How many times have you found yourself repeating that unhelpful thought or thing that you do, when you REALLY don’t want to be doing it anymore? You know – those little devil thoughts like “I deserve another glass of wine”, or “I wonder what’s in the fridge?”, or “I’m such a stupid idiot”.
There is a very useful technique, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), called Thought Stopping which you can use to interrupt the process of negative thoughts or unhelpful behaviours. This is how it goes.
- Sit quietly, close your eyes and put yourself in the kind of situation where you might usually think the negative thought or act out the behaviour, e.g. pour yourself another glass of wine.
- Now go back in your mind to just before you have the thought or start the behaviour and notice what your thoughts are as you lead into it. For example, let’s take the glass of wine scenario. Maybe, as you think about it, you become aware that you feel your partner, or the kids, or your work colleagues don’t appreciate how hard you work. This leads to the next thought that you deserve another glass of wine (because you work so hard).
- Next blank your mind and start again, this time saying the thoughts out loud. Just as you get to the problem thought interrupt the process by clapping your hands and shouting the word “STOP!”. As you do this “see” in your mind a BIG RED STOP SIGN. Make it as vivid as you can, use flashing lights, sirens going off, etc. Immediately take your mind to a pleasant memory that is not related to the problem you are dealing with. Relax and let yourself enjoy the memory and the good feelings that go with it.
- Repeat these steps 3 – 5 times, relaxing and enjoying your pleasant memory between each repitition.
- Blank your mind once again and repeat the steps again, this time imagine hearing yourself clap, a loud voice shouting STOP and see the flashing lights. Enjoy the pleasant memory between each repition as before.
- Keep practising! Habitual thoughts and behaviours can be stopped but just as you learned the habit in the first place, you need to keep repeating it until it just happens.
Simple exercises like this can make a real difference if you spend a few minutes every day following the steps. So, go on have a go – see what a difference you can make!