The other night I had problem sleeping. I was tossing and turning. The more I tried to sleep, the harder for me to slip into the land of nod.
I’m sure all of us have this common exasperating experience. It could be when we want to go to sleep, avoid a bad mood or forget about a disappointing happening.
Ironic Process Theory Psychology
The more you try to not to think about it, it comes back to haunt you.
Actually, this phenomenon is called ironic process theory or the white bear problem.
You try to stop a thought, but it fails. And you keep trying, and you find that the thought is ever more insistent.
In other words, the more you suppress or avoid unpleasant thoughts, they keep popping back.
In fact, according to studies, the desire to contain the thought is the cause of obsessions, addictions, depression and panic states of mind.
Now you know why we often end up thinking about the doubts, worries, fears, and shame that we have tried to get rid from our mind. Mental control can backfire.
So the advice “just don’t think about it” is not really helpful. It only makes you think more about it.
I read that folks who are told not to think about their grief over a lost loved, take a longer time to overcome their loss.
Can We Really Control Our Thoughts?
No doubt we can change our mind, fill it with new ideas, see things in different ways, and shift our attention from one thing to another easily.
It seems we can control what we want to think. But strangely when we try not to think about something, these unwanted thoughts would hijack your mind, so to speak.
The truth is we do not have much control over our minds, when it comes to suppressing those unwanted thoughts. Apparently we have problem handling this simple act of restraining an unwanted or unpleasant thoughts.
Another interesting aspect about ironic process theory is that, it only occurs to something that is wrong or soon will be.
We start to control our mind only when we attempt to deal with worries or distressful thoughts.
If things go well with our lives, we don’t take the time to reflect on our thoughts or emotions. We are too busy basking in the fun; enjoying ourselves.
For those of you who like to find out more about ironic process theory, then get this book, “White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession, and the Psychology of Mental Control“.
After reading the book as mentioned above, you will know why you should never give “just don’t think about it” advice to your friends, colleagues or your family members.