Tool 6: R.O.L.L with Anxious Thoughts

We all have upsetting thoughts that we wish we didn’t have.

It’s natural to want to control these upsetting thoughts and stop them from coming. We do this in several ways. For example, we tell ourselves to stop thinking about something, or we dismiss our thoughts by saying, “That’s silly, I’m being ridiculous.” Sometimes we distract ourselves and get busy with something else. Or we tell ourselves positive things to feel better: “It’ll all work out for the best.”

Unfortunately, most people have not found thought-control strategies very helpful. Numerous scientific studies have shown that more we try to get rid of unwanted thoughts, the more these thoughts stick and increase in frequency and intensity. Trying to control a thought is a lot like trying to keep a beach ball underwater. The harder you push it down, the more it resists and wants to come up to the surface!  

Instead of trying to control, reason with, or react to thoughts, let them enter and leave your mind freely, without engaging them or getting attached to them. Try R.O.L.Ling with your thoughts and simply let them be.

Imagine you suddenly have this anxious thought: “What if I drop my baby? ” How do you R.O.L.L with it?

Recognize: When an anxious thought comes to mind, acknowledge and recognize it for what it is – a thought, nothing more and nothing less.

“I am having a thought that I might drop my baby.”

Observe: Observe the thought with interest and curiosity. Notice it and its impact on your body and feelings. Just allow it to be, without judging, reacting to, or changing it in any way.

“I notice that my thought is predicting the worst. This thought makes me nervous and it’s no wonder my stomach feels tense. I notice that I have the urge to get reassurance from my partner, so I can feel better. Instead of reacting to this thought, I’m just going to let it be and sit for a while with these feelings that are coming up…”

Let go: After fully recognizing and observing your thoughts, you can choose to let them go. You might find it helpful to imagine your thoughts as clouds floating in the sky; they float in and eventually change shape or disappear. You can just watch them float past you. Some people like to picture their thoughts as leaves flowing down a gentle stream. They come into your field of view, but if you don’t reach out and pick them out of the stream, they will continue to flow downstream and eventually out of sight.

“My thought about dropping the baby is scary. But it is just a thought, nothing more and nothing less. I am going to just watch the thought float by in its own time, eventually passing out of sight.”

 

Important: Letting go of your thoughts is not the same as ignoring or pushing your thoughts away. You are recognizing and acknowledging your thoughts for what they are, rather than avoiding them.