Conversation 2: Action & Experience versus Thought & Emotion

Notice your Thoughts

Listen to this section as audio, or read below.

Notice your Thoughts – a recording of Julian McNally (2:32 min)

(“Notice your Thoughts” by RMIT Counselling and Psychological Services, Six ACT* Conversations, RMIT University is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The fourth exercise is simply called Notice Your Thoughts.

Exercise 4: Notice Your Thoughts

Take a moment to identify a thought that you’re having right now.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]

If you can, put that thought into words like a phrase or sentence.

Now add the following phrase before that phrase, “I’m having the thought that…”. If you were thinking, “when I finish this, I have to call Mum“, then just say to yourself, “I’m having the thought that when I finish this, I have to call Mum“.

Now, try it again on your own with the next thought that you have.

[PAUSE – 15 seconds]

You can also do this with feelings, visual images and memories. Try identifying a feeling that you’re having now or one that you’ve felt strongly in the past day or two.

[PAUSE – 10 seconds]

Now say to yourself, “I’m having the feeling of …” – then name that feeling.

Notice whether you find that first time around you feel the feeling more strongly then when you simply name the feeling.

One way of enhancing this ‘distancing’ effect with this exercise is to become aware of the fact that it’s you that is having the thought, feeling, memory or image. You can do this by preceding the labelling phrase “I’m having the feeling/thought…” with the additional phrase “I notice that…”. So it will sound like this: “I notice that I’m having the feeling of irritation“, or “I notice that I’m having the thought that I should clean up the kitchen now“.

Try that a few times with different thoughts and feelings.

As you continue to practise these defusion techniques, you may find that you can start to experience thoughts as ‘just thoughts‘ and feelings as ‘just feelings‘. Remember though, that we’re not aiming to stop the thoughts or feelings from happening – or to get rid of them.


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