9 ways to get rid of unwanted thoughts

9-ways-to-get-rid-of-unwant

This is about the ongoing saga of my friend who struggles with unwanted thoughts and phobias and has been given the (I think unhelpful) label of OCD.

If you’ve not seen the original unwanted thoughts article then it might be worth checking that out first…

What’s happening as he works through his problem is that actually, his progress goes in spirals — sort of 2 steps forward, one step back type of thing.

His last setback was actually caused by just one late night. Just the lack of sleep for one night has made it more difficult to stay on top. Everything affects everything else…

Anyway, over the weeks and months, we’ve developed some very simple mental “handles” for him to use when his head is swimming and he’s got “stormy waters.”

I reckon you’ve got to keep it simple because in an anxious state, it can be so hard to hold any kind of rational thought in your head.

In a crisis you need some simple ideas to try. A simple action plan to get rid of unwanted thoughts…

Crisis solutions

  1. Nip it in the bud. BE QUICK. The more you dwell, the harder it’s going to get. As soon as you become aware of an unwanted thought, give it no importance (a “don’t care” attitude) and then THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. Unwanted thoughts often have a shocking sense of urgency attached. Quick diversion is essential before the thought takes hold.
  2. Keep it simple. It is simple. It’s not easy but it’s simple. Don’t GO THERE but don’t suppress thoughts either. You cant stop them arising but you can choose to pay attention or not. Again — THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE.
  3. Don’t split your attention. Once you fully understand that your fear or unwanted thought is irrational, let go off it. There’s no constant danger, no need to split your attention between what’s happening now and being alert for danger. If you become aware of a split — if you’re aware of “thoughts always there in the background” then pay MORE attention to what you are doing, or something external like sounds or images or events happening NOW. Come to your SENSES — pay attention to perception, which is always NOW.
  4. Exercise. If you become anxious then you need to get that adrenaline out of your system asap. Go for a run or brisk walk ’til you calm down.

Longer term solutions

  1. Meditate. Regular meditation will mean you can deal with all the points above more effectively until you no longer get unwanted thoughts
  2. Make a pact. Some irrational fears may still require that you are allowed to think certain thoughts around that subject. Make a pact with yourself in advance to identify what thoughts are allowed and what thought are not. You might want to talk this through with trusted friends first. This is because you probably don’t know for sure what should be allowed if you have a phobia.
  3. Learn your triggers & notice cause/effect. Learn your triggers that start you off on a path of unwanted thoughts Learn how other things in your life affect your ability to stay on top — sleep, too much caffeine, poor diet and so-on. The faster you learn, you faster you’ll feel well again.
  4. Don’t go it alone. If it gets to the point where you feel you can’t cope alone — please GET SOME HELP. These are tricky issues and you probably need supporting through it. I’ve had the same conversation with my friend about 100 times and it takes a long time for the new ideas to “get through.” It’s tough. Get help and support.
  5. Sort out your lifestyle. Everything affects everything else — lack of sleep, poor diet, too much caffeine and a range of other lifestyle factors all affect your thoughts and your ability to drive your own mental car.

Best wishes,
Michael Kinnaird

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37 thoughts on “9 ways to get rid of unwanted thoughts

  1. Thank you to Jesus, info very helpful I learned to not think of thought at all and give attention to what I am doing and not to give thought any attention.
    The lord led me here
    Have a good day!

  2. my brother were become mad on the time when we went theire to handle him..infact instead of handling him i got some attacked of unwanted thoughts suddenly like stress..& the thougth iz like “why we all forgots everythings after did, like when we conversation & introduction with any person its forgot soon .and than why every one trying to make their name and personality while forgetting after some days.day by day becoming combining thoughts ,at the end i become fully obsessed & depressed.. bla bla bla!!.even i think sometimes that iam died infact knowing that iam not died iam alive..but cannot stop that thoughs comming on my mind..
    iz thse are thoughts are belong to superstition,ocd,unwanted thoughts,panic attack,obsession ???.
    sorry my eng lang iz nt good att all but i hoped you peoples must understood my statement & expression..plzz help

    1. Hi abid,

      Sounds like you have too much adrenalin. Best to exercise it away — run, swim, whatever you can do. When calm again, remove attention from unwanted thoughts as quickly as possible. Learn to meditate which will improve your ability to put your attention where you want it.

      Mike

  3. Hi Mike,

    I got this problem that is kind of weird. Its really stupid when you think about it, but the thought just wont leave me alone. A couple of nights ago, I had this really weird and unpleasant dream involving my dad in a sexual kind of thing. There is no real image, but just the thought of my dad in that light is sickening and plaguing my mind. I can’t get it out! ive tried to ignore it, but it wont go away. I’m really scared that it is going to intrude when im with friends or whatever because ive been thinking that that could happen. I’m not sure if this applies to your article completely, but Its definitely an unwanted thought. Please help me!

