One core process that mindfulness practice affects is the ability to observe thoughts,
emotions, and sensations. The ability to observe allows individuals to take a step back and
realize there is a difference between an event and the thoughts that the event triggers.
This awareness creates room for choice between stimulus and response and allows the
individual to cope with the situation more effectively and intentionally.
The goal of this exercise is to let clients experience how thoughts shape and trigger
feelings. Moreover, by becoming aware of this causal relationship and observing thoughts,
a negative cycle of thinking and feeling can be prevented. In short, the exercise can help
clients understand that:
■ Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are mental events.
■ Emotional reactions reflect interpretations about situations rather than the actual
Step 1: Imagining a scenario
Ask participants to sit comfortably and try to imagine the following scenario as vividly as possible:
“Imagine strolling along a street that you know well. As you look up, you notice that there is someone you
know on the other side of the road. You smile and wave; however, the person does not respond. The person
continues to walk without giving you the slightest reaction.”
Step 2: Review the exercise
■ As you were imagining, did you notice any of your thoughts?
■ As you were imagining, did you notice any of your emotions?
It can sometimes be challenging to differentiate between our thoughts and emotions as they can play off
each other quite rapidly. Below are some sample thoughts and emotions that may have occurred during
|“I wasn’t even noticed. What did I do to upset him/her?”||Worried|
|“Why did that happen?”||Intrigued|
|“How rude. He/she clearly saw me. Fine. Be that way.”||Anger|
|“He/she must not like me all that much.”||Sadness|
|“He/she is probably in a rush. I hope he/she makes it on time.”||Concerned|
■ Which of the above thoughts and emotions pairs do you most relate to upon reflecting on your
■ Are there any thoughts and emotions you would add?
■ How helpful was this exercise for you?
■ What might you do next with your actions as a result of those thoughts/feelings?