This week’s ThoughtBuster–a short illustrated exercise used to kick a negative thought to the curb–is inspired by the work of Brené Brown.
Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent her career studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. In her eye-opening TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, Brené discusses a common tendency to try to numb negative emotions when they arise. What her research reveals is that we can’t selectively numb emotions; if we try to cut out the “bad stuff” such as pain, grief, fear, we also cut out the good such as joy, gratitude, and happiness.
What’s the alternative? Brené suggests leaning into our discomfort. Yikes! Sounds a little scary. To illustrate a few ways to lean in, we have a ThoughtBuster below. Watch how Mr. Diddlydoo leans into his yucky thoughts and feelings.
Mr. Diddlydoo has been thinking about how his cat, George, hasn’t really been happy to see him when he gets home after work. George just goes and hides under the bed and doesn’t want to hang out or eat dinner with Mr. Diddlydoo. This makes Mr. Diddlydoo feel sad, so sad. He doesn’t want to deal with the yuckies–he has a bright idea…
Mr. Diddlydoo runs away! Lots of us run when we feel the yuckies. While we might not bust out in a sprint like Mr. Diddlydoo, we may avoid the thoughts and feelings by distracting ourselves (e.g., grabbing a pint of ice cream and watching a good movie)! There’s nothing wrong with this as temporary relief, but in most cases, the yucky thoughts come right back.
Mr. Diddlydoo learned quickly that his yucky thoughts and feelings were still there, so instead of running again, he decides to lean into his discomfort.
Mr. Diddlydoo leans into his discomfort in these ways:
- He closes his eyes and takes a mental tour of his body to see where he can feel his sadness. It’s in his chest; he breathes deeply into his chest.
- He remembers that feelings aren’t permanent. While his sadness is here now, at some point it will vanish just like the rain. Thoughts and feelings come and go–it’s okay to deal with them as they come.
- He remembers that thoughts and feelings can communicate things to us. His sadness is telling him something. Mr. Diddlydoo asks himself what the message is from his sadness. Mr. Diddlydoo feels sad because he wants George to be his usual playful self. Maybe George needs a playmate to have fun with during the day. He’s going to talk to George about it. Sadness is helping Mr. Diddlydoo make changes and try something new.
- He looks up at his cloud of yucky thoughts and just watches the thoughts pour down as if he is observing rain. He remembers, he is not his thoughts, he can just observe them.
Mr. Diddlydoo’s yucky thoughts and feelings are gone for now. And if they come back, that’s OK. By the way, Mr. Diddlydoo is mighty handsome, wouldn’t you agree?