The Antidote turned to The Pool for useful tips from Viv Groskop on how to stop your mind winding you up and wasting your time with negative thoughts…
I don’t always feel grateful to my mind. In fact, I often feel actively annoyed with it. For most of my life, I’ve enjoyed an uneasy relationship with depression, anxiety and stress. Nothing serious. No drugs. No drama. Although I did once have a panic attack involving screaming and crying and hyperventilating when I saw a mouse in the bathroom. (Yes. I know. The bathroom. I am shuddering a bit now thinking about it.) But enough to mean I’ve been in therapy for a few stints for a few years at a time, and I am generally vigilant about my mental state. I think of my mind as being something that has given me stress, hassle and many annoying thoughts. I have never really wanted to thank it for anything. If anything, I would like it to just shut up and go away.
Until now. A few months ago, a friend told me about a new technique called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and it really has changed my state of mind. The main part of this technique is called “Thank You, Mind.” It’s about noticing negative thoughts and ideas that pop up for you. Every time you notice one, you accept it and say to yourself, “Thank you, mind.”
It’s just you thanking your mind for having your back and coming up with these things. But it’s acknowledging that you don’t have to listen to your mind if it’s not telling you something helpful. You don’t try to shut your mind up, no matter how stupid its suggestions are. You just thank it. And, yes, I do realise this idea is very American and a bit out there. But stay with me here, people. I know it sounds like I’m going to ask you to come and get naked in my wellness cabin in the woods. (Come on in; just leave your sandals at the entrance!) But what matters is that it works.
It goes something like this. You think to yourself: “Don’t have that biscuit. Look at how fat you are. Don’t have the biscuit, fatty!” (I’m reporting this thought for a friend.) Stress and anxiety begin to form. Then you force yourself to think: “Thank you, mind.” You then decide for yourself, without berating yourself about being fat, as to whether you actually want the biscuit or not. It’s basically a way of detaching from endless self-judgement. And idiocy. I am not actually fat at the moment, as I just lost a load of weight. I mean, my friend has just lost a load of weight.
This technique was developed by Russ Harris, psychotherapist and author of The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living. You can use it for anything. Any thought you have that makes you feel stressed or annoyed, just follow it with a cheerful, “Thank you, mind.” It is a bit loony, but also instantly calming. It’s a way of relaxing yourself with a sort of combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and mindfulness. Oh dear, I appear to be recommending mindfulness. Maybe I am going to have to start building the cabin in the woods after all. Thanks a lot, mind.