The process of becoming aware of and focusing your attention toward noticing the appearance of a thought, sensation, urge, response, or event as it arises.

Mental notes involve more than simply identifying a deceptive brain message, uncomfortable sensation, or habitual response—they also include focusing your attention on them long enough for you to encode, or remember, the experience without becoming ensnared by it. This allows you to start noticing patterns in your thoughts, urges, sensations, and responses that are unhelpful or harmful to you. When you repeatedly make mental notes, you start to “see” the unhealthy thoughts, urges, sensations, and responses faster and can dismiss them before they spiral out of control. We will teach you more about mental notes in Part Two of the book when we discuss Step 1: Relabel. For now, keep in mind that mental notes are a powerful way to identify your deceptive brain messages and the patterns they create so that you can more rapidly dismiss them and refuse to give in to their commands.

Saying No to False Brain Messages—–Reframing Their Content

Making mental notes was a key step for Connie, but it was not enough on its own. She also needed to evaluate the content of her deceptive brain messages so she could counter and veto them.

One day while at Drake’s assisted living facility, Connie fell in the shower. She was not yet strong enough to walk on her own and was still using a wheelchair. Having no way to summon help, Connie knew she would have to figure out a way to get to the hall. As Connie lay there, she managed to get her upper body onto the seat of the wheelchair and propelled herself forward on her knees. She was making progress, but then her chair got stuck on the door frame. “I had this awful ‘I can’t do this’ moment,” she recalls, and she momentarily gave up.

Then, something miraculous happened. A few moments after saying “I can’t,” Connie realized that she was giving in to a deceptive brain message. She reminded herself of something she had learned years earlier: Whenever she said the phrase “I can’t,” what she was really communicating is “I won’t.” The minute she recognized what was really happening and called it like it was, she remembers, “I was totally empowered to do it.” She turned the deceptive brain message on itself by discounting it and instead believing in herself by saying, “Of course I will! This is ridiculous.” Once she labeled and Reframed the content of her deceptive brain message by looking at it rationally, Connie calmed down, collected her thoughts, and figured a way out of the bathroom, successfully receiving the help she needed.

Connie’s process of Relabeling her negative brain messages (Step 1) and Reframing their content (Step 2) as self-punitive allowed her to veto the intended action (Step 3)—the one telling her to give up and accept defeat. To counteract those negative messages, she used a rational, supportive perspective to see reality as it truly was and believe in herself. In other words, she successfully invoked her Wise Advocate to reevaluate the deceptive brain messages. With its guidance, she chose a positive, healthy response that enabled her to get help.

Veto Power
Another one of Connie’s assets was her ability to focus her attention away from deceptive brain messages and on to activities that helped her regulate her physical and emotional sensations. Struggling daily to make gains in therapy, Connie remembers crying and feeling overwhelmed whenever anyone would come visit her. While she wasn’t depressed or demoralized, she would become flooded with physical and emotional sensations that were out of her control. At one point, a psychologist recommended that she consider taking an antidepressant to deal with her crying spells. The psychologist said to her, “If you are going to cry every time someone comes in, your friends won’t want to come around anymore.” Because of her strong belief in herself and strong alignment with her Wise Advocate, Connie declined the medications and responded by saying, “Look, my friends will come and if they don’t, they’re not friends. I will take care of it.” And she did.

When those overwhelming physical and emotional sensations surfaced, Connie would “stop a second and swallow—then I could get over it.” By focusing on a physical act like swallowing (i.e., Step 3: Refocusing away from the distressing false sensations), Connie was able to move forward. That ability to refuse to give in to her deceptive brain messages—what we call veto power—allowed her to choose new responses that enabled her to interact with her family and friends in the ways she wanted.

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