In some of the experiments, Wegner told his subjects, “Try not to think about a white bear.” The subjects were then asked to say aloud everything that came to mind. Of course, thoughts of white bears showed up quite a bit. Trying not to think of a white bear produced a thought of a white bear between six and fifteen times in a five-minute period.
Trying not to think a negative thought will result in thinking it more.
Thinking is like breathing: It goes on night and day and you can’t stop it. But you can change it. You can breathe slowly and deeply or shallowly and quickly. You can breathe any way you want. But you can’t stop.
The same is true about thinking. You can say something stupid or depressing to yourself; you can say something intelligent or inspiring to yourself; but you can’t stop thinking entirely.
So when you find yourself disliking the content of your thoughts, instead of trying to stop yourself from thinking a thought, try to direct your thoughts.
And the way to direct your thinking is by asking yourself a question. A question gets your mind going in a new direction without suppressing what you’re already thinking. Ask yourself a question.
Of course, the kind of question you ask makes a big difference. If you ask “Why is this happening to poor me?” your answers won’t help you any.
The idea is to direct your mind by asking questions that put your attention on practical things, on accomplishment, on the future. If you find yourself worrying, for example, ask yourself something like this: “How can I make myself stronger and better able to deal with this?” Or “Can I get busy right now working on my goal — so busy I forget all about my worries? And if not, is there some planning I can do now that will save me time later?” Or even simply “What is my goal?”
When you find yourself thinking negatively about something “bad” that happened, ask yourself “What’s good about this?” Or “How can I turn this to my advantage?” Or “What assumption have I made that I can argue with?” Ask a good question.
When you decide on a question to ask yourself, ask the question and keep asking. Ponder it. Wonder about it. Let it run through your mind whenever your mind isn’t otherwise engaged. It will turn the tide of your thoughts and bring you into a new state of mind because you’re thinking positively positively.
- Excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan.