Friday, January 14, 2011

The Most unorthodox (So far) Technique of the Week

Before you go further with today's post, re-read the January 7th Technique of the Week post. The WSJ article mentioned discussed a new addition to the cognitive therapy protocol.  Cognitive theory underlies all the techniques described in Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit, the book I've been working on for the past year — and will be still working on in 2011.

Perhaps the most unorthodox technique that I describe in the book is detachment. It differs from the other main categories, problem-solving and cognitive restructuring, both of which require increased focus on the negative thinking in order to eliminate it. In contrast, detachment implies inattention to the negative thinking as a way to eliminate it. If you are a meditator or have acquired yoga mind, you may already have detachment skills. Following is a how-to suggestion for one form of detachment. It comes from an early article I wrote about banishing the inner critic.

            "The detachment approach is based on a mental technique described by Walter Mischel, Ph.D. as “strategic allocation of attention." The ability to purposefully pay attention, or choose to not pay attention, correlates highly with success factors related to education and career. By purposefully not paying attention to negative thinking, you decrease its influence. The detachment process results in better coping; disconnection from the negative thoughts and feelings allows increased feelings of well-being and self-confidence. Detachment also owes credit to the Zen Buddhist concept of bare attention, explained so well in thoughts without a thinker, a wonderful book by Mark Epstein.
1. Notice the voice in your head, without judgment or reaction. If it’s negative self- talk, say to yourself, “Oh, the critic is talking,” rather than, “What a jerk. I’m doing it again. When am I going to stop dumping on myself all the time?” talk, go to the next step. 
2. Remind yourself, without judgment or reaction, that negative self-talk which doesn’t produce problem-solutions can be discarded with no loss or harm. 
3. Reallocate attention from the internal negative thinking to the external moment and action. If you are walking or talking, writing or reading, staring out the window, cooking or care taking, purposefully and mentally feel yourself shift attention and maintain it on that external activity, just as you might move a book from a bookcase to a table and leave it there. 
4. When the voice of the critic arises again, demanding attention, reallocate attention back to the moment. Let the critic voice fade from inattention, and diminish as before. 
5. Practice the process at every opportunity. Allocate attention from self-doubt and self-criticism to here and now and an external activity.
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