Most of us have heard of the term “mindfulness” as a good strategy to deal with depression, anxiety, and other emotional difficulties. In this article I will teach you about a very specific form of mindfulness called “Detached Mindfulness.” By using it properly you will experience a decrease in feelings of distress, and you’ll generally feel happier and more at ease.
The term “Detached Mindfulness” was coined by clinical psychologist Adrian Wells, who is also the developer of Metacognitive Therapy. As the name suggests, Detached Mindfulness consists of two basic components. “Detached” refers to viewing our cognitions (thoughts consisting of words and images, as well as beliefs) as something that is outside of who we are at our core. In other words, at your core you are an observer of your thoughts, not the producer of them. Just because you think of something, does not mean that you agree with or condone whatever it is you thought of. Through this method you adopt the mindset that thoughts are harmless, distinct from reality, and are separate from the self.
The second component, “Mindfulness,” refers to being an observer of our thoughts, and remaining non-reactive to them. So if you have a thought that seems disturbing, you don’t need to do anything about it. By implementing Detached Mindfulness you become aware of the thoughts that come into your mind, but you don’t try to suppress or control them in any way. Detached Mindfulness is not to be used as a distraction method, or even as a coping method at all. It is a “do-nothing” strategy, the antithesis of coping. It’s similar to simply observing clouds that are passing through the sky; they come and go without you needing to do anything.
Additionally, through Detached Mindfulness you will decrease the tendency to worry and ruminate on thoughts. Being non-reactive indicates that you don’t need to analyze the thoughts that you have, and you don’t need to worry about imagined future scenarios. Whether or not a thought seems realistic is actually irrelevant when utilizing Detached Mindfulness. Regardless of the accuracy of your thoughts, they are still just thoughts, and don’t necessarily require further consideration.
Another way to think of Detached Mindfulness is to consider how you would effectively deal with a child who’s throwing a temper tantrum. Many times children who do this are actually looking for attention, so even giving them negative feedback still serves their purpose in a way! Oftentimes the best way to deal with temper tantrums is to simply let the child have the tantrum, observe what is occurring, and not reacting to it in any way. Similarly, our distressing thoughts tend to crave attention, and the more we obsess on these thoughts the more resilient they become.
So that you can feel what detached mindfulness is like and what you need to do to experience it, I want to introduce you to an exercise called “the tiger task”. What you’ll do is close your eyes and form an image of a tiger. Do not attempt to influence or change the image in any way. Just watch the image and the tiger’s behavior. The tiger may move, but don’t make it move. It may blink, but don’t make it blink. The tiger may wag its tail, but don’t make it do that. Watch how the tiger has its own behavior. Do nothing, but simply watch the image, see how the tiger is simply a thought in your mind, that it is separate from you and it has a behavior all of its own. Ask yourself: Did you make the tiger move or did it happen spontaneously? By experiencing the tiger’s movements as spontaneous you just experienced Detached Mindfulness. Can this process be similarly applied to spontaneously occurring thoughts of a negative kind?
By consistently applying the concept of Detached Mindfulness into your day-to-day life you are sure to experience a reduction in feelings of distress, and you will open yourself up to experiencing increased happiness and inner-peace.