The Coping Kete

Monthly Archives: September 2014

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No. 156: Extend the Image

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice using extended imagery as a way of coping with unhelpful thoughts of the future that hold me back. Often future-predicting thoughts come to us as images. We ‘see’ ourselves making a fool of ourselves or feeling awkward or finding something unpleasant or ‘failing’ in some way. In real life, events keep unfolding after that moment. Everyone moves on. Someone helps. We learn from our mistakes, solve problems, come away stronger. But our minds usually only give us a flash of the worst bit. This week, I will practice seeing the extended view.

I’ll take a minute or two each day to practice extended imagery so I am familiar with it during times of distress. At my chosen time each day, I’ll sit for a moment just breathing and tune my thoughts to the coming week. As I notice images surfacing in my mind, I will observe and describe the images to myself and then imagine what might happen next, and after that, and after that, until I can take the image all the way forward into the future. Instead of stopping with the image of us feeling tired and unmotivated doing some chore, we could carry the image forward to seeing us resting, guilt-free, with a small sense of accomplishment afterwards. Instead of stopping with the image of us embarrassed or uncomfortable arriving somewhere, we could carry it forward three weeks when the meeting is a distant memory.

It can seem risky to stay with a distressing image our mind has predicted. Our first instinct is often to stay away from the thought (and the situation we’ve imagined). It can seem like staying with it would make the emotion worse. But by extending it out beyond that single worst threat moment, we can learn to send our minds safety signals about that threat in the wider context of our lives. This can be tricky to do during times of distress if we are unfamiliar with the strategy. The temptation can be to use the strategy to linger over a series of possible worst moments or to to linger over that one moment. If I notice this happening during my practice, I will practice extending the image even further, past the image I am stuck on, or extending the image out for the other people present – how will they feel about it the next day/month/year?

As I practice extended imagery, I might also need to practice using the impartial observer voice that goes with most mindfulness exercises. Eventually, I will get to a point in time, when the current predicted image falls into perspective.  I’ll practice daily with my thoughts of ordinary upcoming situations until I’m used to this kind of strategy and have figured out how to make it work for me. We each have our own methods of getting in our own way and I’ll have my own special ways to work around too.

When I am comfortable and familiar with extending images, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for times of stress and distress. When I find myself upset or anxious, I will tune into the images my mind is throwing me and visualise extending those images forward in time. During moments of distress, we are often stuck on a particularly distressing image. By moving our minds beyond that single imagined moment, we might find some perspective. Even if something terrible has happened and our lives are irreversibly changed, we might see that in many years time we have found a way to adapt.