Five Ways to Mindfully Let Go of Hurtful Thoughts
Over the last few years, mindfulness has helped me address, understand and let go of many hurtful thoughts!
As someone who used to grab hold of hurtful thoughts and believe them whole-heartedly, the exercises below have transformed the way I manage my own thoughts and given me the power to let them go.
Sometimes, my first reaction to a hurtful thought is to feel disappointed in myself for having it! Before I can attempt to let go of that thought, I need to remind myself that it's ok and safe for me to have a thought (any thought!) and it's the way I manage the thought that matters.
Do a visualisation
My favourite visualisation to do when I'm letting go of a hurtful thought is about skipping stones. When I was young, I used to love throwing flat stones into the river and watch them skim across the surface before disappearing under the water. This visualisation really resonates with me and encourages a sense of calm and relief.
I close my eyes and imagine the hurtful thought is the stone in my hand. When I feel ready, I lean down, pull my hand back and flick the stone across the water. I watch it bounce a few times and disappear. I picture the stone sinking and settling into the sand at the bottom of the river. I then repeat this visualisation as many times as I need.
Talk to your thought in a kind and compassionate way
Hurtful thoughts do not always mean to be hurtful. Sometimes, in their own misguided way, hurtful thoughts are actually aimed at protecting us. When I used to criticise myself for my public speaking skills, it wasn't just because my thoughts wanted to hurt me. They wanted me to not speak in public so I wouldn't make a fool of myself or say the wrong thing! In their own way, my thoughts were trying to look after me.
So, the next time you notice a hurtful thought, say thank you! Tell that thought you appreciate its efforts in looking out for you and gently remind it “you've got this!”
“See” your thought from a distance
This technique helps remind me that my thought is just that - a thought. Not necessarily true, not necessarily important, not necessarily meaningful. I picture my thought out of my mind (for example, across the room or in the sky) or write my thought down on paper. I separate myself from my thought and can then look and analyse it more objectively.
Breathe and move forward
Take a few deep breaths, paying attention to the journey of the air moving in and out of your body. I've written about breathing techniques here and spoken about them on the podcast here, if you would like some more ideas for ways you can use your breath to be more mindful!
Using breathing techniques helps me re-focus and re-set my energy, so I can keep going about my day. However, I do think it is important to acknowledge your thoughts at some stage.