The Mindbus Technique: A Visualization for Defusing Negative Thoughts


The mindbus technique is an exercise often practiced in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

The basic idea is to imagine yourself as the driver of a “mindbus” and to imagine your thoughts as passengers riding this bus with you. This is a great way to become more mindful of your thinking, while at the same time distancing yourself from your thoughts.

In one study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, individuals who used this mindbus technique showed higher self-control and were better able to resist urges to eat chocolate.

The participants were instructed to imagine their thoughts about eating chocolate as different passengers on their mindbus. They even assigned them different voices and personalities, so that each was seen as a separate person.

Then they were instructed to try different methods to take control over their mindbus. For example, imagining the passengers leaving the bus, or letting them know you’re the driver and you’re in charge.

The mindbus technique is a way to create “cognitive defusion.” This makes your thoughts less powerful by not identifying with them, but rather seeing them as just temporary experiences passing you by.

You can take any type of negative thinking and use this mindbus technique to defuse those thoughts.

Try out the mindbus technique for yourself:

  • Identify a current situation in your life where you’ve been experiencing a lot of negative thinking.
  • Write down 5 negative thoughts you have frequently about that situation.
  • Now close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths.
  • Imagine you are the driver of this “mindbus.” Visualize how your bus looks and yourself as the driver.
  • Take each one of your negative thoughts and imagine them as passengers – assign them each a different voice and personality.
  • Visualize yourself taking control over your mindbus. For example, you may find yourself saying things like, “Thank for the feedback guys, but this is my bus.”
  • Then visualize yourself stopping the mindbus and letting the negative passengers get off at their stops, one at a time.
  • Keep doing the exercise until all the negative passengers have left.
  • Take 3 deep breaths and open your eyes.

The exercise only needs to take 10-15 minutes total, but it can be a really effective way to let go of negative thoughts.

If you really wanted, you could also imagine passengers getting on the bus who represent “positive thoughts” – passengers on your mindbus that actually motivate you and encourage you along your journey.

Here’s a video I found that gives a rough idea on how the mindbus technique can play out in your mind. Pay particular attention to how each passenger represents a different type of negative thought.

Overall this is a great exercise to keep in mind the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts. I highly recommend trying it out for yourself – and even having a little fun with it.

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