WholeYou episode #3 - dealing with difficult thoughts


We're now on episode 3 of WholeYou!

Thank you all for your comments and thoughts on our first two episodes. We really appreciate you taking the time to listen and connect with us on these topics so far. If you like the show, remember to subscribe on iTunes so you don't miss one!

In Episode 3, we’re talking about how to deal with difficult or 'unhelpful' thoughts. Just like emotional literacy, this is stuff that we usually are NOT taught in school or as a part of growing up , which is why it’s such an important topic for channels like this podcast.

What we cover in episode 3:

  • Why we don't label unhelpful thoughts as "negative"
  • How avoidance can make things worse - "What we resist persists."
  • Does “thought-stopping” work?
  • Why you can't just “affirm” your way out of painful experiences
  • Physical, mental, and spiritual tools to help you “defuse” from unhelpful thoughts
  • The power of curiosity and just observing your thoughts
  • Lauren's experience in a float tank

We’re interested in how you relate to this topic and what resonates with you from this episode — so if you take a listen, please leave a comment with your thoughts, questions, or as always, ideas for future episodes. You can also share your thoughts on social media with the hashtag #wholeyoushow!

So, go ahead and take a listen:

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Things we mention in this episode:

More from Valerie

More from Lauren

*Music credit for our mini theme song is Little Idea from Bensound.com. Thanks, Ben!

4 ways to jump-start a change in your life {stop an old habit or start a new one}

behavior-change-habit Making changes as a human is not easy. I often tell my clients it's like trying to swim against the current, because we truly are creatures of habit, and the more we do something one way, the deeper the neural pathway grooves are, and the more difficult it is to make lasting change. Our brains love autopilot, and stubbornly resist when we try to switch to manual control.

On the upside, we do know that it's certainly possible to end old habits and form new ones; and when a new behavior becomes a habit, the amount of required willpower and decision-making to do it decreases, and your new habit can become more a part of your autopilot setting. (But of course, continuing to be intentional about living your desired values and actions day-to-day is the best recipe for long-term success.)

In this post, I'll share 4 strategies that could apply to a variety of different behavior changes, offering you some tools that can help you jump-start a change you want to make in your life.

1 // Make an impact inventory. 

How is your current behavior -- the one you want to change -- really impacting your life? Often, we know that something is hurting us (or taking us further from our goals or the life we want), but we can be really good about keeping our heads in the sand about the details. Take a cue from the 12-step fellowships by making an inventory of all the ways that behavior is impacting every area of your life: physical health, emotional and mental health, financial, family, intimate relationships, career/education, spirituality, and legal/ethical. Don't just do this in your head -- write it down in as much detail as you can. I've seen over and over again how powerful and motivational this kind of inventory (part of step 1 of the 12 steps) can be for my clients.

2 // Get to the root of the function of your behavior, and how that function will be served when your behavior changes. 

This one is critical. I'll illustrate with an example from my own life: I sometimes go through periods where I waste a couple hours out of the week window-shopping online and aimlessly wandering into Target on my way home from work. I've gotten better than I used to be about actually buying stuff I don't need, but the temptation is huge, and I end up regretting the time spent that I could have used much more productively. When I notice this starting to happen, I have to take a step back and ask myself: what is going on with me? Usually, that behavior serves a couple of functions*: it allows me to procrastinate things I really need to do, and it allows me to live in a fantasy world where I look "totally put together" and everyone loves and accepts (and maybe even envies) me. So underneath that are two needs: to organize my tasks so I don't feel as overwhelmed by them, and to have meaningful connections with the people in my life who already love and accept me without all the fancy clothes or decor. Once I can identify those needs, I can take responsibility for meeting them instead of using shopping as a decoy/quick fix solution.

*The focus on function rather than "form" that a particular behavior may take is one of the reasons why Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one of my favorite therapy philosophies/models; the geeky scientific underpinnings are all about "functional contextualism."

3 // You need an accountability partner. 

I'm sure there are people out there who have made lasting change totally on their own, and kudos to them -- I bet they are the same ones whose morning breath smells like roses. I don't use the word "need" here lightly. Again, in the 12-step fellowship -- arguably the largest model for behavior change in the world -- one of the things that makes it so successful is the use of sponsorship. Having a sponsor as a key accountability partner is life-saving for a person newly in recovery, especially anytime they face a particularly stressful or triggering situation. Therapists, coaches, or friends who really "get" your goals and desired changes can also be great accountability partners. Having a group of cheerleaders online can be great, too, as I've discovered via a Facebook group for the online streaming barre workout service I use. I credit interaction with the group, which involves publicly committing to my goals, and a sense of accountability to other group members, as one of the major reasons I have worked out more consistently in the past few months than I have in years.

4 // Just START. 

Don't wait for the "perfect" time or to feel "ready" to make a behavior change. One of my work colleagues calls people who use this rationale "Monday people." ("I'm gonna quit smoking! I'm really gonna do it. I'll start the patch Monday." Does Monday ever come?) Ambivalence fuels more ambivalence-- but once you just get started, the power of inertia will work in your favor. You can get a rush of energy from feeling excited that you're moving in the right direction, and you can prove your mind wrong that you're incapable of doing anything different until all the stars and planets are aligned in your favor.

These are just a few ways to get you energized and motivated to make a change you've considered for a while, but needed an extra nudge to put into action.

What has helped you make lasting behavior change in the past? What mental traps get in your way? 

5 ways to take your thoughts less seriously {using acceptance and commitment therapy}

I still remember the mental prison that accompanied my eating disorder: the non-stop calorie counting, body checking, comparison, and constant planning on how to keep doing it all “right” while somehow staying afloat in the rest of my life. For me, this actually became my biggest motivation for getting help and working toward recovery. I wish that, when I was going through that process, I had known about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and its realistic approach for how to deal with difficult thoughts.

These days when I teach ACT concepts to my clients, they often express a sense of relief and curiosity as they realize, “So, you’re saying it’s normal that I can’t just stop or change my thoughts? But if I can’t… then what do I do with them?” ACT asserts that, not only do we have limited ability to control and avoid internal thoughts and feelings, but that when we try to, we often create much more suffering for ourselves. Thus, it confronts this “control agenda,” challenges us to ask ourselves which of these control strategies are actually “workable” and which aren’t (many — like ED behaviors —often take us further from a meaningful life), and offers alternate ways of dealing with those uncomfortable internal experiences as we acknowledge the truth that we can’t just “get rid of them” like we want.

In ACT, we’re less concerned with proving whether or not a thought is true and more concerned with looking at what happens when we become “fused” with it.Think of the common ED thought, “I’m so fat.” Even if that thought isn’t objectively true, simply being told that by someone else doesn’t really help. And if you are considered overweight by certain medical standards, you could say “see, it’s true! So I am totally justified in beating myself up all day.” Not so fast. Because what happens when you beat yourself up about that (when you get totally fused with that thought)? You feel discouraged, eat more, and then say, “see, exactly. I’m disgusting.” As one of my favorite cartoons says, “Hate is not a magic wand that shrinks thighs.”

So, again, we’re more concerned about whether the thought is workable than whether it’s true or false. Sometimes, being fused with thoughts is okay; for example, when you’re totally engrossed in your creative work, a movie that you’re watching, a game you’re playing with friends. But often, we find that the thoughts we fuse with are not workable — they’re getting in the way of living and negatively impact your choices.

But if we can’t just get rid of them like we’d want, then what?

To read the 5 techniques/tools that will help you take your thoughts less seriously, click through to read the full article at Recovery Warriors! 

You also might want to check out my brief video about defusing from unhelpful thoughts. 

video blog: defusing from life-sucking thoughts

Today I'm excited to post my very first video blog, focused on the concept "defusion" from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). When you're really hooked by thoughts that are not helping you move in the direction of the life you want (whether the thoughts are true or not), practicing various defusion techniques can be a way to unhook and get a little distance from the thoughts so you're not totally consumed by them. Ultimately, defusion helps you to be able to exist with the thoughts (good luck just trying to banish those thoughts entirely... you'll likely make yourself even more frustrated if that's your goal!) AND still choose the actions and behaviors that lead you in the direction of a functional and fulfilling life. If positive affirmations don't always work well for you, give defusion a try. Hope you enjoy this brief intro!

For more info and tons of great ideas for practicing defusion in your everyday life, check out The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.