Ignore / Move on tool

In the previous section, you learnt about a few psychological tools that you can use to deal with unhelpful thinking and I will share more such tools with you later. When using tools such as the reality check tool, often one will find that when using the tool, the unhelpful thought just fades away, almost as if that thought realises on its own that it is no longer valid.

However, sometimes one may find that an unhelpful thought may still “hang around” in one’s mind even after a tool has been used to “neutralise” it. If this were to happen, it is crucial that one does not “push” the unhelpful thought away. As I explained to you when describing the pause tool, trying to stop or push away a thought can actually have the opposite effect, where the thought comes back even more. A much better option is to let the thought hang around as much as it likes, but crucially, since one knows that the thought is not valid, one can just ignore it. “Ignoring” means that even though the thought is present, one does not react to it. One does not react to the thought because one knows that the unhelpful thought does not necessarily represent reality. Ultimately a thought that one ignores will disappear, just like if one ignores a friend, that friend will soon get bored and will leave!

A very effective way to help ignore a thought is to add another step, which I call “Move on”. Essentially, after one decides to ignore a thought, one moves one’s mind’s attention onto something else. Let me explain using the example we used in the previous sections, where Susan’s daughter was 15 minutes late returning home from school and Susan was having the unhelpful thought, “She must have had a terrible road traffic accident”. 

In this situation, Susan first uses the “pause tool” where she uses her internal voice and says “pause” to herself. She then applies the reality check tool to the paused thought, and asks herself, “What actual evidence do I have that supports my thought that my daughter has had a terrible road traffic accident?”. As Susan looks for evidence, she realises that she actually does not have any evidence that her daughter has met with a road traffic accident. Since she still has the unhelpful thought lingering in the background of her mind, she decides to use the “ignore & move on” tool. Using her internal voice, she says to the thought, “I will ignore you and move on”. While Susan knows that the unhelpful thought is still lingering in her mind, she doesn’t react to it and just lets it be. She then moves her attention to a different thought, which on this occasion happens to be thinking of what she will be cooking for dinner. Eventually, Susan’s unhelpful thought fades away, avoiding her having unnecessary distress. 

As I tell you about these tools, you may think they are complex. In reality, they are very easy to do in practice. The tools may appear to be “lengthy”, but that is only because I am breaking them down into individual steps. While it may take you a while to read and understand the tools, actually using the tools will take you much less time. And of course, like everything, with a bit of practice, it will only get quicker. Eventually, you will find yourself using these tools almost automatically.

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