It turns out that suppressing your thoughts or trying to put something out of your mind, is really bad advice. The truth is that trying to suppress your thoughts is actually counter-productive.
When you try and suppress your thoughts, what really happens is your thoughts rebound, and come back stronger than ever before.
Looking at this, the best strategy for dealing with things may just be that of distraction.
One study by Professor Daniel Wegner and colleagues investigated the effects of suppressing your thoughts.
- Participants were initially asked to try to not to think about a white bear for 5 minutes.
- They were then asked to intentionally think about the bear for 5 minutes more.
- During the experiment, the participants verbalized the thoughts they were having, ringing a bell each time they thought about the white bear.
What they found were those participants who tried to suppress their thoughts actually rang the bell almost twice as often when compared to participants in the control group. The study concluded that the very act of trying to suppress a thought made it come back that much stronger.
The Rebound Effect.
This paradoxical effect known as the rebound effect is one reason why we might have substance cravings or intrusive memories when trying to give up something like fatty foods or cigarettes.
One study done found that smokers who tried to suppress their thoughts about smoking ended up with higher cravings when compared to those who had not tried to suppress their thoughts. There are other (and better) ways to get rid of smoking addiction.
This same analogy can be used with food. In other words, the more you try and put that chocolate cake out of your mind, the more you end up thinking about it.
This principle also comes into play with something like depression
. Depression manifests as a pattern of negative thinking, where you tend to see the worst in almost everything. When it comes to depression, trying to suppress those thoughts only makes them crop up more.
One technique you can try is something called the RAIN technique.
This technique helps you process painful emotions, rather than suppress them. Acknowledging these emotions can be a very powerful way to deal with them because once you acknowledge them and process them you can then let them go.
The “RAIN” technique can help you process painful emotions by going through the “RAIN” analogy in your mind.
This technique, found in Tara Brach’s book “Radical Acceptance” is all about processing and accepting your emotions in the moment.
- The “R” in RAIN is all about Recognizing when a strong emotion is present. You might be amazed at how often throughout your day that might actually experience a strong emotion – without realizing it.
- The “A” in RAIN is all about Allowing or acknowledging that the emotion is there.
- The “I” in RAIN is about Investigating and looking into the emotion a little further.
- The “N” in RAIN is about Non-identifying with what is there.
The term non-identification may seem a little strange, but what it does is help you realize that your negative thoughts or emotions may just be a passing fancy.
In other words, your thoughts don’t define who you are as a person – they simply exist. The whole process is like stepping back and observing your thoughts without judgment. By non-identifying with your story or your emotion, you begin to see it as impermanent, which helps you loosen your own tight grip on it.
Using this technique, you can learn to sit with your emotions and see things as they are. Doing so helps you gain a much deeper understanding of what may be fueling or driving your fears, sadness or anger.
Try this simple technique the next time you feel stressed or anxious, and you might just be amazed at how well it works. Pair it with our positive thinking meditation and see great results!