The Space Probe

  • The Space Probe – Introduction
  • What you are Trying to Achieve
  • Where to Start
  • Examples of Objectives

The space probe – introduction

This is a useful technique for people who are living with the outcomes of brain injury because it encourages natural processes.

It also induces relaxation and can have calming effects. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you do this exercise but try to get into the habit of doing this at least once a day to reap the most significant rewards.

You do all the work yourself with this exercise, so you are empowered and in control of regaining your functionality and awareness.

This exercise helps you to observe your brain injury – not you, and not other people; it is about observation only.

This strategy uses the imagination, so try and let your sense of self fall to the back of the brain. 

This technique helps us to be less emotional and self-judgmental – it helps us to be more objective and focused on what we are trying to achieve. 

You are the scientist observing a subject.

You aren’t doing this to try and work out who was ‘right,’ and who was ‘wrong.’ The point of the exercise is to improve your observational skills, insight, and self-awareness.

What you are trying to achieve 

The ‘space probe’ strategy will help you improve your:

  • working memory
  • long-term memory
  • conscious awareness
  • insight and realisation
  • learning capacity
  • understanding of preferences and beliefs
  • metacognition 

When you take time to practice this technique daily, you will find that it becomes easier, and that you notice more and more detail about your day. 

The benefits will be noticeable, and you will also see improvements in what you are doing and how you are doing things.

Using this approach will help you notice which skills your brain is having problems with – so noticing what is ‘broken,’ communicate better, focus on your goals, and to take back control.

Once you have finished the exercise start thinking about how you can use new insights.  Don’t feel afraid to talk out loud to yourself. Give your brain clear instructions. For example, you may have noticed you didn’t think before you spoke so you might want to say, ‘brain I want you to pause, take a moment and breath before speaking.’

Perhaps you noticed that your body goes into panic mode before speaking in which case your instruction might be, ‘each time I feel an emotional response coming I will take a deep breath and pause.’

Take charge! Tell your brain what you want it to do. You will find that it begins to respond in the ways you have told it to do. Think of your brain as a child you are teaching. Take it by the hand; give it clear instructions and clear feedback about how well it did.

You are not your brain injury. You are the captain of the ship!

Where and how to start – 

Lay quietly in a quiet darkened room, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Be mindful of your diaphragm rising, your ribs expanding, and let breaths out slowly. Try to release tension. Take a minute or two just to centre yourself.

Start to think in pictures. It doesn’t matter if you are any good at this or not, or if you can actually visualise anything. What you are trying to achieve is the sense of being detached and outside of yourself. If it helps you can pretend you are looking in a mirror. It doesn’t matter if you can see details or features.

Try to imagine that you have climbed into a little space ship and it is hovering above your body and you the spaceman is looking back down at you. You understand that the brain is injured – not the person, and this is what you are focused on observing – where did the brain ‘fail?’

Don’t worry if you find this difficult at first, just keep putting your mind ‘above’ or away from your ‘body-self’ so that you have a different ‘outside’ perspective of you. You might find it easier to imagine looking at yourself in front of a mirror – try to visualise a full-length reflection rather than just your face. You might imagine that you are a visitor sitting next to your bed looking at you.

Think back to your day and any notes you may have taken about an interaction that you didn’t understand or didn’t go well.

Let your mind wander through the day starting with the first thing you remember. As your mind walks through the day pause at the first thing that you struggled with. Try to focus on one thing rather than trying to remember as many things as possible – this isn’t the objective. It doesn’t matter if several things went wrong in the day that you want to address – it is better to practice the technique so that you get used to doing it. Breaking things down is more important by far than ‘catching’ and deliberating over every scenario that happened during the day.

Be objective. Try and think back and remember all the details you can. It doesn’t matter what you remember, or how much, it matters that you have an event to investigate mindfully.

Some examples of possible objectives – 

We will use an imaginary scenario as an example of how to work through any incident you recalled while you were using the space probe technique that you want to know more about.

Say someone was trying to help you understand that using the lawnmower isn’t a good idea during your day and you recalled becoming cross and marching away in disgust. 

During the exercise the objective is to take your mind back there and try to slow things down.

Start ‘mind-stepping’ through the few minutes before the event. What were you doing, what were you thinking, what were your intentions?

If you can, break down what happened.

Were you already distracted when someone approached you? Did you find it difficult leaving the task you were doing (getting the lawnmower out) to focus on them? Were you confused when the person approached you?

Perhaps you were distracted by your own thought?  Say you were thinking, ‘I have always cut the grass, so why shouldn’t I now?’

Here we pause and slow things down some more – what happened next, frame by frame? What can you ‘see’ from your outside ‘space probe’ perspective?

Think about whether or not this reactionary thought, ‘I have always done this,’ interfered with your ability to listen to what was being said to you.

Maybe you can picture yourself upset and stomping off before you were able to listen. Remember – any emotion belongs to the ‘body-self’ you are observing. You are trying to learn what your broken brain did – this has nothing to do with ‘you’ the person.

Without realising it at that moment, you may now understand that the time it took you to have a reactionary thought distracted you from listening. Maybe you didn’t hear the first part of what you were being told and so misunderstood the rest.

When you were pondering the thought, ‘I have always cut the grass,’ you may now observe that it was this thought itself that may have fired off an automatic response from you, which was possibly also emotional before you could pause and think.

Look at the you who is lying on the bed and think about what that person could have done differently.

Could they have paused to listen? Could they have asked the other person to pause for a moment so that you could gather your thoughts? Could you have made a mental note about what you were doing so that you could have switched your focus to the person approaching you?

What things could your brain have done better? What have you learned from rewinding the memory and watching it back? What can you change now or for the next time?

While you are focused open your eyes and write all your thoughts down in your reflective journal.

Make points about practical brain tasking flaws that you noticed, and if you have the energy, now try to relate these outcomes and insights to other things that happened during the day.

It doesn’t matter if you are too tired to continue. The more you practice this, the more energy you will have, and the longer you will be able to stay focused.

You should find that you have moments of exhilaration as you notice the things that your brain wasn’t doing well.

Reflect back on the list above about all the things you wanted to monitor. You can use the notes you made to continue this exercise another day or when you have more energy.

Remember don’t take anything personally – you are observing the capabilities of your brain – not trying to make judgements about you or anyone else.

You may observe ways that you could have been better helped. You can feed these back to the people around you and let them know that you have discovered ways they can better assist you.