a little while ago I listened to a Brian Johnson podcast on a book by Dr Russ Harris, called ‘The Confidence Gap’. you can watch Brian’s summary here. it interested me enough for me to buy the book, and I’m really glad I did.

the book title almost put me off, as if you asked me I wouldn’t necessarily consider that I have much of a problem with confidence as it is often perceived in our world. things like public speaking, talking to strangers, or complaining about shoddy service, for example, are not things that particularly bother me.

what I do have a problem with, though, are some deep-seated and recurring negative thought patterns in two particular areas – about my relationships in my extended family, and my ability to perform at my job. in those areas I am very vulnerable to repeated, ongoing ruminations which do me no service at all. this book has been really helpful in giving me actual tools to tackle those stubborn negative thought patterns, and so I thought I might review it here.

the book has a LOT of good stuff in it, more than is practical to cover in a blog post. here are my favourite three big ideas:

firstly, the idea of de-fusing from our thoughts. when we hear that voice in our heads and we believe it implicitly? yeah, that. it ties in very well with all I have been doing on the Headspace app in learning to note feelings and emotions, and let them pass by, rather than becoming hooked by them. Russ gives a number of techniques for doing this , one of which I’ll come back to later.

secondly, the concept that we will never get rid of our negative thoughts entirely, so we shouldn’t even try. when I first got sober I found the idea of questioning negative thoughts helpful – “is that even true?”

this goes a step further even than that, asking us instead to consider the ‘workability’ of a thought. this requires firstly the ability to note that we are having a thought, perhaps by using the phrase,

“I am having the thought that…. (I can’t do this, I am not good enough, insert your least favourite phrase here)”

and then to ask ourselves the question I’ve used as the title of this blog post:

If I let this thought guide my actions, will it help me create the life I want?

no debate, no engaging, with the thought: just considering its likely outcome and proceeding on that basis. I find this incredibly simple and liberating when that nasty voice pipes up when I am feeling low.

finally, Russ gives two useful acronyms as to how we get stuck in behaviour that doesn’t reflect our true values. he quotes Dr Seuss’s splendid book, The Waiting Place, and asks, what keeps us stuck in that place? he suggests that we get stuck when we are in FEAR:

F – fusion with our negative thoughts

E – having excessive goals

A – avoidance of discomfort

R – remoteness from our true values

and that these can be overcome when we DARE:

D – de-fuse from our negative thoughts

A – accept discomfort

R – having realistic goals

E – embrace our own true values.

I am always a sucker for an acronym but more to the point have been engaging these now when I am at the coal-face of my usual negative thought patterns and have been finding them really helpful – perhaps you might, too? I would really recommend reading the book, though, as I don’t think I’ve done it full justice here.

one specific way I’ve been putting it into action is by deciding what my most upsetting, recurring negative thought is, and coming up with a way to de-fuse from it, based upon the advice in the book. being in the last days of the school holidays, juggling work and children and self-care, my most frequent mental lament is “I don’t have time!”

so I have de-fused from this by, firstly, putting it into the second person, so when I find myself thinking it, I re-phrase it as “You don’t have time!” And then I decided upon a suitable persona for the person saying it – someone outwardly intimidating but ultimately powerless – and decided upon J.K. Rowling’s glorious creation, Dolores Umbridge.

I imagine Imelda Staunton piping those words, at first menacingly, then – as in Belle’s brilliant ‘Dehydrate the Wolf’ post – more and more shrilly and squeakily as she shrinks to a tiny, Borrower-sized creature on the palm of my hand, and is eventually chased away while being dive-bombed by the Weasley twins. Hurrah!

what phrase could you de-fuse from? could these techniques help you in unhooking from unhelpful thoughts and therefore allowing you to take helpful actions? I’d love to hear from you! Prim xx

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