Episode 34: Psychologist Andrea Bonior

Learn How to Detox Your Thoughts and Build Mental Strength

Andrea Bonior is the mentally strong person of the week.

Verywell / Julie Bang

Andrea Bonior is a clinical psychologist, college professor, and bestselling author. She also writes a weekly column for The Washington Post called “Baggage Check.”

She’s the author of Detox Your Thoughts, a book filled with helpful, actionable tips for dealing with unhelpful ways of thinking. 

Andrea is very adept at taking complex scientific principles and breaking them down into helpful tips. She offers helpful strategies for dealing with anxious, negative, and unhelpful thoughts as well as the habits that stem from them.

Andrea Bonior

The data really shows us that depression and anxiety are not caused by the presence of negative thoughts. They're caused by those thoughts becoming sticky because we give them power.

— Andrea Bonior

She offered many helpful tips during the show. Here’s my take on three of the powerful strategies she shared.

Create an Environment That Makes it Easier to Succeed

Andrea makes it clear that if you want to change your behavior, you can’t depend on willpower. Instead, you’ll increase your chances of success by changing your environment. Create a setting that makes it easier to engage in healthier habits.  

Andrea Bonior

We have to have our environment adapted to what we want to actually do. We have to create a system that works.

— Andrea Bonior

My Take 

Eliminating the temptations and surrounding yourself with things that make your good habits easier to accomplish make a huge difference in your chances of success. It’s a common strategy that we start with in therapy when people want to change their lives.

Whether it means only keeping healthy food in the house or surrounding yourself with positive, healthy people, your environment matters—regardless of how mentally strong you are.

Randomize the Timing of an Unhealthy Habit You Want to Quit 

Andrea said that if you want to cut down on a bad habit (like smoking), you shouldn’t wait until you’re really stressed out to smoke. Otherwise, your brain will continue to link smoking with stress, and you’ll struggle to quit.

Instead, she says you should allow yourself to smoke a certain number of cigarettes at random times throughout the day—or at scheduled pre-planned intervals. Then, when you’re stressed out and tempted to turn to cigarettes to help you cope, you’ll be forced to lean on other coping strategies.

"A lot of us don't realize over the course of the day how we've learned to use these habits that manage uncomfortable feelings because we run from the uncomfortable feeling," says Bonior.

My Take

The way we cut back on a bad habit matters. Conventional wisdom often tells us to reserve bad habits—like overeating or smoking—for the times we need them the most. But engaging in them when you’re overwhelmed or stressed out can keep you from learning the coping skills you need to quit altogether.

I suspect it can work with lots of unhealthy habits you might turn to for stress relief—including mindless social media scrolling.

Write Down Your Thoughts

Andrea recommends that people write down their thoughts as a way to give those unhelpful thoughts less power. This can help people recognize when they are experiencing a “depressed voice” or an “anxious voice.” These types of thoughts aren’t likely to be true.

Andrea Bonior

People who suffer from depression really need to learn to recognize that depressed voice. We know... that depressed voice is just not an accurate representation of how things are.

— Andrea Bonior

My Take

Writing down your thoughts can help you begin to recognize patterns. You might call yourself names whenever you make a mistake, or you might predict bad things are going to happen whenever you encounter a new situation.

Seeing these thoughts on paper can help you think more rationally about them. You might recognize how unproductive and untrue they are once you write them down. Learning how to think more realistically—and how to tune out thoughts that aren’t helpful—is a powerful way to build mental strength.

To hear more of Andrea's thoughts on mental strength, listen to the full episode on my Mentally Strong People podcast. Each week, I’ll share another Mentally Strong Person and explain how their strategies can help you think, feel, and do your best in life.

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