Dear Candy Q & A: Working with Persistent Negative Thoughts/POPS
Jan 16, 2023
4 min read
Q: You wrote about an exercise to cultivate the curious observer and suggested that we do retraining around the thoughts that pulled us into thinking rather than observing which sparked a question. My question is around retraining on these pops and the themes that sometimes emerge in them. If we do full DNRS rounds on these, do we do the rounds as they come up, or bring them to mind in incremental training? Also, I find it hard to know what visualisations to use and how to tuck in the pop or theme, or if we're even meant to do that. Or are there other tools better suited to addressing these thoughts?
A: There are several ways to work with persistent negative thoughts/symptom thought patterns or POPs (they all mean the same thing, depending on which program you are using). The most important thing is that you are catching them as often as possible in the moments when they happen, interrupting the stream of thoughts, and redirecting your brain to engage in other things instead. The more consistently we can interrupt and redirect, the sooner those pathways will start to prune away because they are no longer getting reinforced. Once those pathways start to prune away it becomes a lot easier to stay out of that type of thinking.
For persistent ones, in addition to catching them in the moment, it is also advised to use them as a trigger at the start of the rounds of practice. We do this by bringing those thoughts to the forefront of our consciousness (you don't have to spend long there, just a moment to bring it up) and then immediately go into a full round of practice. If you are doing the Gupta program, you may also find the accelerator technique helpful with this. If you are uncertain of how to apply it, review this part of the Gupta program or contact a Gupta coach for assistance.
As you cultivate your curious observer and notice the thoughts that continually resurface, you may start to notice a theme or a belief system appearing within those thoughts (for example, constantly feeling like you have to defend yourself, or not trusting). If you are able to identify a theme or maladaptive belief, then work with that by bringing the theme up as a trigger before you start your round of practice. It is also helpful to identify what you would like instead - what you want to believe, how you would like to feel. You can create a statement of affirmation or proclamation around this and use it in your rounds, write it out regularly, or speak it out loud to yourself to reaffirm it. It is also helpful if you can get into the feeling state of what that would be like. You could start to activate that feeling state often, not just in rounds of practice. You can still include it in future visualizations in some rounds, although it is not necessary to do it in the same rounds where you used the persistent negative thought as a trigger. In fact, many people find that trying to cultivate the opposite feeling in the same round as an intense trigger is counterproductive as it takes them back into the old pathways rather than reinforcing the new ones. It is better to use this feeling state in other rounds where you are doing different triggers until the intensity of the trigger lessens. If/when you do reach a state where you can easily override the trigger, then you can put it in the future visualizations in those rounds. At that point, we can begin to let go of using it as a trigger and work with other things. Instead, we reinforce what we want in our words and how we feel in our visualizations, and we are able to move onto other triggers or symptom thought patterns before the rounds. Of course, we still catch and redirect those thoughts if they do arise outside of rounds, but by now that should be much easier to do as the persistence of those thoughts will be lessened.
It is easy to get caught up in trying to make something that we don't want go away. We have to remember that what we resist persists. Rather than fighting with it, bring our attention, energy and focus to what we want instead. What we focus on is what we grow, so if all of our focus is on getting rid of something, what is going to happen? Consider practicing a gentle redirect: a firm "stop" or "cancel" but then that's where the attention to what we don't want ends. Instead we throw ourselves into thinking and feeling differently and even if that old thought pattern is kicking and screaming in the background we can start to think of it as background noise. The kind you tune out when you are at a restaurant or coffee shop - not worthy of your attention, unimportant, and your focus goes back to the conversation at hand that you want to cultivate.
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Candy Widdifield is Master Coach, Registered Reiki Master Teacher and former Registered Clinical Counsellor, living in Calgary Alberta, Canada. She has a background in nervous system regulation, trauma, grief & loss, mindfulness, somatic therapy, & positive psychology. She taught the DNRS in-person program for 5 years, has over a decade of experience coaching brain re-trainers & provides mentorship to other coaches. Candy works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com