This exercise is a continuation and builds upon the exercise mental noting.

Thought defusion is a term borrowed from acceptance-commitment therapy. The goal of thought defusion is to create space between ourselves and our thoughts. When we are overly reactive or attached to the negative thoughts we have about our experiences, that often results in unproductive behavior and unnecessary suffering.

DBT Mindfulness: Thought Defusion helps you separate yourself from unproductive throughts

This exercise includes three versions of visual thought defusion with similar difficulty. We want to give you some options so you can pick the version you find the most effective for you. Do this exercise 2-3 times a week, or whenever you need it.

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Words in the Sand

Set a timer for 10 minutes. Then, close your eyes. Imagine a vast desert with lot of sand. You can see the dunes expanding all across the horizon. Calm your mind, and try to become aware of your thoughts. What are you thinking the most about today? Are your thoughts neutral? Are they negative? Without judgment just notice what your mind is thinking about. Then, try to imagine your thoughts written across the sand. Imagine how the wind is blowing off the words and as that happens you let the thoughts go. Thought by thought, you can notice how your mind becomes calmer and more clear. You witness that your thoughts are just products of the mind that don't necessarily have to have a power over you.

Example: You might be thinking about how you haven't improved your diet although you wanted to for a long time. Since this thought may hold a worrying or self-judging quality more than it stimulates change, you might benefit from "erasing" it with the wind. So, imagine how the word "Diet" is written in the sand and as you exhale you can see the wind blowing the letters. Then you notice that the sand is smooth again. Continue being aware of the next thought that is going to come to your mind.

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Fish in the Ocean

Set a timer for 10 minutes and close your eyes. Imagine a beautiful ocean floor. You can see the sun rays protruding through the water and gently extending to the ocean floor. It is a serene and peaceful environment. You notice how the water is crystal blue and there are some friendly fish around you. Slowly start becoming aware of your thoughts. Try to be in tune with what your mind is thinking. What are you thinking about today? Is it your everyday activities? Is there perhaps a bigger problem that's troubling you these days? Be aware of your thoughts. Then, imagine how the first fish is dragging away your first thought. If you are worrying about your health, then maybe the fish is dragging away that exact word. See how the fish calmly swims away leaving you with the beautiful ocean floor again. Keep doing this with all of your other thoughts. How do you feel at the end of this exercise?

Example: Perhaps today you are mostly worrying about the lack of energy that you often feel. Put a name on that thought and imagine how it is going away just as the fish swims away. Then keep on doing this with your next thoughts. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

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Clouds in the Sky

Set your timer for 10 minutes and prepare by closing your eyes. Imagine a windy sky where you can see all the clouds passing by. Imagine the blue color, how fresh the picture looks. Take a deep breath and bring your attention to your thinking mind. Try to notice your thoughts. Without judging or analyzing them, imagine your thoughts written on the clouds. One thought for every cloud. You can summarize your thought with one or a couple of words. Then imagine how the windy sky makes the cloud go away. Your thought slowly leaves the sky. Keep being aware of the thoughts in your mind. Continue imagine every other thought on a cloud that is floating away in the sky. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise. Do you feel any different?

Example: Maybe the first cloud is going to have the words "worried about appearance" written on them (if the worrisome thought is about thinking that you are not attractive enough). Next you might be thinking about whether you locked your door this morning ("locked door"). Imagine how the clouds carry away the thoughts.

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After you finish with the exercise, use the worksheet to write down how this experience went for you. Journaling the experience creates a more lasting impact in your brain.

DBT Mindfulness: Thought Defusion Worksheet

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I find it difficult to try and imagine things with my eyes closed. Is this exercise too hard for me to do?

If this is your first time doing an imaginative exercise like this with your eyes closed, it might feel a little weird at the beginning but with time you'll get more familiar with this format. Maybe when you try it you will find that it feels totally natural to you. Try to think of this exercise as a new, useful and relaxing experience. Have fun with the different scenarios and enjoy the scenery depicted in the exercises.

If I imagine my thoughts going away, doesn't that mean that I am ignoring my problems?

If you are a worrier, you probably think too much about the problems in your life or you often think in a negative way about your experiences. Doing this exercise doesn't mean ignoring your problems, on the contrary. By creating space between yourself and your thoughts you will have the energy to find new solutions to the problems you have. Ten minutes of thought defusion means that you will give your mind a treat and allow it to build a newfound awareness that will help you approach your everyday life in a different light.

What if I don't exactly follow the instructions of imagining the scenery as it is written?

Feel free to follow your natural imaginative tendency. The directions are there to make the exercise easier for you. If, along the way, you want to add or alter some aspect of the exercise (for example you might imagine a sunnier sky or sand on the beach instead of a desert), feel free to do so as longs as the essence of the exercise is still there. The point is that you try to practice defusing your thoughts.

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Comments About Thought Defusion

  1. I find it difficult focusing my thoughts on the scenario place and letting go … I did try the fish in the sea.

  2. I did the DBT 10 week course 5 years ago. I was the only one who never missed a session. It helped me heal but with 3 different moves since then, I simply forgot about the tools gradually. My therapist sent me this link. I’m going to do my best to apply this refresher course. I forgot how it helped

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