top of page

Leaves On A Stream


Leaves On A Stream

Leaves on a Stream is a powerful exercise in for placing yourself in the 'observer' position - the one who observes what is happening and takes considered action. It helps settle the mind, release unwanted and repetitive thoughts, enables us to notice patterns and problems in our thinking, and allows us to occupy a space which is separate and more empowered than being at the mercy of our uncontrollable thoughts.

About this resource:
This is a wonderful exercise, made famous by Russ Harris, is part of his powerful Acceptance and Commitment Therapy framework. The exercise itself assists with symptoms of 'cognitive diffusion', which is being unhelpfully fused with our thoughts.

How do you think about your thoughts now? Do you feel like you have a little space around them, and a little more power to observe them and respond to thinking with more calm, rather than feeling your thoughts control you?

1. Sit in a comfortable position and either close your eyes or rest them gently on a fixed spot in the room.

2. Visualise yourself sitting beside a gently flowing stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. (Pause 10sec)

3. For the next few minutes, take each thought that enters your mind and place it on a leaf... let it float by. Do this with each thought - pleasurable, painful, or neutral. Even if you have joyous or enthusiastic thoughts, place them on the leaf and let them float by.

4. If your thoughts momentarily stop, continue to watch the stream. Sooner or later, your thoughts will start again. (Pause 20sec)

5. Allow the stream to flow at its own pace. Don't try to speed it up and rush your thoughts along. You're not trying to rush the leaves along or "get rid" of your thoughts. You are allowing them to come and go at their own pace.

6. If your mind says "this is dumb," "I'm bored," or "I'm not doing this right" place those thoughts on leaves too, and let them pass. (Pause 20sec)

7. If a leaf gets stuck, allow it to hang around until it's ready to float by. If the thought comes up again, watch it float by another time. (Pause 20sec)

8. If a difficult or painful feeling arises, simply acknowledge it. Say to yourself, "I notice myself having a feeling of frustration/boredom/impatience." Place those thoughts on leaves and allow them to float along.

9. From time to time, your thoughts may hook you and distract you from being fully present in this exercise. This is normal. As soon as you realise that you have become sidetracked, gently bring your attention back to the stream.

bottom of page