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SuperBetter: Distractions and Power Breathing

So today’s SuperBetter tricks are concrete things you can use to get through difficult holiday moments.  Or, really, any moment.  We’ve been using them all over the place.


The twins sat down for dinner and looked out the window. Every night, a family of deer ends up walking through our front yard or a neighbour’s yard, so we spend a lot of time looking out the window, waiting for them. I set down the meal and said, “I’m going to give you a task. I want you to spend 10 seconds NOT thinking about the deer. Don’t think about the deer AT ALL. Got it? 10 seconds, no deer. I’ll count.”

They both started giggling nervously as they looked at each other, and admitted at the end of the 10 second count that they had spent the entire 10 seconds thinking about the deer. How could they not? I had told them (1) don’t think about deer and (2) they were sitting by the window which is where they always see the deer. So there was nowhere to look that didn’t trigger the thought that I had just reminded them several times not to have.

I gave them the second part of the task: “Once again, spend a minute NOT thinking about the deer. But this time, I want you to come up with a list of words that contain an “S” somewhere before an “E” like house or seat or stare. As many words you can come up with in a minute while not thinking about deer. Got it? I’ll count again.”

They giggled through the first few seconds, but then I started seeing their fingers pop up as they counted how many words they could list in a minute. When I called time, they told me that while the deer had popped into their brain a few times towards the beginning, by the end, they had mostly forgotten about the deer until I stopped the activity.

The exercise highlights the idea of spotlight attention (p. 33), which explains how we can fully lose ourselves in a game and not realize how long we’ve been playing it. It’s also something that a person can use to distract themselves from anxiety when you’re in an uncomfortable situation or you’re going to your worst case scenario mental place, even if triggers for those thought are all around you. If nothing else, playing this quick game is an internal reminder that you need to re-focus. At best, it can break the anxious or disruptive thoughts long enough that you can get back on task. And it only takes a minute to do.

Power Breathing

I love this one.  I’ve been reminding the kids to do it whenever they’re scared, and I do it whenever I start panicking as I’m lying awake at 2 am, going through what ifs.  Breathe out double the length of time that you’re breathing in.  That’s it (p. 82).

So breathe in for the count of 3 and breathe out for the count of 6 (or use 4 and 8 if you have enough lung power).  In for 3, out for 6, over and over again, for as long as you can keep up this rhythm.  If fact, set the timer for a minute, close your eyes, and try breathing like this until the timer goes off.  It may not solve all of your problems, but I’m willing to bet that you will feel calmer or more relaxed after one minute.

These are just two of the hundreds of exercises in the book.

I’m writing about SuperBetter the app as well as SuperBetter the book because… well… I learned about them via a podcast and now I want to talk about everything I’m learning on them.  If you want to talk about them, too, join along.  If not, skip the posts marked SuperBetter.


1 nicoleandmaggie { 12.14.16 at 1:40 pm }

Yay CBT breathing! (I do in two three four, out two three four, so not double time out.)

2 Click { 12.14.16 at 3:36 pm }

I learned about the power breathing technique in music class at school (of all places). I sometimes find it helps me to fall asleep. 🙂

3 Justine { 12.14.16 at 8:28 pm }

I need these. I am becoming completely sleep deprived, waking up at 2 and 3 am. I’ll give them a shot …

4 Ana { 12.15.16 at 9:25 am }

I just count my breathing, but never tried to double it. Maybe I’ll try that extra challenge, for extra anxious times. I play word or number games on my phone incessantly when I am stressed, so I know all about distraction. I also make my son do math problems or count when he’s freaking out. It helps a lot.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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