If you’ve been following these blogs, you will know that I read a book recently called The Happiness Trap. The book is all about something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which focuses on mindfulness and values.
There are three basic tenants to this therapy. They are defusion, expansion, and connection. This blog is going to focus on the expansion part of the book.
The Happiness Trap defines the expansion portion of therapy as making room for unpleasant thoughts and feelings and letting them flow through you. This refocus on unpleasant thoughts helps to accept that negative feelings and thoughts are parts of the human experience. As I have talked about before, our natural state of being is not to be happy. We like to think that is what we want, but the truth is that we should focus on having a meaningful life.
Negative thoughts and feelings are a part of life, no matter how happy you are as a person. Often, we feel overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings and thoughts. The book preaches on making room for them, rather than trying to avoid or focus on them.
The analogy they use is turning it into what’s on the radio. Let the thoughts in and continue on with what you are doing. Picture yourself doing the dishes with the radio on. You can hear the radio playing, but you’re not really paying attention to the music. You are paying attention to what’s in front of you, making sure you get all the dishes clean and rinsed. Turn your thoughts into this background noise.
To do this, review the defusion techniques that I talked about in a previous blog. The book also suggests thanking your mind for the negative thought. For example, thinking “I am completely useless,” and then following it up with “Thanks Mind. I appreciate your input,” and moving on to the task at hand.
Being able to do this lets us feel or think those thoughts, but not dwell on them. Much like defusion, this takes a lot of practice. The more you practice the easier you will find it.