We are living through an unprecedented period of time where normality is being redefined, almost every day or two. Negative things – daily briefings, Covid-19 statistics, job loss, grief and despair – seem to surround us wherever we turn. So how do we get through negative things without losing our own sense of optimism or balance?
The first point to acknowledge and accept is that there is no wand to waive to make negative thoughts or feelings go away but, there are techniques that offer productive alternatives.
Therapy techniques referred to as Acceptance and Cognitive Therapy (ACT) is an option as is a commonly used coaching technique referred to as the Swish Technique (A “This is Not What I Need or Want Right Now” Reframe).
When do you use it?
The technique is very helpful when you want to defuse a negative trigger – something that sets you on a path of negative feelings (like feeling helpless, guilt, grief, loneliness or similar negative feelings). In the current environment, this is a helpful strategy to jolt yourself away from negative feelings and towards something more constructive and positive.
How do you do it?
- Choose the behaviour that you want to rid yourself of. Now picture the images that come to mind when you think of this behaviour. Put those images aside for the moment, this is your cue.
- Now, as you think about the behaviour – what tends to trigger it in you? What is happening in those moments? For instance, you might be at home alone, feeling bored and you open the cupboard looking for junk food. The trigger is being home alone and bored.
- Decide what behaviour you would like instead of consuming junk food. Perhaps you want to spend time on a hobby (a painting, drawing, puzzle, model boat, writing a new game or gardening)? Create a feel good (to you) image to represent the new behaviour and make it personal. You could add music, colour, warm feelings, sound or anything similar that works for you personally. Put it aside for the moment.
- Take the first image (the behaviour that you want to rid yourself of) – make it even bigger and brighter.
- Imagine the image in front of you (you’ll be getting rid of it in its existing form very soon).
- Crystallise an image of the behaviour you want instead. Make it a small grey dot and put it far, far away in the distance at the bottom left or right of the image.
- Mentally count from 1…2…3 and say out loud the word “trigger”. When you say trigger think about the trigger (being home alone and bored, in our example).
- Immediately make the sound of SWIIIISH or WEEEEEAY (or any similar sound that works for you). As you make the sound imagine the original coloured cue image shrinking and turning grey. Simultaneously, imagine the grey dot at the bottom corner (wherever your put it) expanding and turning into a full colour, bright and big image in front of your eyes
- Repeat steps 7 and 8 a couple of times.
- Go and do something else that is distracting, so your mind is not on this behaviour or the trigger.
- Now test it again: think about the trigger and notice how the image and your behaviour has changed
Give it a go!
You could use it if you find yourself overloading with dire news stories while surfing the internet and it triggers feelings of despair or grief (for instance). The technique is powerful and can be used in a range of situations where you want to change what you do when something triggers unpleasant feelings.
Feel free to join the conversation and share examples of where you find the Swish Technique to be particularly helpful for you (or times where you’ve experienced challenges in applying it).