How to Practice Detached Mindfulness
The technique of mindfulness has recently experienced a rapid expansion. Indeed, it’s extremely successful in the context of mental health since it allows you to be consciously aware of any current situation with interest, curiosity, and acceptance. While this might seem impossible with the daily hustle and bustle of everyday life, with detached mindfulness, it’s achievable.
Detached mindfulness differs from the traditional kind in that it doesn’t involve meditation or require extensive or continuous practice. Nor is it necessary to increase your awareness of the present moment. Detachment implies separation and objectivity.
Traditional mindfulness calls for meditation and tends to use exercises that focus the mind on the body. This helps those who practice it to return their attention to the present moment if they’re trapped by certain thoughts that send them into the vicious circle of rumination.
Unlike the conventional kind, detached mindfulness doesn’t involve bodily elements such as breathing.
How to practice detached mindfulness
The goal of detached mindfulness is to promote the development of meta-awareness. In other words, to be aware of the contents of your mind so that you can separate yourself from them when they flood your brain, wreak havoc, and cause you pain.
In effect, detached mindfulness provides the ability to perceive your own thoughts and react to them differently than the way you did before, with rumination or attempts to control them.
To achieve this, you must apply metacognitive construction techniques. A study published in the Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica claims that metacognition shapes what you pay attention to as well as the factors that enter into your consciousness. This is in addition to the strategies that regulate your thoughts and emotions. Next, we’re going to explain some detached mindfulness exercises.
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In this task, the therapist mentions words and different thoughts and you join in with your own words that those of the therapist bring to your mind.
The goal is to be aware of how your mental apparatus automatically activates many of the thoughts that distance you from reality. During this activity, you observe the ebb and flow of your thoughts or memories.
The tiger task
Imagine a tiger. Now, think about what the tiger is doing in your mind, but don’t try to influence its behavior in any way.
Observe how the tiger has its own behavior. Watch the image and see that it’s simply a thought in your mind. The purpose of this experiment is for you to be aware that your thoughts are spontaneous and different from your own essence as an individual.
“The tiger task is an experiment often enjoyed in therapy because patients realize that there are aspects of their thoughts that are passive and involuntary. This task is a good way of experiencing detached mindfulness.”
Trying to suppress a thought makes it stronger. For example, if you try not to think about a pink elephant, you’ll probably be unable to stop thinking about one.
Therefore, when you want to control a thought or suppress it, you achieve the opposite effect. But, you should let your mind wander freely, and observe with curiosity the thoughts that come, without trying to exercise any control over them.
When you have a strong interest in controlling and avoiding specific thoughts, you become stronger. Clearing your mind has more to do with observing your thoughts, rather than eliminating them.
Thoughts are like clouds
Imagine your thoughts are clouds. They’re there and are occupying a space but they simply come and go, some passing slower than others. Use these images to represent your thoughts. The goal is to transfer your thoughts into the clouds and let them pass. The process involves responding to and transforming the contents of your mind.
“The clouds self-regulate the planet earth. Controlling them is unnecessary, as well as impossible.”
Passenger train metaphor
Imagine that you’re a passenger and you’re waiting on the platform of a station watching the trains go by. Now, imagine that each train is a thought. The point of this metaphor is to develop your ability to observe your thoughts from a distance, but with curiosity and without trying to stop them. It’s an alternative to the cloud metaphor.
The unruly child
Imagine that your thoughts are like an unruly child. The more attention their behavior receives, the worse they behave. But, when they’re left alone and ignored, they get fed up and stop.
This metaphor helps you understand the effects of actively engaging with your thoughts, as opposed to being detachedly aware of them.
“If our thoughts require our attention and we give it to them, we may be feeding them. Therefore, it is better to adopt an attitude of passive surveillance.”
This technique consists of repeating your thoughts out loud until they become mere sounds without meaning. Thus, as your attention decreases, they cease to have so much importance. Moreover, you minimize their often gloomy meanings. In fact, they become mere sounds instead of internal transmitters of information.
“Continuous repetition of thoughts can be done with a recording device or through repeated vocalization.”
Through this task, also called the imagination technique, you imagine that you’re in a paradisiacal place. Then, you adopt the position of an observer and imagine how the dream will continue.
“Observing what happens provides a subjective experience of detached mindfulness.”
The exercise of you as the observer
At any time and place and in any situation, ask yourself if you’re the thought or the person who’s watching the thought. The act of disengaging from control and conceptual processes, while being able to experience thoughts and beliefs without a sense of division, is, in Wells’s words, a ‘singular self-state’.
According to a publication in the Revista de Psicoterapia, the non-judgmental observation of mindfulness helps us to detach from the contents of consciousness. This is known as reperception and is executed from the perspective of the ‘observing self’ and not the observed one.
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The best exercise of all
Through questions and tasks such as the above, you can monitor your thoughts without them possessing and taking control of your life and emotions. However, to be successful, it requires regular practice.
In conclusion, detached mindfulness is a useful practice when you’re flooded with thoughts that you want to control, but that are slipping through your fingers. It promotes your awareness of the fact that it’s far from easy to dominate, influence, or modify your thoughts. When you recognize that the best exercise of all is letting your thoughts pass and then calmly reflecting on them, you’ll find peace.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Cebolla, A. & Campos, D. (2016). Enseñar Mindfulness: Contextos de Instrucción y Pedagogía. Revista de Psicoterapia, 103(103). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299338158_Ensenar_Mindfulness_Contextos_de_Instruccion_y_Pedagogia
Garay, C. J., & Keegan, E. (2016). Terapia metacognitiva. El síndrome cognitivo atencional y los procesos cognitivos. Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica, XXV(2), 125-134. https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/2819/281946990003.pdf
Wells, A. (2019). Terapia metacognitiva para la ansiedad y la depresión. Desclée De Brouwer. (Original publicado en 2009). https://www.edesclee.com/img/cms/pdfs/9788433030238.pdf