OK. Your turn not to think of a polar bear. Or a grizzly.
Stop it! Stop thinking of the animals in the zoo. No penguins for you!
No lions. No tigers. No bears!
Good. That’s it. That’s better.
My mind is free at last. I’ve been stuck on that bear thing ever since I read a quote from Dostoevsky: “Try not to think of a polar bear and the cursed thing will come to mind every minute."
OOH! There it is again! Why did he have to say that?! This is worse than visiting Disneyland and wandering innocently onto that ride…you know the one…It’s a Small World!
Hahahahaha! It’s a small world after all!
Good luck trying to get rid of that one! It’s a musical earwig of the first order. Now you’re in this with me!
How can we rid ourselves of these persistent, unwanted thoughts! she cried, holding her ears and rocking her head from side to side. Whatever should we do?
And so, not only for myself, but also for you, Dear Reader – in spite of the fact that I dragged you into this – in my deeply altruist manner, I sought expert assistance in resolving the problem of niggling, uninvited recurrent sentences repeated by the voices in my – in our – heads.
Maybe we’re replaying our most recent social gaff (I stick with the most recent. Otherwise, the playlist is so long!) Possibly it is that goof at work. Perhaps we just can’t get off the front side of that back-handed compliment.
We’re not crazy. We’re just riding an irritating merry-go-round of repetitive proclamations.
So I went searching relief and came upon Daniel Wegner, Ph.D. of HarvardUniversity, the father of research into crazy-making circular thoughts.
Full disclosure – Right off the bat I found it disconcerting that he says thought suppression doesn’t work! You can’t just push that annoying idea off the stage. It’s going to return in the second act with renewed vigor and determination.
Wegner says the research has proved that again and again. He actually said that – “again and again.” Sounds like he couldn’t shake the thought that he could shake the thought. He just had to keep on proving it to himself! Hahahaha!
OK. Maybe I shouldn’t take so much pleasure in that. It’s funny that’s all. Ironic. The great mind in thought suppression.
Oh never mind.
He came up with lots of other ideas for dealing with the exasperating experience of recurring thoughts and I’ve brought them here for your edification even though one of the biggies was the most difficult to accept:
Wegner says if something that bugs you just keeps on bugging you, an effective strategy for getting rid of that infuriating gnat of a notion is to postpone it until later.
That’s right. Wegner says that while continuously trying to suppress a thought only makes it come back stronger, deferring it until later can work.
Set aside your worrying until a designated 30-minute ‘worry period.’
Well that’s just groovy unless the thought that nags is that you procrastinate too much! What do you have to say about that, Dr. Brainiac? Wanna answer me later??
OK. Here’s another one: He calls it paradoxical therapy because it seems illogical that focusing in on a thought might help it go away, but research suggests it does.
What if, instead of trying to suppress a disquieting cyclical thought about, say, death, you head straight for it and concentrate on it?
Super! I’ll just set aside about half an hour right before I go to sleep and concentrate on dying! I feel better already!
This approach is not for the faint-hearted, Wegner says, in an unfortunate choice of words, but what the hay! Go ahead and try it! Sweet dreams!
Or, be zen about it. Just accept those thoughts. Meditate on them says the guru. “I want you to allow those soldiers to march by in front of you, like a little parade. Do not argue with the signs, or make them go away. Just watch them march by.”
I don’t know.
Maybe I’ll go with my first idea and his last one: Have a pesky thought? Write about it.