4 Step Thought Blocking or Thought Stopping Technique

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4 Step Thought Blocking or Thought Stopping Technique

Do you ruminate about awful scenarios? or fixate on angry or anxious negative thoughts?

Fixating on negative thoughts or dwelling on awful scenarios can capitalize on your brainpower, ramp up your anxiety, drain your energy, and distort how you see yourself and the world and people around you. 

Learning the technique of Thought Blocking (AKA Thought Stopping) can help you stop negative, awfulizing, catastrophizing thoughts.

What is Thought Blocking (AKA Thought Stopping)?

Thought Blocking, also known as Thought Stopping, is a technique for stopping and challenging negative thoughts. It is a mechanism for stopping those catastrophizing distorted thoughts and the escalating emotional whirlwind of increasing anxiety or anger. 

As I described in my recent post, The Catastrophizing and Anxiety Connection, when tears woke me up to the fact that I was catastrophizing that my son had died (a thought with NO grounding in reality and which came out of seemingly nowhere), I immediately said to myself “Whoa! This isn’t real! Stop!” and snapped out of it. My automatic reaction was an example of Thought Blocking or Stopping.

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How to Stop Catastrophizing

You can stop catastrophizing with this Thought Stopping or Thought Blocking Technique.

There are 4 steps to stop your mind from negative thoughts, going in circles or fixating.

4 Thought Stopping or Thought Blocking steps:

1. Notice the thought.

2. Stop.

3. Challenge the thought.

4. Reroute your mind to an inspiring or distracting thought instead.

 

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1. Notice the thought.

You aren’t a freak for having awful thoughts or having them recycle in your mind over and over. It is so common that Albert Ellis created the term “awfulize” to describe them.

Now that you are aware of their destructiveness, you can get better and better at catching them earlier and earlier when they present themselves.

I’ll give you a practice exercise after I’ve described all the steps so you can increase your chances of catching yourself with fewer and fewer awfulized thought cycles.

2. Stop.

  • Say something to yourself like “Stop,” and/or
  • Envision/imagine something that would help you stop, such as a stop sign, a raised hand, or a bell ringing.

When I described possible visual cues for getting your mind to Stop!, one client gleefully exclaimed “Caution tape!” She reported back later that it worked beautifully for her and very effectively cued her to stop her anxiety-provoking thoughts.

3. Challenge the thought.

Do a reality check. Is reality distorted in some way in this thought?

Notice any:

  • absolutes (always, never, all, none),
  • awfulizing,
  • exaggerations,
  • overgeneralizations, or
  • negative messages from the past that are replaying.
  • You might want to write down the thought to help you clarify it in order to challenge it.

4. Reroute your mind to an inspiring or distracting thought instead.

Move your mind over to a more useful or uplifting thought.

A rerouting thought might be:

Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted a prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr that you many find helpful to reroute their mind and replace destructive thoughts with inspiration.

Here’s an adapted version of “The Serenity Prayer”:

May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

And this is a quicky version of the serenity prayer used by Frank Costanza’s on a Seinfeld episode: “Serenity now.”

Thought stopping is not about zoning out to just avoid the intrusive thought. It is about consciously creating a mechanism to meet it head on and deal with it.

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Practice Exercise

To help you catch awfulizing thoughts in the future, reflect back on a time you awfulized in the past.

  • Notice what you were thinking about.
  • Imagine using something to Stop the thoughts.
    • You can experiment with different possible “Stop” words, images, or sounds.
  • Challenge the thought.
    • Is there a difference between the thought and reality?
    • Note what helps you challenge the thought.
    • It may be helpful to write down the thought and notes of what evidence challenges the thought.
  • Reroute your mind to a more helpful thought.
    • Again, you may want to experiment with different ways to achieve this goal.

Practicing with past experiences or expected future scenarios will help you get more and more efficient at stopping anxiety escalating awfulizing. 

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  • Ann Silvers
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