Trying to stop thinking is like telling yourself to not think of a pink elephant. What happens when you try to not think of a pink elephant? You’ll more than likely think of it.
If you don’t believe me then test this out. Do it now, go on.
Just tell your brain to not think of a pink elephant… What happens? Did a picture of a pink elephant pop up in your mind? Surely it did? If not then you are something special or from another planet because every person who I’ve asked to do this always automatically thinks of a pink elephant.
It might be helpful to visualise a pink elephant to begin with so that you actually have a memory of it in your mind. But once you have formed a picture of a pink elephant (more than likely it will be a cartoon elephant) then let it go and then do the exercise above.
You might succeed to start off with but it takes so much effort to not think of one that you end of thinking of a pink elephant.
This works in the same way when it comes to trying to stop your unwanted thoughts. No matter how much you try to stop your thoughts, you aggravate the monkey (chatty) mind and it drags you along in it’s thought stream like a wild river.
I’m sure whenever you are worrying about something, you probably go to people for advice. And they will usually say something like “don’t worry about it” or try not to think about it”. But I know from my own experience that this doesn’t actually help.
In fact it can actually make me more frustrated because the fact is I am thinking about it. And I can’t stop thinking about it. Surely if ‘stop thinking about it’ worked then I’d have already done it and wouldn’t need to ask people for advice.
So when someone says stop thinking about something it’s normal to want to punch them. (I’m joking btw, I don’t punch them and neither should you!)
But the point is trying to do the opposite doesn’t actually work because you just create more resistance towards whatever it is you’re trying to stop. If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t really know why it works this way but it just does.
There’s two lot’s of good news here! The first good news is I have found a way to get over this little problem and the second lot of good news is you can too!
So what can I do instead?
There are two things which really work well for me and that is allowing my thoughts to be instead of trying to block, suppress, stop or change them. And the other way which helps is to focus your attention on something intellectually engaging.
Just make sure it is something that you actually enjoy doing otherwise boredom will set in and your mind will automatically go back to focus on the unwanted thoughts as they’re far more interesting than what you’re doing.
So take your attention off your thoughts by doing something you enjoy. I’ll give you an example. Maybe you play a musical instrument? Well if you do this is a great way to distract yourself. Playing/practicing a musical instrument has been known to lower stress levels, improve mood, stimulate your brain and improve memory.
Check out this article for more information – https://www.inc.com/john-rampton/the-benefits-of-playing-music-help-your-brain-more.html
The more intellectually engaging the activity is, the more your senses are involved and the more attention is taken away from your troubling mind. This is why being engaged in boring activities or tasks doesn’t do much justice when it comes to distracting your attention away from your thoughts. The less emotion involved, the harder it is for your mind to pull away from the mental disturbance.
And Science has proven that whenever we go through a learning process, new neural connections in the brain are being formed and become strengthened by continuous learning.
Trying to stop your mind from thinking is a learnt behaviour. You’ve practiced this long enough so the synapses in your brain spark together to create new neural pathways and thus it becomes an automatic subconscious behaviour.
You can also practice allowing your thoughts to be without fighting them. Again, this is a learnt behaviour. When you practice this behaviour long enough it becomes instinctual so the old pathways in the brain will become weaker and will be replaced by the new memory of learning which is the allowance of your minds activity to be as it is.
But I actually want you to test this out for yourself. There’s no benefit in reading something, feeling good about it and then not actually doing it. This is an insidious trap I’ve fell into many times and it just gives the illusion that you’ve made progress, when the truth is you haven’t. So yeah it can be quite nasty!
So practice not stopping, changing or fighting your thoughts. Because it takes a while for this new behaviour to become an automatic process, it will require you to make a conscious effort to remember to not fight or stop your thoughts whenever the unhelpful ones arise.
A quick and powerful technique to make this practice easier is to just say to yourself, “it’s okay think this way! I’m thinking about this, so what… who cares!”. Then just focus on something else.
So to summarise this post. You have learnt that trying to stop thinking of unhelpful thoughts is not a solution to actually stopping them. You have learnt two very powerful ways which have helped me deal with unwanted thoughts and continue to do so. They are engaging your mind in something enjoyable and intellectually stimulating and practicing allowance of your mental disturbances.
Just another reminder – Make sure you actually test these practices out for yourself because only that way will you be able to tell if they’re genuinely effective.
Feel free to share this post with other’s if you think it can be of benefit. I’d like you to get back to me and share your results in the comments section below.
Try not to think of a pink elephant… did it work? 😛
Peace, love and empowerment!