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How Learn to Live Delivers CBT: Part 6

Many times we hear “Don’t even think about that!” This is to avoid a bad thing happening or feeling troubled. But we know thinking something does not make it happen. That is magical thinking. 

In fact, the opposite is true. Thinking about what we fear can help us become unafraid. This is called imaginal exposure. With it, we think on purpose about things we worry about happening. Some people have used virtual reality to help imagine feared things. Research shows imagining bad outcomes can sometimes work as well as virtual reality. 

We use these strategies in our Stress, Anxiety & Worry program. The “worry facing” tool helps thousands. By thinking over and over about feared outcomes actually happening, people can become less afraid of those outcomes. 

Worry has a purpose. We often use it to try to feel safer. But it often backfires and leaves us more afraid. Our minds think worrying will find solutions. But it just sticks us in fear of the worry itself. 

I’ve seen in my work how imaginal exposure helps when facing real fears is not possible. At Learn to Live, facing imagined fears helps us get past those fears. 

Some positive thinking folks say to never think bad thoughts, only positive ones. They confuse cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with positive thinking. CBT is about realistic thinking, not positive thinking. CBT research shows facing feared thoughts and images helps. It is not dangerous. 

The good news is worry facing works if we do it right. We make it D-U-N-E: 



Using No precautions 

For an Extended time

So a parent can imagine their kid flunking out of school for 30 minutes. A student can imagine classmates thinking they are stupid or boring, making it worse than usual. The key is to become deliberately uncomfortable for an extended time while we face our fears. 

Many Learn to Live strategies are obvious. This one is less obvious but very helpful for many. 

Don’t even think about it? Maybe do the opposite – think about those fears on purpose, over and over!