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Directed Thinking Exercises for Depression
by A. B. Curtiss

We Don’t Have to Cure NegativeEmotions, or Painful Thinking; We Can Bypass Them.

These Directed Thinking exercises are based on the principles that provided the basis for the book Depression is a Choice by A. B. Curtiss. The way we learn how to choose other possibilities than focusing on our depression, anxiety or other painful or negative emotions is first learning how to bypass them with simple physical or mental exercises and mind tricks, which I call Directed Thinking, and employ these simple techniques long enough for the agitated chemistry balance to right itself. When we can learn to concentrate our attention on a positive or neutral thought, which mind exercises can teach us how to do, we will not be thinking a stressful thought. For as long as we are not thinking a stressful thought, our chemical factory will not be churning out stress chemicals. When our stress chemical factory powers down, our chemistry balance shifts, our anxiety and depression lift, and we will find our regular life seems sufficient once more; or if not sufficient, we will be in a proper frame of mind to work on bettering it at that time.

Directed Thinking is a psychotherapy technique which handles stress, anxiety and depression from the “feelings receptor station” a specific small area in the neocortex. All other therapies, including the entire fields of psychology and psychiatry, attempt to “take the edge off”, alter, substitute or even totally eradicate feelings with electro shock treatments at the level of the subcortex. Directed Thinking does not work on the feelings themselves, or even on the thinking that produced the feelings in the first place.

Directed Thinking is based on the neuroscientific fact that although all our feelings are produced in the subcortex, we can't actually feel our feelings unless messages about their occurrence in the subcortex are duly received and acknowledged in the neocortex. All the Directed Thinking exercises in get people familiar with a new paradigm of managing subcortical feelings by distracting the thoughts stimulated by this small area of the neocortex WHOSE SOLE DUTY IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS SO THAT WE CAN FEEL THEM. Directed Thinking answers the question What if the mind gave a depression or an anxiety attack and I didn’t want to go?

The insight for Directed Thinking came from neuroscience research and hypnosis. People can experience tissue damage in the subcortex and lose the faculty of producing any feelings or emotion whatsoever–they can experience neither stress, anxiety, happiness or depression. But people can also experience damage in the neocortex in the place which receives the signals from triggered subcortical feelings and they will not be able to feel or experience the emotion they produce in the subcortex anymore than those who can't produce the subcortical feelings in the first place. Directed Thinking was the result of combining this information with the basic principles of hypnosis.

Other psychotherapies or stress management methods do their work by focusing on the subcortex: by zapping or eradicating feelings temporarily with electro-shock; by deadening them with drugs; or by trying to substitute or alter feelings with physical exercise, cognitive therapy, self-talk or positive thinking. Directed Thinking uses simple exercises and mind tricks such as "thought-jamming" or “interstitial choice” to distract the cognitive focus on feelings at the site of the neocortex until the chemical balance in the subcortex shifts out of anxious and negative to more positive or normal.

Green Frog

Choose a word, or phrase, nonsense nursery rhyme, or song to have "at the ready" the next time depression hits. Simply concentrate on that single thought, the poem, the nonsense rhyme. Anything will do. Row, row, row your boat. One two, buckle my shoe. Insist. Insist. Insist.

Pray for Somebody

Pray for somebody. You may be very good at this already. I was not. I had to figure out how to do it. I visualized the person troubled over their situation and I imagined myself taking hold of their hand, or whispering in their ear, "I am with you, you are not alone," or "Please let me help you bear this great pain." If they were struggling with something, I imagined that I was telling them to "go for it" or whispering "You can do it." If sick, I sent angels to minister to them, carrying the proper medicine. I don't know why, but my angels were always small and white. This exercise helps to get our mind’s focus off our painful feelings by focusing our attention away from those painful feelings onto something else. And in the great scheme of things, who knows. Perhaps our prayers will do someone some good.

