- If the thought pops back again (which it likely will), this is not a sign that postponement hasn’t
worked, after all we can’t control what pops into our head. What we are postponing is the further
thinking, spiralling, chasing or snowballing of those thoughts, otherwise known as worrying. So
when a thought pops back, write it down or put a tick next to it if it is already in your notebook,
and repeat the above postponement steps.
3. When you get to your thinking time
- Only think about the things you’ve listed if you feel you must.
- You don’t have to think about them if they no longer bother you, or if they no longer seem
relevant to you. You could just cross them off your list to signify that they
are no longer important.
- If you do need to spend time thinking about them, only do this for the set
amount of time specified and try to do this in a productive way on paper.
- If the issue that is bothering you is something solvable, then do some
problem solving on paper (e.g., what is the problem, what are my options
for dealing with this, what plan could I put in place to take some action –
you will find out more about this in Module 7).
- If the issue is something you recognise you may be overreacting to, try to
think about it in a more helpful, balanced, realistic way (e.g., what would be a more helpful way to
think about this?, what would I say to a friend who was thinking the same way?, etc – you will find out
more about this in Module 8)
- If the issue is not something you can take action with or think about differently, either think about
it on paper, or use your mindfulness meditation practice (from Module 4) to help with accepting
and letting go of these thoughts, or continue to postpone it for now.
- Finally, it is often good to follow your thinking time with some activity that you know lifts your
mood (e.g., certain music, book or TV show, a walk, time with pets, chatting to a friend, etc).
Common postponement pitfalls
It is important to do postponement properly, formally and thoroughly initially to be able to really test if
your worrying is controllable. As with any experiment, if it isn’t done properly, we can’t really make any
new discoveries. The following are the most common ways that postponement is not done properly.
Watch out for these so that they don’t contaminate your experiment.
Suppressing or non-accepting attitude.
Make sure the things you say to yourself in your mind when you
decide to postpone are very accepting of those initial negative thoughts (e.g., “postpone”, “catch you later”,
“see you at 4pm”, “park it for now”, etc). Getting angry with yourself or saying things like “stop it” or “push it
away”, are signs that you are trying to suppress the thoughts, rather than accept them and postpone further
thinking for now.
Giving up when the thoughts pop back
. A thought may only pop up once, but it could pop up 10 times or
100 times. It doesn’t matter. Having to repeatedly postpone the same thought doesn’t mean
postponement hasn’t worked. Remember we aren’t changing what pops into our head, but we are
changing how we respond. Expect and accept that thoughts will pop back.
. Rationalising or thinking logically when a negative thought pops up may seem like a helpful
thing to do, but if it truly was helpful, this strategy would have put your worries to rest a long time ago.
Rationalising in the moment when a thought pops up, is ultimately a way of pulling it close, giving the
thoughts time, energy, and attention. It could also be a covert form of suppression, trying to ‘logic the
worry away’. Any rational thinking is fine in your designated thinking time, but avoid using it in the moment
to respond to a negative thought that has popped up. Instead acknowledge and accept the thought, and
immediately disengage from further thinking till your thinking time.
Avoiding thinking time
. Some people avoid thinking time because they anticipate it will be unpleasant. This
is likely because of “danger beliefs” which we will address later. Try to commit to thinking time and stick
to the time limit. And remember you don’t have to think about things that are no longer important. For
those that do still seem important, try to engage in helpful and constructive thinking.
• Psychotherapy • Research • Training
Module 3: Negative Beliefs About Worrying – “Uncontrollable”