these techniques to test out which are most helpful. It is important to remember that our aim with these techniques is not to get rid of our thoughts, or even to experience more positive thoughts. The goal is simply to experience some separation or distance from our thoughts. This sense of separation may help to reduce the emotional impact of our thoughts, and enable us to act in a way that is consistent with our values.

If you would like support to implement these techniques or to learn other mindfulness-based techniques, contact Uplift Psychology to find out how we may help.

join our newsletter

Newsletter Signup

Similar Posts