Last year a few people came to me for hypnotherapy to help them reduce unwanted or intrusive thoughts. So I thought this would be an interesting topic to write about.
In this article, I will explain what unwanted thoughts are and who gets them. I will also cover the different unwanted thoughts that many people experience and 10 highly effective ways to help you get rid of unwanted and intrusive thoughts.
You can learn to control your thoughts. You are in the driving seat! Unwanted or intrusive thoughts no longer need to be a part of who you are. Let me help you get rid of unwanted thoughts today!
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What Are Unwanted Thoughts?
Unwanted thoughts are any thoughts that are not helpful. These are typically negative thoughts. These thoughts lead to some kind of uncomfortable or bad feeling. For example:
- I can’t do it.
- This is too hard.
- People don’t like me.
Unwanted thoughts can also be about other people. When you have an argument with a friend, a colleague, or a loved one, and keep thinking and ruminating about it in your mind later, that’s an example of an unwanted thought.
These could also be naughty thoughts or dangerous thoughts about harming others, or doing something that is socially unacceptable.
Who Gets Unwanted or Intrusive Thoughts?
Everyone! I get them, and probably you do too. It’s a part of the human condition. Knowing that everyone has them can make you feel better right away because you realize that there’s not something wrong with you. However, it is useful to know how to deal with unwanted thoughts, minimize them and where possible, get rid of them.
The 10 Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Thoughts
I’ll now cover 10 of the best ways to help you get rid of unwanted and intrusive thoughts. These methods are very powerful, especially when you apply them consistently.
1. Realize that you can’t directly control your thoughts
Thinking is spontaneous. It’s the subconscious mind expressing itself consciously. You can’t easily choose or control the thoughts that come into your mind.
Imagine you’re in a park and you’re sitting on a park bench. It’s a busy park and many people are passing by. Most of them seem pleasant and nice, but one odd person looks unsavory. As they pass by, you feel uncomfortable but you don’t try to push them away. You just let them pass.
When we have a thought we don’t like, we try to push it away. It’s like trying to push this undesirable person away from our park bench. And that just makes things worse.
According to researchers, the average person has around 60,000 thoughts a day. That means we are already ignoring the vast number of thoughts that come to our mind. You can choose the thoughts you will pay attention to and react to. You can also decide which thoughts to ignore or let go.
2. Don’t resist the thought or push it away.
When you have a thought that makes you feel bad, there’s a natural tendency to resist it. You probably know the saying “What you resist, persists”. This certainly applies to thoughts. The more you resist a thought, the more your brain engages in it, and the more thought power it requires.
Instead, let that unwanted thought come and go. Experience unwanted thoughts as clouds in the sky and calmly watch them go. Allow them in and let them move on. All thoughts naturally come and go. They never stay in our consciousness for long.
3. Write unwanted or intrusive thoughts on a piece of paper.
When you write these thoughts down, your unconscious mind sees it as more permanent. This helps your brain to stop thinking about it. Writing out unwanted thoughts helps you acknowledge and accept them. Your brain concludes that it no longer needs to dwell on them.
Do this when unwanted or intrusive thoughts prevent you from sleeping. Write them all down on a piece of paper. You’ll find that your brain will let go of them and you’ll get a better night’s sleep.
4. Don’t judge the thought.
The unwanted or intrusive thought is not the problem. It’s paying attention to it and judging it that causes the thought to affect you. Judging is deciding whether the thought is right or wrong. Or if it’s about something you want or don’t want. It’s not the thought that creates an issue, but the positive or negative meaning that you give to it.
Stop judging and paying attention to the thought and let it go. Remember, a thought is just a thought, nothing more. It’s just an idea. When you notice yourself judging thoughts, repeat to yourself “It’s just a thought”.
5. Have the unwanted or intrusive thought intentionally.
An unwanted thought usually leads to an uncomfortable feeling. Over time, you notice greater anxiety or fear around this uncomfortable feeling and the unwanted thought behind it. So you naturally want to resist this, but as you now know, what you resist, persists.
Consciously thinking the unwanted thought enables you to deal with the fear and anxiety head-on!
Also, when you think this thought consciously for a few seconds, it will naturally drift away. It’s very hard to focus on anything for 15 seconds or more without your mind wondering.
By doing this, you’re teaching your brain that it can switch intrusive thoughts on and off by choice. This is a great way to control and get rid of unwanted thoughts.
6. Change the thought.
Change the unwanted negative thought to the opposite positive or to a completely different and unrelated thought.
To help with this, create some affirmations in advance that you can rattle off without thinking. Whenever you have an unwanted thought, start repeating positive affirmations. This will help you to think differently.
7. You are not your thoughts.
It is so important to realize and understand that you are not your thoughts! You are the person behind them. You are the observer of your thoughts. You can question and challenge them. To understand this at a deeper level, read my article on how to tame your negative internal voice.
