When all else fails - Regain control with a powerful shift of focus

By: Tom Cloyd - 2 min. read (Published: 2009; reviewed: 2023-01-14Pacific Time (USA))

This procedure is the most powerful way I know to quickly escape from strong flashback trauma memories and return to a grounded, calm sense of the present. With this procedure, you set up an intense demand for attention to your present situation. This will cause a shift of focus which will then change what you are feeling.


NOTE: Before deciding to try this or any other procedure on this site, be sure to read our Disclaimer.


Since feelings are our automatic response to what we are focused on, this shift gives you relief from the worst feelings and memories you are experiencing. This procedure is similar to Conscious Orienting, except that it is more active and more powerful. It requires more effort, but works better and quicker with seriously painful feelings or memories. It is also an excellent relaxation exercise, and is helpful for calming yourself deeply right before sleep.

I developed it for those of my clients who are most bothered by such experiences, and we have found that it works exceptionally well—but only if you do it exactly as detailed here.

It is very important to do the procedure correctly. Minor deviations from the procedure can cause it to have little if any effect. There is a good reason for every part of the procedure. Do it as described below and it is a most powerful tool! To learn this procedure so that it works reliably, I have found, usually takes a coach (this can certainly be a spouse or friend, who can just read the procedure to you, step by step).

If you don’t have a coach, you can coach yourself. Do this: write out brief instructions on a set of note cards or slips of paper. These can just be the prompt words, below, if you understand what they mean. You can lay these on a table in front of you, or tape them to a wall. Then you merely look at them in the right sequence and follow the written instruction.

How to do it

Begin by sitting where you can be comfortable and uninterrupted for about three minutes (bathrooms are often good to use for this). There are just two parts to this skill – (a) three tension- release breaths, then (b) seven relaxed breaths. Learn them separately, then combine them to create the complete procedure. Here’s how to do them:

  • tension-release breaths — Read the whole procedure first, so that you understand each part of it. Learn to say the prompts in quotes, to make sure you are doing this part correctly:
    • “breathe” – take a deep breath and hold it - and continue;
    • “mouth and throat open” – make sure your mouth and throat are open (test yourself: can you pant, as if breathless?);
    • “press” – press your hands together in front of you, at about the level of your navel; keep your elbows pressed into your sides;
    • “focus” – bring your full attention to the growing tension that results from holding your breath in this way, and from the effort of pressing your hands together; if you have distracting thoughts, you are not pressing hard enough; your hands should start shaking slightly during this part of the procedure, if you are pressing hard enough; continue focusing and pressing and saying “focus” to yourself silently, until you feel you MUST release the tension – and remember that the more tension you put into this part of the procedure the more relaxation you will experience later;
    • “release” – let go of all tension; let your arms drop down completely; let your head fall back if possible; tell yourself “just let go, let the tension go”. Continue this while you take two or three easy, relaxed breaths, so you don’t get breathless or hyperventilate;
    • do the next tension-release breath, and then the final one. At that point, go on the next type of breath, below.
  • relaxed breaths – Let each breath be an easy, natural thing. Make no effort. Just breathe without trying. (This will be easy to do, after the three tension-release breaths.) As you breathe, just watch your breath rise (creating a little tension) and fall (releasing tension). With each release, allow your relaxation level to go just a little bit lower, until you have done all seven “relaxed breaths”.

At the conclusion of the procedure, slowly return to your normal awareness, keeping your looseness and calmness quietly inside of you. Encourage yourself to just feel the world around you, without thinking any more than you have to, for at least a couple of minutes.


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