Stuck thoughts …..…… the brick walls that form a prison around your mind. The harder you try to get rid of them, the more powerful they become. Here are strategies one can use when those thoughts occur, techniques that help you free yourself from their hold:
- Don’t Talk Back
The first thing you want to do when you get an intrusive thought is to respond with logic. By talking back, you think you can quiet the voice. However, you actually empower the voice. You give it an opportunity to debate with you and make its case. The more you analyze the obsession –“That is a silly thought because of reasons A, B, and C” — the more attention you give it and the more intense it becomes. Sorting things out and forcing a solution will always seem like the most compelling thing to do … but in fact focusing on these issues in this way is using exactly the wrong tools for the job.
- Know It Will Pass
I can do anything for a minute, most things for an hour, a considerable amount for a day, or two or three days. Most of my intrusive thoughts, the intense phase, anyway, have a life span of two or three days. You will find obsessions to be much more manageable if you compare them to a more challenging time in your life. Your stuck thoughts are not permanent. They will be gone soon enough.
- Focus on Now
Your stuck thought is most likely based in the past (feelings of regret, etc.) or the future. Rarely are we obsessed about something that is happening in the present because we are too busy living this moment. It can seem impossible to engage with what’s happening in our world in real time when we have a riveting made-for-TV drama unfolding in our heads, but the more successful we are at tuning into the here and now, the less tormented we will be by our stuck thoughts. I try to be around people and have conversations so that I have to concentrate on what they are saying to me, not the text messages of my chattering mind.
- Tune into the Senses
An effective way to anchor your mind in the here and now—and away from the obsession du jour, is to tune into the senses. Our five portals to the world — seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and hearing — can transition us from the doing mode to the being mode. For example, I was tucking my daughter into the bed the other night as I obsessed about something that had happened that day: theorizing why it occurred and arriving at 342 solutions to solve the problem. My daughter grabbed my hand to hold, and it occurred to me that I was missing out on a precious moment because of some stupid stuck thought. So I made a conscious effort to focus on her little hand in mind, her soft, babyish skin against my weathered hands. Concentrating on her hand led me out of my head and into reality.
- Do Something Else
If you can, distract yourself with some other activity. You need not start an ambitious project to change gears. Painting your bathroom walls could definitely do the job, but so could walking around the block or working on a word puzzle.
- Change Your Obsession
You might try to replace your obsession with another one that isn’t so emotional or damaging. Example: I was obsessing about something the other day when I headed to Panera Bread to write. I was intent on getting a booth, so I hung out at one of the smaller tables until I could secure one. I studied the people, their gestures … are they leaving? Another woman who uses Panera as her office came in with her laptop and was also scouting tables to set up shop. I knew she wanted a booth, too. All of a sudden, all I could think about was securing a booth before she did. My old obsession vanished in light of this new, benign obsession.
- Blame the Chemistry
I experience great relief when I remember that I am not obsessing about something because that thing is crucial to my existence and should replace priorities one, two, and three, but rather because the special biochemistry inside my brain is wired to ruminate A LOT. The subject of the obsessions isn’t all that important. There is no catastrophic problem that needs to be solved in the next 24 hours. In fact, the unstuck thought might be 100 percent fluff, a made-up story the brain fabricated because it couldn’t find anything interesting enough in real life to warrant ruminations.
- Picture It
Fortunate for me, I have a grade school-aged child who is besieged by stuck thoughts, too. He doesn’t have the life experience or the knowledge to know that these thoughts aren’t real, so when they say, “You can’t do your homework because you’re stupid,” he panics, throws pencils, shouts some crazy things, and exhibits bizarre behavior because he is convinced that he can’t do his homework because he is stupid. Watching this temper tantrum is helpful for me because it serves as a display of what’s going on inside my head, and when I can visualize it, I see how ridiculous it all looks.
- Admit Powerlessness
If I have tried every technique I can think of and am still tormented by the voices inside my head, I simply pray, admit powerlessness to my wonderful brain biochemistry, and allow God to be in control. I stop my efforts to free myself from the obsessions and I know they will eventually go away.