Bob Van Oosterhout

Comments on Thought Focusing and Rhythm Phrases
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More About Thought Focusing:

The purpose of Thought Focusing is to allow us to replace worry and negative, stress-producing thinking with thoughts that bring us comfort and a sense of peace. Thought Focusing is not a relaxation technique (although you will often find that you more relaxed after practicing it) - its purpose is to help us let go of negative thinking.

Thought Focusing entails choosing a phrase 6 to 12 syllables in length that brings you comfort. The length is important because it allows you to establish a rhythm while repeating it. You can match this rhythm with your breath or movements. (Its nice to do this while walking or exercising). It is important to choose a phrase that allows you to establish an easy rhythm. Phrases shorter than 6 or longer than 12 seldom do this.

This became very clear to me when a student came up to me at the beginning of an on-campus class and told me she was starting to have a panic attack and needed to leave. She agreed to stay and work on it and began practicing the diaphragmatic breathing along with a thought focusing phrase. It was clear after the first minute this was not working and I asked her what her phrase was. The phrase had only five syllables and it was clear she was hurrying the breathing to keep up with the phrase. We came up with a slightly longer phrase that could match the rhythm of her breathing and the panic attack ended a couple minutes later. She called me the following week and told me her daily panic attacks had ended.

The Thought Focusing phase is repeated silently whenever you have some mental "dead time" - when you don’t need to concentrate or think about something. You can use it while driving, taking a shower or exercising but not while reading or helping your son with math homework.

It can be very helpful to use a Thought Focusing phrase whenever you practice diaphragmatic breathing. Use the first part of the phrase when you inhale and the second part of the phrase during the exhale. It can be a very effective (and efficient) exercise to practice diaphragmatic breathing, grounding, and Thought Focusing at the same time

The phrase you choose makes a difference. It needs to be something that has some meaning for you and brings a sense of peace and comfort. Prayers or scripture quotes work well as do verses from songs or poetry. (Singing your phrase silently to yourself is OK too). You can make something up or search through books or the internet (search for "poetry" "quotations" or "sayings" along with a topic that suits you). It is a good idea to have different phrases for different times of stress. For example, if I need to work out a conflict with someone, I repeat "Guide our feet in the path of peace" on my way. Having too many different phrases dilutes the effectiveness. You need to repeat the phrase enough so that it creates a stronger set of connections in your brain than the worry or stressful thinking.

The value of Thought Focusing becomes evident when you start to worry or begin to recycle stressful thoughts. Most people report they are able to redirect negative thinking after practicing Thought Focusing for about a week. This is well worth the effort when you consider how much time we spend and how much tension we produce by worry or stressful thinking.