Stop Obsessing or Fixating With a Fast Cognitive Technique
Mindfulness techniques can be highly effective.
Posted December 8, 2016 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment (Baer, 2003). Subtracting the psychological jargon, mindfulness refers to clearing your head and focusing on how your mind and body feel in the moment.
While I don’t like the term "mindfulness" because it sounds like jargon and doesn’t sufficiently explain what it is, research has shown that mindfulness is nevertheless effective. Specifically, mindfulness techniques can be very effective in helping people cope with a wide range of issues and disorders. For example, mindful meditation groups have been associated with significant improvements in mood (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2011) and group mindfulness treatment was found to be as effective as individual cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients with depression and anxiety (Lund University, 2014).
How exactly can mindful techniques help you and your mood? In particular, how can a mindful technique get you out of a bad mood, help you resist an addiction trigger, or stave off an anxiety attack? In my clinical work with men and women, I have found that one technique works well in helping clients to stop fixating and start focusing on something else. By stopping the fixation, one’s mood can quickly improve. I use the technique I will review in a moment with addicts who feel overwhelmed by a craving; individuals on the verge of a panic attack; individuals who are ruminators or who have a bad temper; and individuals who tend to obsess or ruminate.
The first step when you get overwhelmed is to recognize that you are officially upset or fixating on something negative. Once you label the problem, use this technique which involves asking yourself a series of questions and then answering them. The technique is simple and quick, requiring only a minute or two of your time.
Wherever you are, ask yourself the following questions:
- If I had to guess, what is the exact temperature now (inside or outside, depending on where you are)?
- What is my body temperature like now? Do I feel a little cold, a little warm, or perfectly comfortable?
- If I don’t make any noise, can I identify every single sound that I hear?
- Outside, what is in the sky? Are there clouds? How would I describe what I see in the sky?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry am I?
- If I could choose to eat any dish right, what would I choose?
Very quickly, I’m sure, you got the idea. The value of this exercise is to distract your mind from any upsetting thoughts and feelings you are stuck in and to redirect your thinking to specific, tangible questions by using your senses. This technique works with kids and adults, and you can repeat the exercise later if you need it.
The exercise above is just one of the many behaviors that you can use to improve your mood when you feel anxious, angry, or upset. I've found that clients love this exercise because it is incredibly easy to do; it's not time-intensive; you don’t need paper, pens, or anything else to do it; and you can create your own distraction questions based on your personality. My 8-year-old daughter, for example, would be sure to include on her list: How many pink unicorns are flying across the sun? Remember that this technique can be adapted in any way that you want. By trial and error, you will find the precise technique that works for you so that you can feel better and stay focused throughout the day.
Baer R A. Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: a conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 2003; 10(2): 125-143.
Massachusetts General Hospital. (2011, January 21). Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 8, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110121144007.htm.
Lund University. (2014, November 27). Mindfulness treatment as effective as CBT for depression, anxiety. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 8, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141127112755.htm