  4. Hey Sam,

    In order to let go, you need to see this as meaning zero to you. At the moment, you’ve got the opposite going on.

    You’re viewing it as having some unknown but important meaning and worse, you’ve attached strong emotion and worry to the thoughts.

    Adding strong emotion and meaning to an idea will massively ramp up the intensity and frequency of it showing up in your mind. Your unconscious mind is simply giving you what you told it was important by your REACTION.

    So… see it as meaningless instead, even funny. Stop caring about it, stop caring why it showed up in your dream and stop caring if it shows up again because if it does, you’ll tell your unconscious mind again that you don’t care (by your attitude) and distract away.

    The clearer you are, and the more consistent you are with the new attitude and the new behavior, that faster it will go away.

    What you want is to FORGET and to achieve that you need to remove importance and attention.

    “No importance, distract” every time, without fail. The frequency and intensity will die away until soon enough you will forget about it.

    Mike

  5. Thanks Mike; thats sounds like good advice :)

    What exactly do I tell me myself and how do I view it in this way?

    Also, I think the thought has in part turned into a simply fear that it will come up again when I’m with a girl or something and will ruin moments for me. Do I do a similar thing to ensure that I just forget about this worry?

    1. Hi Sam,

      Fear is a powerful emotion that will guarantee your continued attention to it. These are primitive mechanisms… whatever you fear, you will be reminded of very often and associations, triggers for the fear thoughts are built very quickly and easily.

      You don’t have to say anything to yourself but if you want to, you can just label it “garbage.” The important thing is to simply see it as garbage, which it is. For a while the thoughts can continue to take over your awareness and hang around. They also try to dominate your attention so it can be difficult to distract away.

      That’s why patience and consistency are so important. Keep solid with the new attitude and keep removing attention. Do it as fast as you can so that the thought has less time to overwhelm you and dominate your mental field.

      If the unwanted thought lingers in your awareness, just see it for what it is… a thought you unwittingly gave fear and importance to… now that is playing out as it does. It’s just primitive. It’s as if a song is playing on the radio you don’t like. You don’t fight against it or pay attention to it, all this just increases your annoyance. If something is in your field of awareness you don’t want like this song, just stop caring, pay attention elsewhere. Allow it, don’t resist it, but don’t care, don’t pay attention.

      Or if someone’s at a party you don’t like… the best outcome for you, assuming you are staying, is to pay no attention at all. The more aware you are that the annoying person is there, the more they dominate your awareness.

      So ATTENTION and importance (how much you care) are the two key factors. Remove both from unwanted things and that is the fastest way to get rid.

      How do you feel about gas pipes Sam? Have the same attitude if your unwanted thought comes and remove attention… calmly rivet it onto some object in your surroundings for a few seconds.

      Be really calm about all this, because anything else is caring isn’t it… and we want “don’t care.”

      1. Oh, and by imagining the thoughts coming when you’re with a girl and ruining the moment and by attaching fear to it, you are telling your unconscious mind “Remind me about this when I’m with a girl because there is danger.”

        You are mentally building the powerful association in advance.

        Atention is the volume control for thoughts Sam. Get really, really clear about this in your mind and it will serve you your whole life. You have choice and you choose with your attention.

  6. Thanks, that does help put it into perspective :)

    Will this kind of thing take some time to get rid of? I’m asking because the the anxiety does occassionally return, and I do sometimes think ‘i didn’t think about that for a while’ but then think about the anxiety. Will this be something that will return to me now Ive made such a bid deal out of it?

    Thank you so much for your help :)

    Sam

    1. Hi Sam,

      The time depends on how big a deal you’ve made… how much attention and importance and how long it’s been going on (how deep the habits or mental grooves are). You say “occasionally” so that suggest to me that the deal ain’t so big :-) It may return by the power of association… triggers in your environment or thoughts but all you need to do is not care and remove attention.

      The clearer you are in understanding, and the more consistent you are with the new attitude and removing attention, the faster it will go and be forgotten. It’s no good not caring one minute and then the thought comes are you get frustrated (start caring). Beware all forms of attention and importance such as frustration, resistance, looking out for it etc.

      This only EVER need be dealt with IF it rises up. Then have the don’t care attitude and remove attention, every single time, whenever or wherever. It’s that simple.

  7. Thank you so much. This article was very helpful. My 29-year old son is going through this and it is very difficult. He has health anxiety and wants to run to the emergency room at all times.

  8. Question: How do you deal with extreme pleasant thoughts that you want to keep , and extreme unpleasant thoughts that you don’t want to keep. The subject of the thoughts being the same…

    e.g: You love someone a lot and are left in doubt if the the other person loves you. So its natural, that you will get plesant thoughts about love interrupted by unpleasant thoughts where you are searching for answers to ease your doubts and you are not allowed to clarify with the other person.

