Here's why it's so hard to tame unwanted thoughts and this is how emotionally intelligent people use the 'Blue Dolphin’ rule to replace their 'White Bear' problems.
Two in the morning, I'm wide awake tossing in bed because a negative thought crossed my mind and I couldn't shake it off. Some rapid-fire thoughts that pop up in my head make me anxious. I try harder and harder to get rid of them, but they take over me more and more. Growing like weeds, they turn into nightmares that I can barely control. They could be painful memories, or simply some anxious thoughts. Suddenly, my pulse spikes; my heart sinks. And that's how these negative thoughts keep me stressed and anxious most of the time.
Do you also struggle with unwanted thoughts often?
"Why are they taking so long to respond to my text message? Are they mad at me? I must have annoyed them."
"Did I say that the wrong way?”
" What's going to happen if something happens to my family?"
“In my last email, I hit reply all--now everyone thinks I'm incompetent.”
“Oh my god! All my symptoms match with the disease I just read on Google.”
Such irrelevant thought could pop in your head from nowhere and you end up repeating, ruminating into, losing your sleep, appetite, and peace of mind.
Sounds familiar, then
What you experience, psychologists call it the "white bear" problem or ironic process theory.
According to this theory, when you are told not to think of a white bear, it’s likely that you will end up thinking of a white bear.
A dreadful thought crosses your mind and you want to avoid it. Later, you will find yourself becoming preoccupied with that same thought you are trying to forget.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner called it Ironic rebound,“The attempts to suppress certain thoughts can actually increase their frequency”.
That's how suppressing unwanted thoughts actually makes the problem worse; by increasing their frequency, it makes you delve more into your repressed memories.
Why it's hard to tamp down unwanted thoughts
We have a natural negative bias or tendency to automatically default on the worst possible outcome of any event. And our primitive lizard brain takes over from there and prepares our body to fight, fly or freeze in reaction to that scary thought.
Why they keep coming back
When you try not to think about something, one part of your mind does avoid it. But another part keeps an eye on it every now and then, so that it does not arise -- thus, ironically, bringing it to mind.
So if you suppress a memory you want to intentionally forget, you end up remembering it more in the long term.
That is why trying to move past bad memories, events, hurt, or a mistake can be difficult; your brain goes on a negative spiral and keeps repeating those events. The more you try to suppress the thought, the more they come back to haunt you.
How to deal with your unwanted thoughts
Here are few of the ways Daniel Wegner suggested to deal with your unwanted thoughts:
Replace your white bear with a blue dolphin!
Image credit: Getty Images / Illustration: Inc. Magazine
The blue dolphin is something that distracts you, it is a replacement thought that absorbs you completely.
That's how to deal with your white bear; try picking an absorbing thought or find a different point of concentration and focus on that instead. It's should be your "go-to" something you can immediately switch your focus to when you have dreadful thoughts, something which is positive, engaging and captivating.
Avoid dwelling on similar pattern thoughts
While you don't have control over the thoughts that enter your mind, you do have control over how long you dwell on those thoughts. And that’s how you avoid ruminating and repeating them in your head or you would end up reinforcing its position.
Treat your thoughts and pain like a guest and guests shouldn't overstay.
“My emotional pain, be my guest. Come sit with me for a while. Let me offer you some of my time. I’ m gentle with you. I 'm listening to you, just enough to feel you heard.
I heard you. Now, let me open the door. It’s time for you to leave.
I’m expecting another guest, some happy moments. I need to welcome them with open arms and embrace them. They need to stay longer here.”
Set aside a particular time to think
If you have some worry, some thoughts which you need to address, then set aside a time or postpone it to the later time of day.
You can tell yourself that in the evening, for half an hour, I will worry about these things. Then you can avoid worrying during the rest of your day.
"I'm not going to think about that until next Friday."
This could be challenging, but trying this can help you in continuously dwelling into negative thought patterns. So, allow yourself to think in controlled ways of things you want to avoid, then it will be less likely to pop back into your thoughts at other times.
Include mindfulness activity in your daily life
Try mindfulness activity and focusing on the task in hand. Mindfulness can strengthen your mental control and health, will also help you in avoiding unwanted thoughts, and improving your quality of life.
Thanks for taking the time to read.What’s your process for of dealing with unwanted thoughts? Let us know in the comment section. Enjoyed what you’ve read, please share.
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