Also know that behavior never lies. What you do is much more important than what you think. I’ll give you an example. Last year I was attending a hypnotherapy workshop by Sheila Granger. She is a bubbly, positive, lively person, and I was surprised when she mentioned that 80% of her thoughts were negative. However, she knows how to keep these thoughts at bay and act positively in spite of them.
I reckon this is the same for most people. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, everyone has negative and unwanted thoughts, even the most successful and positive people in the world. It’s our brains way of protecting us from danger, and psychologists call this “negativity bias”.
So to overcome this, act confidently, positively and intentionally even when you have unwanted or intrusive thoughts. Often your thoughts will change when you act differently.
Another thing that can help you realize you’re not your thoughts is practicing mindfulness. Being in the present and noticing what’s around you can help you feel more like being the observer behind your thoughts.
Meditation is a great way to reduce the number of thoughts, but it takes some time to get good at it. Practicing meditation helps you realize that you are the observer and allows you to notice your thoughts and let them pass by naturally.
It also helps you choose your thoughts. Most forms of meditation will encourage you to focus on something specific. This could be an object in the room, your breath or a certain word or phrase which is known as a mantra.
When you notice your mind wandering off (and it will often), you consciously and gently return to the focus of the meditation (the object, breath or mantra).
The act of spotting the thoughts that arise when your mind has wondered off and then bringing your mind back to the present (and the focus of the meditation) can be very beneficial.
The more you meditate, the more you will be able to get rid of those unwanted and intrusive thoughts when you notice them.
9. CBT Thought Record Technique
CBT stands for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. It’s a very common psychotherapy approach. The idea behind it is that situations create thoughts, thoughts create emotions, and emotions lead you to doing or not doing things.
So the solution is to identify an alternative positive thought to replace the unwanted thought. This then leads to more positive feelings and behaviors.
Here is how to do it. Take a sheet of paper and create a table with 5 columns. The first column is the situation. The second column is your thoughts about the situation. The third column is the emotions that come from the situation and your thoughts about it. The fourth column is your behaviors (in response to the situation and your thoughts and feelings about it), and the last column is to identify alternative positive thoughts.
|Situation||Thoughts||Emotions||Behaviors||Alternative Positive Thoughts|
|The situation itself||Your thoughts about the situation||Your emotions that come from the situation and the thoughts about it||Your behavior in response to the situation and your thoughts and feelings about it.||Alternative positive thoughts that challenge, change or reframe your perception of the situation. This then fuels positive emotions and positive behaviors|
Let me give you a couple of examples of how this works.
Example 1: Fear of Injections
Situation: Back in the year 2000 when I first met my wife, she wanted to go on holiday to Malaysia to join her Australian friends there. I was keen to go, but I had not had a vaccination or injection since I was a child. I hated the idea of having an injection.
Thoughts: I was thinking that injections were painful and uncomfortable.
Emotions: Thoughts about injections gave me a feeling of fear and anxiety.
Behavior: Only going to places in the world that didn’t require vaccinations.
Alternative thoughts: I really want to go to Malaysia and meet these lovely people from Australia that my wife has been telling me all about. I also want to experience different parts of the world. I can be brave, have the vaccinations and then be free to travel to these places.
Changing the thoughts to being brave, free to travel and focusing more on the benefits of going on this holiday reduced my anxiety feelings. The result? Having the vaccinations and an amazing holiday that I will always remember fondly!
Example 2: Fear of Public Speaking
Situation: Public speaking.
Thoughts: I’m not a very good public speaker. I’m afraid that I will mess up my words. I’m afraid that I don’t have the knowledge to deliver this presentation, and people might laugh at me or look bored.
Behavior: Avoid presentations. Or, you’re nervous when presenting, so you mess-up your words or come across poorly.
Alternative thoughts: I have prepared for this presentation. I know my subject matter. The people in the audience are my colleagues, so they will enjoy and appreciate what I’m sharing with them.
These different thoughts allow you to experience different feelings that will boost your confidence and result in a successful presentation.
The whole idea behind the Thought Record Technique is that you identify alternative thoughts that challenge the original thoughts. To help you do this, think about the unwanted thought and ask questions like:
- What’s not true about that thought?
- What do I want instead?
- Is there any evidence for it?
10. Talk to someone.
Share your unwanted thoughts with another person. It has to be the right person – a good friend, colleague, or maybe a therapist. That person can take a different perspective on your thoughts and give them different meanings. Maybe they can challenge your limiting ideas and help you change them.
You can challenge your own thoughts, but when someone else challenges them, this can be very powerful. Talking it over with someone is definitely a good method to help you gain a different perspective. It can help you feel better about yourself. You may realize that your unwanted thoughts are not so important and can have less meaning in your life.
These were my 10 ways to help you get rid of unwanted or intrusive thoughts. I hope you found this article useful and practical. If you are struggling with unwanted thoughts, apply this information today and banish the thoughts that prevent you from leading a happy life.
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