For more than a decade, researchers have known that all major psychological disorders — including depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia — are associated with an excessive tendency to rumination. When faced with depressive or anxious urges, your mind often goes into overdrive by becoming excessively engrossed in thoughts.
“Engrossive” thinking is the primary mediating factor that exacerbates psychological disorders. However, until now there has been no therapeutic approach that integrated this key finding.
Psychiatric medications and conventional therapies often don’t work very well because they fail to address this factor. Unlike New Age therapies such as mindfulness, this technique does not work by developing a nonjudgmental awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Instead, it works by changing the directionality of mental attention so that your awareness of your thoughts and emotions is reduced.
External Visual Attention Technique is based on the following principles:
- “Engrossive thinking” is the primary mediating factor in the onset and persistence of psychological disorders.
- Psychological disorders can be overcome by reducing the occurrence of engrossive thinking.
When faced with depressive or anxious urges, your mind resorts to engrossive thinking. For instance, a nervous public speaker’s mind is caught up in its racing thoughts rather than paying full attention to his audience. This tendency to become engrossed in thoughts rather than your surroundings is called inward-directed mental attention.
Occurrence of engrossive thinking could be for a few moments (as in social anxiety) or for extended periods (as in depressive brooding).
Frequently directing mental attention outward can help you to overcome the tendency to become engrossed in thoughts. An externally-directed mind is less susceptible and less influenced by the anxious and depressive urges generated in your brain. The simplest and the most effective way to direct your mental attention outward is to deliberately direct your visual attention at the surroundings.
The act of deliberately looking at your surroundings, even if for only a short time, is enough to significantly reduce the engrossing nature of your thinking. When you do so, the subjective intensity and the perceived importance of anxious and depressive thoughts will seem drastically diminished. This will make it easy for you to disengage from these anxious and depressive thought processes.
Performing this technique daily will train your mind to become more externally directed in the long term. Constant practice can cure depression, OCD and other anxiety disorders.
To apply this technique, all that you have to do is deliberately look at the external world frequently throughout the day and especially during times of psychological distress. (“External world” refers to your surroundings.)
You should ensure that you deliberately look at the external world whenever you encounter sadness, confusion, doubt or anxiety. Do this technique periodically throughout the day, even during times without emotional distress, so that it becomes a habit.
It is easy to incorporate this technique into your daily life. You can deliberately stare at the face of the person you are talking to. You can deliberately stare at things in front of you as you walk down the street. You can deliberately stare at the computer screen in front of you. You may keep repeating the phrase “look at the external world” in your mind if you tend to be forgetful.
Don’t be overly fussy about the technique and don’t overdo it. It is impossible to keep your attention externally directed all the time.