Every day, we encounter an influx of numerous thoughts. The majority of them are unremarkable and gradually recede into the recesses of our minds. Alternatively, we embrace the positive thoughts that enter our consciousness. Nonetheless, there exist negative thoughts that persistently recur and are undesirable.
These unwelcome thoughts are ones we prefer to avoid altogether. They have the potential to engulf us, leading to feelings of being swamped and mentally drained. Just imagine the possibility of effectively restraining these unwanted thoughts, thereby reducing emotional strain and stress.
Where do unwanted thoughts derive from?
Unwanted thoughts are involuntary and independent thoughts that arise within us. They encompass reflections on past experiences or potential future scenarios. They can even encompass improbable notions, such as extraterrestrial domination.
According to research, the average person generates approximately 4,000 thoughts per day, and around one-third of these thoughts emerge spontaneously. They originate from the subconscious mind and manifest themselves in conscious awareness.
Negative triggers, at times, have a peculiar ability to provoke unwanted thoughts. Moreover, negative emotions like anxiety can contribute to the emergence of intrusive thoughts that revolve around perceived or actual threats.
Unwanted thoughts are a universal aspect of being human, so there’s no need to worry. However, it’s worth noting that unwanted thoughts are more prevalent among individuals with anxiety disorders, particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The unwanted thoughts reported by the general population bear striking resemblance in content and nature to those experienced by individuals with anxiety disorders. However, in the case of anxiety disorders, these unwanted thoughts tend to occur more frequently, intensively, and have a greater impact on daily functioning compared to those experienced by the general population.
The contradiction of thought suppression
It is a common inclination to desire to suppress unwanted thoughts. However, attempting to do so can have unintended consequences.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that the more you actively try to avoid thinking about something, the more it tends to occupy your thoughts. This phenomenon arises because the brain resists the idea of forgetting something, causing the unwanted thought to persist in your consciousness. Consequently, the deliberate effort to forget an unwanted thought inadvertently keeps it at the forefront of your mind.
Approximately four decades ago, Daniel Wagner conducted research that precisely validated this notion. He conducted a series of experiments instructing participants to refrain from thinking about a white bear.
However, if the thought of a white bear emerged, they were asked to ring a bell. The results revealed that the more strenuously the participants attempted to avoid thinking about the white bear, the more frequently the bell rang. This outcome indicated that thoughts of the white bear arose more frequently.
Instead of employing a strategy of suppressing unwanted thoughts through avoidance, it is more beneficial to adopt a mindfulness approach like mindful framing. Mindful framing, a mindfulness practice, does not involve meditation, emptying the mind, or passively observing unwanted thoughts. Rather, it entails entering a state of flow, where a deliberate sequence of thoughts is cultivated to create a mental framework that guides one’s thinking.
Rather than attempting to escape from unwanted thoughts, the alternative approach is to reframe them within your mind. By observing and arranging these unwanted thoughts without passing judgment, you can then regulate both desired and undesired thoughts using a visualization technique, such as the ‘anxiety bus’.
Through this visualization practice, you gain the ability to loosen the grip of circular and repetitive unwanted thoughts on your mind, leading to a reduction in their intensity and frequency. This practice facilitates the release of their hold over your thinking patterns.
How the mindful framing technique works
Mindful framing involves a visualization technique that revolves around constructing mental images to shape your thought process. Interestingly, your brain cannot differentiate between actual physical actions and mental actions. When you visualize a specific scenario, you activate the same neural pathways as if you were genuinely experiencing it.
To enhance the effectiveness of the visualization process, it is crucial to make your imagined scenarios as vivid and lifelike as possible, engaging all your senses. It is beneficial to visualize not only what you see but also what you can hear, smell, and even taste. By incorporating multisensory details, you enrich the experience and deepen the impact of the visualization practice.
For instance, if you find yourself grappling with the unwanted thought of failing an exam, direct your attention towards envisioning the details of the exam hall, immersing yourself in the sensory experience.
Visualize the appearance of the hall, the aroma emanating from your desk, the tactile sensation of the pen in your hands, and the sound of the paper rustling as you write. The more realistic and vivid your visualization, the better equipped you will be to confront the situation. Additionally, focus on envisioning a positive outcome, such as excelling in the exam with great success.
Consistency is key in the practice of visualization. Merely engaging in visualization once is insufficient to dissipate unwanted thoughts. Similar to exercising a muscle, you need to regularly work your mind.
Dedicate a specific time for your visualization practice and commit to it consistently. By nurturing this routine, you can strengthen your ability to harness the power of visualization and effectively manage unwanted thoughts.
How the maximum flow state works
In addition to emphasizing focus and consistency, there is another crucial aspect that can greatly enhance the power of visualization within mindful framing: achieving a state of maximum flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term ‘flow’ to describe a state in which individuals become fully immersed in an activity, to the extent that nothing else seems to matter. When experiencing flow, everything feels effortless, and one enters a state of heightened concentration and productivity.
To enter this state of flow, it is vital to minimize distractions. This can involve creating a dedicated study space while preparing for your exam, ensuring a quiet and uninterrupted environment. It is also helpful to silence notifications on your phone or any other potential sources of interruptions. By eliminating external distractions, you can fully immerse yourself in the visualization practice and optimize the benefits of mindful framing.
Furthermore, it is crucial to eliminate multitasking. Achieving a state of flow relies on maintaining laser-like focus on a single task. Contrary to popular belief, our brains are not designed to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. In fact, multitasking incurs a cognitive switching penalty, as our brains require time to transition from one task to another.
Establishing a ritual can also be beneficial. This could involve engaging in a small routine, such as preparing a warm cup of tea, before starting your visualization practice. By incorporating a ritual, you prime your brain for the upcoming visualization session and facilitate the transition into a state of flow.
Adhering to healthy routines further amplifies the flow experience. A restful night’s sleep enhances concentration levels, allowing you to optimize your visualization practice. To ensure a good night’s sleep, create a tranquil and soothing sleep environment and develop a consistent bedtime routine that promotes relaxation and prepares your mind for rest.
How to conceal unwanted thoughts conclusion
Life often presents challenges that trigger negative and repetitive unwanted thoughts. However, through the practice of mindful framing and embracing the state of flow, you can assert control over these unwelcome thoughts.