Trying To Suppress Your Thoughts Can Be Counterproductive

Posted on May 24th, 2013

When you worry about something, people often say: “try not to think about it; just don’t think about it!” However, this is a bad advice. Trying to suppress your thoughts can be counter-productive.1 If you’ll try not to think about pink cats, you’ll probably think about pink cats. Before you start suppressing negative thoughts, it is important that you know when to suppress and when not to suppress your thoughts.

Recurring thoughts about something meaningful can actually be a signal from your unconscious mind about an important issue in your life that you have to take care of. What people experience when they try to suppress their thoughts is an ironic rebound effect: the thought comes back stronger than before. In this situation it will be more productive if you will sit down and really think about your thoughts. Even if you’ll have to deal with something unpleasant, it is better that you take care of it rather than wait for the problem to escalate.

In situations when you can’t find a place to sit down with your thought it is better that you distract yourself rather than try to suppress your thoughts. For instance, if you are at work and meaningful negative thoughts pop into your mind, try to distract yourself until you can come back home and think things over.

Notice how I’ve mentioned meaningful negative thoughts. If the negative thoughts that you have are silly or ridiculous, it is better to just get rid of them. For example, if someone said something negative about your outfit and this comment got stock in your mind, you can use a few simple mental techniques to help you get rid of these negative thoughts:

  1. Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). Thought suppression. Annual Review Of Psychology, 51(1), 59. 

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