Yes, Yes, Yes

Say “yes ,yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” over and over to yourself. You can do this for five minutes straight, or longer if you have to and then start to direct your physical activity to some small chore. I also find this helpful to say when I wake up at night agitated by some problem, or just before I go to sleep. It is a great device for thought-jamming some painful thinking from being the focus of my attention. Then I follow up with some form of “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better,” or “I’m eating healthier and healthier.” The “Yes, yes, yes” exercise is great for thought jamming, but the “Every day in every way” exercise can point our creative effort to the exact area of interest that has been bothering us.

The Two-second Shoulder drop and Instant Back Release

This exercise is wonderful for releasing stress, and it is also wonderful for helping us see what kind of things put us under stress that we didn’t know put us under stress. Do it dozens of times during the day, whenever you think about it. Focus awareness on shoulders and let them drop. Focus awareness on back and let it collapse for a brief second or two. Check out other areas of tensed muscles, the throat, the tongue, the hands and let them relax.. Stress on the body puts stress on the mind. Stress on the mind causes our chemical balance to shift toward anxiety and depression.

Be Gentle With Yourself

Clay E, a retired hospital administrator, told me that after his 23-year-old son committed suicide he would sometimes experience overwhelming feelings of grief and despair that would hit him suddenly hit him “like a kick in the stomach.” He would have to leave important meetings, unable to continue. He would be unable to sleep, unable to get up and go to work, unable to take pleasure in any of his normal activities. One day the phrase “just be gentle with yourself” occurred to him and he got into the habit of saying it over and over to himself whenever his grief and depression overtook him. Such a simple device but a most powerful and spiritual one.

Here is the exercise: Say this over and over to yourself.“Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with yourself.” At the same time do the shoulder drop and back release. My friend has shared this phrase with many others who have used it to escape from their own anguish and despair. It is not simply the idea of the phrase that works, however. It is the use of the phrase; the thinking of the phrase instead of the thinking of the despair. The mind is very much like a frightened child at times like this. We need to tell the mind that it is not necessary to beat itself up. The mind doesn’t know this unless we tell it.

Every Day in Every Way

The most famous, most widely used, and probably the very first mind exercise ever devised was originated by Emil Coue, a French pharmacist who introduced to the world a psychotherapy in the1880s based upon hypnosis, which in those days was called “suggestion.”
Coue was the first modern psychologist (Mesmer and Paracelsus were centuries earlier) to give us the idea that it was our ignorance and weakness causing our problems more than it was some overwhelming, powerful outside force. The solution was that we were to become informed and strong. And the implication was that it was doable Emile Coue was the originator of positive self-talk and would take on a new patient only if he would agree to repeat one phrase over and over to himself as a daily habit, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better. Here is the exercise: One. Two. Three. Think "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better. Every day in every way I'm getting better and better." Keep at it for two minutes, five minutes. As long as it takes. It is not a waste of time. What is a waste of time is thinking "I am so stressed out. I’m so worried. I’m so depressed" over and over and making ourselves sick.


A. B. Curtiss is an award-winning author as well as a cognitive behavioral therapist, a licensed marriage-family therapist and a lecturer on personal growth, self-awareness and Directed Thinking, a system of mind tricks and awareness training to combat depression. Curtiss's experience as a successful author is a series of firsts. The first essay she ever wrote was published on the op-ed page of The New York Times and was picked up by The Boston Globe for its op-ed page. Dozens of essays followed on the op-ed pages of other newspapers such as The Minneapolis Star & Tribune and The San Diego Union-Tribune. Her first children's book, In the Company of Bears won a 1994 Benjamin Franklin Award, was featured on a PBS-TV reading enrichment program, appeared on the ABC World of Discovery, and was featured in the Border's Books Christmas Catalog. She now has four additional children's books in print: Hallelujah, A Cat Comes Back, Legend of the Giant Panda, Time of The Wild and A Train You Never Saw. Her first adult fiction, Children of the Gods, won a 1995 San Diego Book Award. And now her first adult nonfiction book, Depression is a Choice, was published by Hyperion. You can visit her website at www.depressionisachoice.com.

Last modified: August 18, 2002

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