When we can’t stop thinking about something that bothers us, it can be extremely debilitating. To clear your mind of unwanted thoughts, it’s necessary to think about something else for long enough to break the pattern. This is typically no longer than 2 to 3 minutes, and it can be done with a simple self-hypnosis process that anyone can learn. It’s important to practice the skills beforehand so that they’re ready and available when needed.
One of the interesting things about hypnosis is that oftentimes it’s easy to fix problems that seem otherwise impossible to resolve.
The truth is that when we try to work against the system, we’re almost always going to fail. But when we know how the system works, a lot of problems become easy to solve.
Thinking unwanted thoughts is that kind of problem.
It might seem impossible, but once you know a few simple rules about how human minds work, unwanted thoughts can become easy to control.
Understand your mind to control your thoughts
Our minds work largely on association. They associate stuff with other stuff, and don’t do much else. On top of that, we can only keep a tiny number of things in our conscious awareness at once. And we can only maintain mental states for about 90 seconds unless we actively do something to keep them going.
It gets even better: Our bodies and minds exist in combination with one another. This means that we can change our state of mind by changing how we’re holding our body.
All of these together can be used to design processes that we can run that literally force us to stop thinking about things that are bothering us.
We need a process that is simple enough that we can run it regardless of how upset we might be, and quick enough that we can practice it beforehand. There are lots of ways to do this, and when you get good at self-hypnosis, you’ll probably find that you begin to design your own.
It’s helpful to have a worked example, so we’ll go over a process here that anyone can learn.
So what are the key features of your mind that you can use to take control of those unwanted thoughts?
First, there are significant limits on how much stuff we can think about at once. Essentially each of us can only think about between 5 and 9 things at one time. After that, things start to fall completely out of our awareness.
This means that if we can find something to do that consumes all of our conscious awareness chunks, we quite literally won’t be able to keep on thinking those thoughts that were bothering us.
Next, our human minds can only maintain a mental state for about 90 seconds or so. If we can keep our thoughts busy for just 90 seconds, we can break out of the pattern of unwanted thoughts.
Now it can be quite difficult to control our thoughts like that, particularly when they’re running away from us. Conveniently, our mental states do not exist in isolation from our bodies. There are ways that we hold ourselves that correspond to every mental state. Change our physical posture, and our mental state will follow.
And it’s even better. We don’t even have to change our physical posture. Often it’s enough to simply imagine.
If you’d like to know more about how all of that works, you might enjoy my article on How Human Memory Works With Hypnosis.
Practice clearing your thoughts before you need to
Imagine for a moment that you don’t know how to fly a jet fighter plane.
I know it’s probably been a long time since you couldn’t fly, so just bear with me for a few moments.
Some of us could probably hop in and take off, racing through the sky. Most of us would probably crash before we even got into the air.
Assuming we can start the plane.
Even if we do get into the air, how do we land?
And yet, lots of people can fly fighter jets.
The same thing is true with every skill you’ve ever learnt. At first, it was necessary to work through each skill slowly and methodically. Eventually you got to the point where it became easy and automatic.
Learning to control your unwanted thoughts is exactly the same.
If we want to be able to stop thinking about something that bothers us, it’s important to practice the required skills on easy things first.
So with the process that we cover in this article, be sure to practice it a few times before you need it. I practice skills like this a few times every day. That way I know I’ve got them there and ready to go when I need them.
To practice, just run through each of the steps in the process at a time when you’re feeling good and in-control.
You’ll know when you’ve done it enough, because it will start to become automatic.
Whatever you do, don’t try to use this process on a big problem before it is automatic.
1. Notice your thoughts
The very first step when you want to stop thinking about something that bothers you is to notice that you’re thinking about it and decide to stop.
This is the hardest part.
Even now, with this entire process fully habituated, I sometimes forget to run it.
You’ll probably forget too. Don’t beat yourself up about it though. Forgetting is a sign that your mind is working properly. Just make a note and resolve to remember to do it next time.
2. Go into self-hypnosis
After deciding that you want to stop thinking about something that bothers you, the next thing to do is go into self-hypnosis.
There are lots of ways to do this.
If you don’t know how to go into self-hypnosis, you might enjoy my article on How to Hypnotize Yourself Instantly in which I give a very simple process that just about anyone can use to hypnotize themselves.
In that article, I also give a simple technique that can be used to go into self-hypnosis more-or-less instantly after the first time. When you want to stop thinking thoughts, this kind of technique can be invaluable.
3. Notice the physical sensations
So you’re in self-hypnosis.
Scan through your body, noticing all the physical sensations associated with those unwanted thoughts.
Don’t worry about how you know.
It will become obvious as you scan, because they will stick out to you.
Maybe your heart’s racing. Or perhaps your breathing has changed. You could be standing with your arms folded.
Whatever those sensations are, notice all of them as you scan through your body.
I find that usually one complete scan down and up again is enough, but it’s okay to continue for as long as you need to.
4. Notice the colors
Once you’ve found all of those physical sensations, scan through your body again. This time pay attention to the properties of all of those sensations.
What colors are they?
What are their shapes?
