How to Stop Unwanted Thoughts? 4 Steps to Get Your Sanity Back
I’m sure I’m not alone when I talk about experiencing uncomfortable and unwanted thoughts buzzing around and around inside of your head. You know the ones. Those unhelpful thoughts and worries, the memories of the past, or the doom and gloom forward projections you conjure up in your mind.
They’re exhausting right? And they often lead us into a downward spiral of feeling pretty shitty about life (and ourselves).
Maybe you’re thinking that you’ll never get have another relationship, maybe you’re thinking that your friends are all talking about your back, or perhaps you’re thinking that you’re not good enough no matter how many people tell you you’re amazing at what you do.
We like to fight, push and numb uncomfortable and unwanted thoughts away
When something happens to you in life that is unpleasant or causes you distress, you are genetically wired to create distance from it. Of course, this approach is alot harder if it’s connected with the thoughts happening inside of your head. You can’t exactly remove your head….
So many of us enter a fruitless battle with our internal experiences, desperately trying to push down and fight away painful feelings and unhelpful thoughts. Some of us use food as a means to escape our internal battles, some of us use alcohol and a few glasses of wine each evening to help numb and block them out, or perhaps the use of other drugs…. We may also avoid ‘alone time’ for fear of being left alone with nothing but the thoughts inside of our heads.
What it all comes down to is this - that we don’t want to sit in the yuckiness of our uncomfortable thoughts. It doesn’t feel great. We want them gone. Puff. Magically disappeared.
But we’re also wise enough to know that’s not an option. Sorry.
Stop fighting. You need to Make space for negative thoughts and worries instead.
Are you familiar with the expression, “what we resist, persists”? Every time you try block out those unwanted and uncomfortable thoughts you’re actually fuelling the very fire you want to put out.
You’re also harming your health if your strategies are to numb your way out of them with food, alcohol, or drugs. So consider for a moment another approach which is grounded in human behavioural psychology. And this is to learn to learn to step back and let those thoughts be there without getting all caught up in them or overwhelmed by them. Easier said than done tight?
But here’s the thing, the more open you can be and give them space to be there, the easier it is for those thoughts and feelings to come and go without draining you or holding you back.
The 4 steps to giving your unwanted thoughts space (without getting caught up in them)
1. BECOME PRESENT
Let’s not over-complicate this first step with fancy breathing exercises and mindfulness tools. This step is as simple as taking a slow deep breath and simply acknowledging the here and now. Just connect with the present moment. You may wish to close your eyes, and some find it helpful to say the words ‘I am fully present in this moment’.
2. CHALLENGE THE THOUGHT
It usually won’t take long for that negative thought to pop into your mind. When it does I’d like you to simply acknowledge it, and then challenge it. I use the questions below with clients to challenge their long standing negative thoughts which may have gone unchecked for years!
Is that thought true?
Can you absolutely know that?
How do you know it’s true?
How do you react when that thought comes up? What happens?
What happens when you believe your thoughts?
What would happen if you didn’t believe your thoughts?
3. DEFUSE THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
At this stage your thoughts may already have lost some of their power. You may have experienced an ‘aha moment’ or gained some clarity about an aspect of your life. Now as we move onto step 3 we want to learn how to defuse those negative thoughts when they come up. A great way to do this is to welcome in that thought and then just let it drift out of your mind in the same way it drifted in.
You may like to say in your mind ‘Oh, there’s that thought of not being good enough again’. Remember, you have the choice of whether or not to engage with it, of whether or not to jump into that thought and fuel that thought with emotion.
Imagine your thoughts are like cars that drive past your house. They are just thoughts. You don’t have to like them or judge them, they can just be.
You can have a thought without becoming that thought.
Another great visualisation to unhook yourself from a thought, is to simply imagine a clear blue sky and see those thoughts like clouds which simply float in and away out of your mind.
4. ACCEPTING NEGATIVE unwanted THOUGHTS AND WORRY
Acceptance simply means making room for painful feelings and thoughts. Using the above steps you can learn to start being present in the ‘here and now’, challenge the truth behind the thought, and then defuse them by not getting caught up in them.
Just because you are making space for an uncomfortable thought though does not meant that it’s your truth or that you need to take any action towards it. You are simply giving up the struggle and not fighting against it. You’re recognising that those thoughts only have power when you give them power e.g. when you ‘hook’ in on them and indulge them.
What you’re doing is breaking the pattern.
Become untangled from your thoughts
There are many different techniques and tools that you can utilise to untangle yourself from the unwanted and uncomfortable thoughts inside of your head. It’s important to know that we can never just stop our minds from thinking, even meditation doesn’t stop thinking, it simply teaches you to not get attached to the thoughts. To let the thought come and go without picking it up. In other words, mind-fullness.
See if these steps above help you to make room and find peace with your negative thoughts and feelings. And as always if you need some extra support with how to manage that internal battle you can always get in touch directly.