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Can't Get a Thought Out of Your Head?

Updated on November 21, 2017
Rafa Baxa profile image

Rafael Baxa is a budding writer who likes to write about psychology, social behaviour and everything weird.

You are stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat or drink. It's been an hour, maybe more, but not too long. You have gone for hours without anything to eat or drink. It shouldn't be a problem, but it is. It's right when you have nothing to drink that you feel thirsty. If it was anyplace else, you would've been fine. But here in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to drink, water and food are the only things on your mind. It's not because you want water and food, it's because you have no access to them. Knowing this, you unconsciously try to avoid thinking of them. But your mind catches onto that, and reminds you. It's not on purpose though. You keep reminding yourself, "Don't think of that", and your mind goes and checks what 'that' is, unknowingly bringing it to the forefront of your mind. So, the more you try to think that you're not thirsty, the thirstier you feel.

You would be thinking that it's a good idea to force yourself to suppress the thought of something you want to avoid, to make yourself forget it. But it's the worst way to go about it. Make yourself try to avoid a thought, and it'll be the only thing stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You may try to empty your mind, thinking that would surely get rid of it. People talk of meditation and peace of mind. You could put of some calming music, sit on your yoga mat, close your eyes, and try to push all the intrusive thoughts aside. You could try, but the elephant that you'd been trying to avoid would be sitting right in the middle of your mind taking up the biggest space. It had never left, you just made some place for it to sit tight. As they say, an empty mind is the devil's workshop.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, in his book, "Winter Notes on Summer Impressions" gives us a simple task. He tells us not to think of a white bear. The task is simple enough. All we had to do was not think of something. And that too a white bear. What are the chances of us thinking about a white bear. Definitely not much. The task shouldn't be hard. But then what really happens is just as he expected - we think of a white bear. The white bear which has no reason to be in our mind at all, refuses to leave, even for a moment. It takes over our minds, or as Dostoevsky puts it "The cursed thing would come to mind every minute."

The problem is not with the white bear, it's not with the person who told us not to think about it. This isn't inception. The man isn't Leonardo DiCaprio, trying to put an idea in our head and dissolve one of the world's biggest organisations. Or maybe, it's a little like inception. But there are differences. The idea wasn't given to us in our dreams. It was given to us while we were awake. Someone just told us not to think of something, and we, trying not to make ourselves think of it, kept reminding ourselves of it. Seems like inception was possible all along, and his friends were being skeptical for no reason at all.

So, what can you do? How do you get rid of these thoughts? It's actually quite simple - Think about something else. Did someone just tell you not to think of a white bear? Then don't. Think about something else entirely. Pay no mind to the white bear. Think about what you were just doing, or about the lunch you just had, or just look at the tree just standing there outside the window. Looks pretty, doesn't it? If there are some anxious thoughts taking over your mind, don't try to suppress it, just divert your attention. Think of the last movie you watched, or the book you read. If not, just look around and take in your surroundings. There should definitely be something that catches your interest. Just put off thinking about those unpleasant thoughts, and pretend you have plenty of time for them later on.

Our mind is a mysterious little place. It tends to give us ideas we don't need, brings up memories that we'd rather avoid, makes us question everything we know. It reminds us of everything, just when we don't need it. Things we tried to put under lock and key in a dark corner of our mind, come up to the front in the most inopportune moments. All for no reason, other than that we were trying not to think of it. There may have been times when you would have gone 15 hours without a single trip to the bathroom. But if you had to go on a 10-hour trip in your car with a single break, your mind just wouldn't stop reminding you every single minute that you have to pee, even if you don't, only because you tried to avoid thinking of it.

You could even control others' minds like this. It's not the extreme mind-control that you see in science fiction movies, but a milder version of it. You could make someone sing a song. How you ask? You could go around the streets singing a song out loud, and it would be stuck in the minds of almost half the people you came across. They may go around humming it, wondering where they even heard it.

There have been many studies on mind control. Scientists are running around trying to figure out how our minds actually work. They haven't been entirely unsuccessful, but for now, there isn't any proven trick that you can use to control someone's mind. It's still part of science fiction. Why? Because what we think is known only to us. No one can see or hear what we think. No one can know what we think unless we tell them. No matter what kinds of experiments one does on a body, no one can find out what goes on inside the mind. That's why mind reading and mind control are said to be impossible. But here we are, doing it every day. Inception wasn't based on some hard-to-understand concept. It was simple - 'Make someone think of something'. That's what mind control is, and that's what the movie was about. We don't have to try hard to make someone think about something. We just tell them not to think of it, and they, either out of curiosity or confusion, keep thinking about it. It may even influence their thoughts. It could create a small doubt in their mind, that could change their decision, and possibly their entire life. It's a very low-level mind control. It isn't some hard science experiment or magic, but it works. I guess we are all some kind of psychics here.


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    • Rafa Baxa profile image

      Rafael Baxa 5 months ago

      Thanks for reading this, Rochelle!

      Telling students what to do instead of what not to do is really a good approach. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 5 months ago from California Gold Country

      This principle was used a lot in teacher training classes I led, to get teachers to use positive reinforcement instead of negative. Instead of saying "Stop talking to friends," say "Let's get back to work." Instead of " Stop tapping your pencil", it was "Your project needs to be finished."

      Focusing on the job you want done is more effective than reinforcing the thought of the unwanted activity by telling them to stop doing the negative thing.