Bored unhappy thoughtful woman muslim doctor intern sit at office clinic feel sadness desperation

Defusion exercises and strategies

In the moment

  • Take a moment and reflect on the PMIE you’re struggling with
  • Notice an unhelpful thought you have about it
  • Label this thought: “I am having the thought that…”
  • What do you notice when you make this change?

Reflection and growth


This mindfulness exercise can help you practice defusing from painful self-identities.

  • Think about the identities you have (e.g., nurse, parent, spouse, your cultural identity, sports fan, etc.) 
  • Think of the one identity that is most important to you
  • Think about how that part of yourself thinks, feels, looks, and behaves
  • Close your eyes and shift your attention to your imagination
  • Picture a little caricature of this identity standing in the palm of your hand. What might it say? How might it act?
  • As you are holding the identity in your hand, say to yourself, “I hold this image lightly, as though I am a warm breeze holding a small floating feather. This is not me” 
  • In this moment, how did your fusion with your identity shift?
  • Did you find yourself wanting to cling to the identity? If so, then what do you make of this?

The Matrix


As we describe in this program’s appendix, it’s possible to get stuck in a loop on the Away side of the Matrix. This can happen when your moral pain leads you to behaviours that soothe you in the short term, but don’t move you to the Toward side in the long term.

Even if you somehow free yourself of all the difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories on the Away side of the Matrix, that doesn’t guarantee you will find yourself on the Toward side. And you should know that you can make Toward moves even in the presence of yucky internal experiences on the Away side. On the Matrix, you’re just trying to help yourself spend more time on the Toward side than you did before. We all make Away moves! 

It’s important to be kind to yourself. Rather than focusing on what not to do (“Do not make Away moves”), focus on what you can do (“Do make Toward moves”) to move yourself closer to what matters to you.

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a lot of pain. This pain may be further impacted by becoming fused with your thoughts. Those thoughts, while sometimes based on the facts, may further perpetuate your pain and suffering.

Fill out the chart using the following prompts. Start in the lower-right quadrant and go clockwise.

  1. Lower right: What thoughts remind you of what you value, and motivate you to act? Who do you think of when you feel most inspired to be your best?
  2. Lower left: What thoughts and feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic have kept you from living your life? (E.g., “People are undeserving of my trust”; “I have been betrayed”; “This amount of suffering is too much for me”…) What thoughts contribute to you avoiding pain?
  3. Upper left: What do you do to get away from these difficult thoughts and feelings? When you are fused with unhelpful stories, what provides you relief but moves you away from what matters? (Note: These avoidance behaviours may contribute to more unhelpful thoughts, creating a cycle that adds to your suffering. By defusing, you can stop the cycle. You can notice your painful thoughts and feelings, while also remembering what matters to you.)
  4. Upper right: What defusion techniques can help you act in alignment with your values? What actions can you take that will give you a sense of pride and connection?

Remember you don’t have to decide if the thoughts and feelings on the Away side are true or false. Once you have finished the four quadrants, look to the centre of the Matrix and notice (with kindness and curiosity) how your responses show whether you are moving toward or away from what matters to you.

The Matrix
Tap and hold (or right click) the image to save and/or print it. (Alternatively, you can draw two lines on a blank journal page to make four quadrants.)