Where do they begin? And where do those sensations end?
Are their boundaries hard or soft?
Are those sensations fixed in place? Or do they shift and move?
Notice all of the details that you can, paying particular attention to the colors.
5. Allow those colors to change
Be curious and fascinated.
Keep on watching those sensations in your mind’s eye, and notice how they change.
Don’t try to do anything with them.
Just allow them to change of their own accord.
Keep this up for 2 to 3 minutes, becoming thoroughly absorbed in how those colors and other details are changing.
And then go about your day, free of those unwanted thoughts.
6. Choose something else to think about
Our minds don’t like to exist in a vacuum, so if you want to keep those unwanted thoughts away, it’s important to choose something else to think about.
Often it’s because we realize we should be doing something else that we wanted to stop thinking those thoughts in the first place.
If we consciously choose something else to focus on, the vacuum is filled.
The easy way to do this is to have a few things that you enjoy doing. Make sure that at least one of these things can be done anywhere.
The specific activities that you choose come down to your own personal likes and dislikes.
Mine include hypnosis, lucid dreaming, boat building, system design, emergence, and physics. I’ve even been known to go on hikes just to think.
Each of these allows me to become fully absorbed.
You’ll notice that the list is balanced: Boat building is a very physical skill, while hypnosis is more intellectual and involves other people.
If you don’t already have several interests, try to choose at least one that involves other people, one that involves thinking, and one that involves a physical skill of some kind.
Then, any time your find that you want to stop thinking unwanted thoughts, all you have to do is run through the process, and then continue on with one of your interests.
How to prevent unwanted thoughts
Once you’ve learnt to take control and clear any unwanted thoughts from your mind, the next step is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
This one is trickier, because of what causes those thoughts to occur.
You’ve possibly noticed that there are some physical locations where just being there can make you feel good, while other places have the opposite effect.
This happens because our brains are constantly associating stuff with other stuff.
When we’re reminded of something that makes us feel a certain way, those feelings become partially associated with everything around us at the time.
Generally speaking, when we have a lot of positive experiences somewhere, we’ll start to automatically feel good when we’re there. And when we have even one negative experience somewhere, we can feel less than good when we’re in that place.
Every thought we have is the result of the associations we’re currently experiencing.
These associations include the thoughts we just had, along with everything we’ve ever experienced up to and including now.
This has some interesting consequences.
Anchor your positive states
If we want to feel good, the easiest way to do that is to remember a time when we felt good, and go into the details of that experience.
We have to do this for at least 90 seconds.
But there’s a problem.
When we’re in a negative state, it becomes more difficult to access our positive memories.
We can resolve this by building a hypnotic anchor when we’re feeling good, and then using that to switch our state to positive when we’re feeling bad.
So how do we build an anchor?
It’s actually easy. Everything we do results in an anchor being created.
So to build an anchor for a positive state, wait until you’re feeling good, then perform some physical action to remind you of that feeling.
Set the intention that the physical action will result in you returning to this state.
And then test.
You can speed this process up a lot with the use of self-hypnosis.
As a bonus, you can also attach things you’d like to do to the anchor.
Suppose that you need to study. Perform your anchor when you’re in a studying mood, and intend for that mood to become attached to it.
Then when you use that anchor in future, it will remind you to return to that state.
And the really cool thing?
These are unconscious processes, so unlike our conscious attempts to switch state, they have a tendency to just work.
Use your anchor to prevent unwanted thoughts
Once you’ve created a positive anchor, you can use it to neutralize any unwanted negative thoughts that might occur.
To do this, first become aware of exactly when those unwanted thoughts start.
There is almost always a physical anchor of some kind that causes them. It could be a location, or a specific person, or a specific activity, or even a particular time of day.
Notice when those thoughts start, and then establish what else happens immediately before that.
Once you’ve spotted the pattern, put yourself into that situation, and then perform your positive anchor and notice your state shift.
Do it with intention the first few times.
And if necessary, rebuild the anchor between attempts.
As is the case when we want to stop thinking about something that bothers us, practice this on small problems first. Then move on to bigger ones.
Each time you eliminate a negative anchor out in the world using this process, you’ll find that the number of situations in which you feel positive, or at least non-negative, starts to grow.
And that makes it easier to become more positive.
When you’ve eliminated enough of those negative anchors, what tends to happen is that those unwanted thoughts don’t come up.
How to get good at anchoring
Hypnotic anchoring is extremely powerful because it is essentially an unconscious reminder system.
This means that we can use hypnotic anchors to bypass and override a lot of conscious processes when they are getting in our way.
In order to do that, we have to be prepared.
It’s important to practice how we’re going to respond beforehand, so that our brains already know how to do it. And anchors allow us to do this with ease.
Now anchoring is a huge topic, so I’ve written a book on it.
I’ve designed the book to take someone from not even knowing what an anchor is, to being able to create and use them as desired.
And because I hate fluff, I’ve made the book as short as possible.
Anchoring is a vital skill when you want to take control of your own mind. So if that sounds like something you’d like to have happen, go and check out my book Artful Hypnotic Anchoring right now.