A Strategy for Noticing Unwanted Thoughts and Feelings

Author: Jane Kraft, MSW, RSW

Unwanted Thoughts and feelings

Right now we’re being asked as a society to stay home and physically distance ourselves from
our families, friends, work, hobbies and special events. As social beings, this is not something
that is comfortable for us to do and to experience.

Yet, here we are, sitting in our homes, often alone, or with family members whom we don’t typically
spend this much time with, and I am sure there is some sense of discomfort, as I feel it too.

So then, what now? I am not going to ask you to try and control this discomfort, but rather sit
with it. Sit with this discomfort and feel all that it has for you. What thoughts do you have right
now around your situation? What feelings are coming up for you?

Can You Control Thoughts and Feelings?

So often when individuals come to therapy, their goal is to “control” these thoughts and feelings.
However, when you leave work after a busy day, you can’t “leave” your body behind, so how is
it that you might “leave” the thoughts and feelings behind? These thoughts are as much a part of
us as any part.

So then, what is the “solution”? Psychological flexibility. What is that you ask?
Let’s do an exercise together, if you are willing. Think about the unwanted thoughts and feelings
you have in your mind. Now imagine, all those thoughts and feelings are written on the palm of
your hands. Place your hands directly in front of your face. If you have to go about your day like
this, would you be able to manage very well? Even if you are in your pajamas all day now and
only move from the kitchen to your new office space.

Probably not! Now take your hands and stretch them out directly in front of you. Now, how well
could you manage your day like this?

Not much easier. Now place your hands on your lap. Do you still see them in the periphery? Can
you still focus on what tasks are in front of you? Yes. This is psychological flexibility. You have
the choice where to “place” your thoughts and how to manage them. You can choose to have
them in your face, overwhelming you, creating anxiety and lack of ability to participate in your

You can also choose to push them away and get yourself in a sort of tug of war struggle with
them, very tiring. Or…you can choose to set them on your lap and just let them be, notice them
for what they are, only thoughts, only feelings and not allow them to blind you to the beauty your
life has to offer. You can choose to live in the present moment. How, you ask? Impossible you
say? Well, that is where practice comes in and therapy of course too!

Just like riding a bike for the very first time, it takes practice, it takes patience, it takes guidance,
and it takes motivation. Since we are finding ourselves with a little more time on our hands than
we had hoped, why not practice?

Practising Psychological Flexibility

The first step towards psychological flexibility is to begin simply noticing. I invite you if you are
willing to begin the practice of noticing using your 5 senses. Smell, vision, hearing, touch and
taste. Begin with only 2 – 3 minutes a day, possibly focusing on just one sense and simply

Perhaps step outside as a safe “physical distance” to do this. Then notice when you “fail”
and those thoughts start coming, don’t push them away, acknowledge them, and bring your
noticing back to the senses. You will fall off your bike, but you already learned how to get on a
bike and you can do it again.

Take this time for yourself. Take this time to notice. While these seem small steps now, they will
blossom into impactful results that will make a difference in your ability to be present in your

In Conclusion

Remember, who’s noticing these thoughts? YOU are, YOU have the ability to choose what
thoughts to move forward with in your life and what thoughts to just sit on your lap. While our
social situation right now may be unwanted,

YOU have the ability to choose how to move
forward with your life regardless of what thoughts are telling you. What choice will you make?
Who will notice?

Author: Jane Kraft, MSW, RSW