Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Streets Demonstrate Cognitive Defusion

One of my favourite songs of all time is The Streets' Empty Cans. But I only just realised that it's a great example of cognitive defusion, with a lot to teach us career changers about the power of thought to limit our reality.

In the first half of the song, Mike is convinced that one of his mates has stolen £1,000 from him, which he'd left on the TV (and which is now broken). He's fused with thoughts like:

Can you rely on anyone in this world? No you can't. it's not my fault there's wall to wall empty cans. Scott texted me to tell me he'd look at my TV for me, but I laid it down telling him to fuck right off chap.

In the second half of the song, Mike replays exactly the same events and still feels exactly the same way, but note the difference:

Scott texted me to tell me he'd look at the TV for me...I felt like telling him to fuck right off chap...

Mike had the thought of telling him to fuck right off...but didn't. This allowed space and time for a different conversation to emerge. And from that, a new truth emerges when Scott comes round to fix the TV:

He had to unscrew about 15 screws before he could get the panel off....When he looked down the back of the TV his eyes just freeze before he rammed his hand in saying No shit! I get up wondering what he's smiling about he's shaking his head at this point with, the biggest of grins. I look down at the back of the TV and there it is, in all its thousand quid.

It's interesting to note that if you trace this subtle shift back, Mike's change in attitude occurs before words. We notice that there is a single note played at the beginning of the second half, exactly 3 mins and 33 seconds in. I don't know what that note is, but it changes everything.

This is an example of cognitive defusion. Rather than fusing with the idea of everyone being against him, he thinks that thought and feels that emotion...and maintains a tiny space between him and the thought. In that space, Mike is able to choose a different response to the same situation.

So many career changers are in this position, fused with the idea that we are stuck, that it's too late, that we're failures. But these are just thoughts.

Mike puts it best:

It's the end of something I did not want to end, beginning of hard times to come. But something that was not meant to be is done, and this is the start of what was.

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