Cognitive fusion is a powerful observation that comes from acceptance and commitment therapy. In essence, cognitive fusion describes times when our thoughts become “fused” with our beliefs, preventing us from acting in a way that enriches our lives. In short, it’s a recognition that the running dialogue in our heads isn’t us, but that we still find ourselves “stuck” to things that conflict with our core values.
Here’s a common example I hear almost every day: “I can’t do that because of anxiety.” It might be true; it might not be. How could you possibly know unless you try? But more importantly, the thought isn’t very useful if the thing you “can’t do” is something you really want. It provides a convenient excuse that you can turn to when you feel overwhelmed. Fighting against it, however, can often make the thought stronger. So rather than trying to contradict the thought or reframe it as something more helpful, it might be worthwhile just to recognize that the thought is there, and that you get to choose what you do with it. This thought doesn’t represent you. It doesn’t predict the future. And you can’t know if it’s true unless you commit yourself to action.
When I sat down to write this post, I was struck with the thought “this is too hard to do today.” I felt an immense weight behind posting something meaningful. I thought of writing a brief, low effort post. And that would have been fine. My current goal is to publish a single post every week; to build a habit first, and hope that skill develops with practice. Thankfully, the practice I’ve been doing with cognitive defusion–techniques used to “unstick” myself from my thoughts–kicked in. I noticed that what I had experienced was just a thought, and I started writing something anyways. It was painful and difficult at first. I still didn’t want to do it. And yet after a few minutes, I started to feel some relief. It felt right, and I’m glad I did it. It doesn’t always work that way, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get better with practice.
“I can’t do that because…” is almost never helpful. And, well, it’s just a thought. Recognize the noise your mind presents to you, but don’t believe it. Focus on what matters most. And then take a small step away from the darkness. You might find yourself enjoying the journey.