“Meditation, mindfulness and other tools can help us avoid unwanted thoughts,” says social psychologist Daniel Wegner in this month’s edition of Monitor on Psychology.
Have you ever wanted to avoid thinking about a particular experience or topic only to find that it continually intrudes into your thoughts and activities? And the more you try to suppress the thought the more intrusive it becomes? Wegner, a Harvard University Professor, terms these thoughts “white bears” and after encountering these thoughts 25 years ago, delved into research on thought suppression.
Through research over the course of a decade he found that when we try not to think of something part of the brain avoids the thought, but another part “checks in” to make sure the thought is not coming up. Ironically, this “checking in” to make sure the thought is not coming up, brings it to mind.
So what do you do, when your mind inevitably “checks in” with those thoughts you most want to keep out of your consciousness? In a presentation for the American Psychological Association, Wegner described several strategies to suppress thoughts that intrude even when you are trying not to think them.
The techniques he described include:
Have you used any of these techniques to suppress unwanted thoughts? How about other strategies? What do you find most helpful when an unwanted thought intrudes into your mind?
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response
Photo by Simon Music, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 12 Apr 2012