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Majority Choose Painful Shocks Over Being Alone with Thoughts

Do you enjoy sitting alone with nothing but your own thoughts? Or does your mind act more like a personal torture chamber?

Second hand stressA series of 11 Harvard studies has yielded some very interesting findings. First and foremost is this: the majority of people in the study chose to self-inflict painful electric shock over sitting with nothing but their own thoughts for a mere 15 minutes.

These weren’t mild shocks, either. In fact, they were so painful that every single one of the study participants would pay money to escape them. It’s confusing. But the results speak for themselves.

Imagine – Here are your instructions as a study participant:

• Sit in a plain white room.
• You have no phone or devices and nobody to talk to.
• Nothing to do but think for a period of 15 minutes.
• You can push this button and receive a very painful electric shock.
• You can push the button as often as you’d like.
• You don’t have to push the shock button at all.

One person pushed the button 190 times.

67% of men pushed the button at least once during the 15-minute period. 25% of women hit the button at least once. The age of participants ranged from 18 to 77.

One interesting finding in this series of studies suggested that 89% of participants could not control their thoughts without the distraction of mind wandering.

Researchers considered the significant finding as follows:

But what is striking is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 min was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.

There are many ways in which your mind can torture you.

For example, your mind might:

Criticize you often
• Tell you there’s no point
• Wander aimlessly and incessantly
• Tell you that you can’t have or do what you want
• Focus on negativity
• Compare yourself unfavorably to others
• Terrify you in a variety of ways
• Remind you of past mistakes for no apparent reason

How to make peace with your mind

The most common ways to achieve peace of mind involve a variety of mindfulness practices. The problem is, a self-tortuous or wandering mind sabotages these efforts before you experience success.

A more direct route to peace of mind is to end the self-sabotage first. After all that’s what an unfriendly mind is – a self-sabotaging mind.

Most of us assimilate a multitude of negative experiences from the moment we take our first breath of air. We aren’t prepared for the onslaught of a cold, cruel world. Negative parenting and daily experiences with failure all add to the mix.

What do we do with all the negativity?

We assimilate it. It becomes part of us. In many cases chronic negative messages become so familiar that it is impossible to imagine living without them. We learn to call this negative state “home” even though we are miserable living in it. And we strangely prefer to stay there, even when other options are available.

In other words, self-sabotage becomes a way of life that many of us cling to. We organize our relationships, careers, decisions and even our personal paradigm around it.

If you can see this tendency in your life, then there is hope. Once you’ve seen it, you can then learn the nature of self-sabotage, identify it in your life and ultimately put a stop to it. This is a courageous path that few people take, but those who do experience a level of personal transformation that is uncommon in the world today.

If your mind is not your best friend, then please watch this enlightening free video on self-sabotage and begin the process of healing today.

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Majority Choose Painful Shocks Over Being Alone with Thoughts

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2014). Majority Choose Painful Shocks Over Being Alone with Thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Jul 2014
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