The Coping Kete

No. 157: Saying Thank You for the Stories

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

…I will practice noticing and naming the stories my brain tells me and thanking my brain for trying to keep me safe, in all senses of the word. We usually all have a few chains of thought that repeatedly pop up to trigger stress and distress and pull us away from the things we really want to be doing. We can think of these repetitive thought patterns as stories our minds have learned to tell us to try to keep us safe. In a way our brains are automatic storytellers. Often we get caught up and stuck in the stories our minds are throwing up at us. One way to detach from those stories and take the heat out of the distress they create, is to practice naming each of the stories and then literally thanking our brain for doing its job. We don’t need to believe, accept or agree with the story. But instead of resisting it and struggling against it, this week I will practice naming it and saying ‘thank you brain!’

To prepare, I will take some time to write down some of the things that my mind often throws up when I am distressed. I will then name the most repetitive thoughts or the ones that trigger the toughest emotions – there is often some kind of “I can’t cope” story, “bad self” story or “dangerous others” story in the mix.  These are tough thought-chains to deal with when we are caught up believing them or struggling against them, especially when they have been ‘true’ for us in the past. Struggling against a story makes our mind keep repeating it. Naming the story and saying ‘thank you brain’ lets our mind know we are aware and reframes the thoughts as ideas and words instead of realities we need to act on – this often lets our mind know it can stop telling the story so loudly.

Once I have named some of the stories I notice my brain often tells me, I will practice naming them as I notice them throughout my day. This week, I will pause whenever I move between tasks or situations to practice observing what stories my brain is telling in the moment and saying “Thank you brain, for telling me the xyz story. I hear you.”  I will then move forward with my valued direction or do another coping strategy to make things workable.

To start with, I will practice naming stories and thanking my brain for telling them in ordinary, transition moments, rather in times of intense distress when it will be difficult to use a new strategy. It can help to also observe what the function of the story and the emotions that go with it might me.  It can also help to name what our intentions and valued directions are too.  These can be like alternative stories we are learning to tell ourselves. For example, “Thank you brain for the “I can’t cope” story, I know you are trying to make me anxious, to keep me safe from threats. My intention is to discover how to handle this risk because independence and new experiences are important to me.”

Once I am comfortable naming my mind’s stories and thanking my brain for telling them, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. Naming and acknowledging the chains of thought will help me to untangle myself from the automatic stories my brain is telling me, quiet them down and focus on the other story about what is important to me.

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Note: Saying ‘thank you brain’ is a common technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT – pronounced ‘act’). You can find some worksheets to help you identify your common stories and understand how they pull you away from your valued directions at  

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