    I am not sure..but to me it seems that both thoughts need to let go…

    1. Hi Raja,

      I think the word love is often used when the experience is actually intense attraction and desire. True love lacks nothing and so desires nothing, is not clingy or needy. I agree about letting go. Most of the time, letting go is the best thing.

      If you worry about whether you are loved in return, then you put your happiness outside your control and that is stressful.

      You might be interested in this article (click link below) that goes into some detail about this…

      https://happy.guide/2011/09/20/relationship

      All the best Raja,
      Mike

  9. so is observing your thoughts from a distant, same as being aware of your thoughts and not paying attention..?

    what about emotions..does the handling of emotions need to be done the same way..

    1. Observing from a distance is the same as being aware. Attention is then a matter of choice ideally. Choice is not possible without awareness. For most though, attention is not choice but habit and illusion, and that’s a problem. One factor contributing to the problem is the false identification with thoughts “I think this, I am that” and attaching a sense of self to the ideas. Making a self out of an idea is mistaking the map for the land. Maps are useful if accurate but they are not the land.

      Emotions can be a guide. If you feel good then move towards, if feel bad, move away. This is in general. In some situations, getting to good feelings can involve temporarily feeling bad but the aim is always to feel the best, feel good, long term, easily. Don’t make a self out of emotion either but get to good feelings by mastering attention to what feels good. I don’t mean pleasure seeking which is short term titillation but deeper good feelings… contentment, appreciation, love, well-being. Fully experience whatever you are feeling right here and now, but remove attachment and the sense of self. Just notice, be curious about your thoughts and feelings and then choose, decide, intend.

      Mike

  10. I need help!!!! I want to be a good Christian but can’t get thoughts out of my head. They are literally making me sick! Any Christians? Help me.

  11. Well I have just been questioning him! ALOT! I’m willing to admit that. I will never quit praying and have a feeling in my heart God is in there. I’m just questioning Jesus a little bit. I was trying to defend my faith yesterday and just could not. It kind of made things worse. I’m just looking for answers for my desire is to believe. I’ve also been having bad thoughts about demons which I want to go away. I keep on praying and I’m sure things will be answered.

    1. Hi Dylan, does it not say in the Bible that God is love? So why not believe in love? That’s much easier to believe in and defend :-) That means that love is the ground of existence which is also my experience.

      Who cares whether Jesus was born of a virgin and the Son of God? Question is… “Does He have anything useful to say about your life?” I think so, as it goes, but understand that the teachings of Jesus are like riddles. The point is to discover for yourself their true meaning. They are vague, obscure; they resound in the heart, appeal to the heart but confuse the mind. The riddles are devices used by the master Jesus to begin to awaken the unconscious, “fast asleep ones.”

      Rather than search for belief, why not search for truth? And the truth to which Jesus most often points is to the simple presence of being… “become like a child.” And if you search for truth, then you can use whatever sources of information you like, including the teachings of Jesus to understand and act on the truth you find. I recommend these books for you…

      The Gospel According to Jesus by Stephen Mitchell
      Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch
      Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

  12. And it’s starting to make me wonder if I am a Christian and if Jesus is really the son of god. Like I said I keep on praying and will never give up.

    1. Sounds like you’re searching for identity “I wonder if I am a Christian.” But you cannot find yourself in ideas and beliefs. What you ARE is the simple fact of your being, no more, no less. Ideas and false self-definitions take you away from the simple presence of being that Jesus taught about. Read the books I recommended, then you will have no more doubts.

  13. I watched a film about 1 and a half ago, it really freaked me out, but i got over it. Then i watched some of it again and am freaked out again, i get dizzy when walking sometimes, get unwanted thoughts and feelings, common coincidences, headaches, stomach churning/aches, rapid heart beat. I found that praying helps, but can I also have your advice please. I am only 15.

    1. You’re welcome Dylan, let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with. Btw, talking of faith, I also recommend Happy Guide for you to read. The other books I recommended to clear your mind of doubt and to gain clarity about the meaning of Jesus’s teachings. But then it always comes down to “What can I DO?” Happy Guide is full of what to do AND how to do it, including “how to become like a child.” ~ Mike

  14. Dear Mike,

    I’m a 35 year old lady and I’ve never had any intrusive thoughts until only three years ago. I started getting these intrusive negative thoughts that are associated with things and places and imgaes (it’s just like when you hear a song and your mind instantly remembers someone or something and EVERYTIME you listen to this song, the same thing happens as if your mind becomes programmed to remind you of it!). I went through a stressful time in college when I had a stalker obsessed with me and around 4 years ago (after 12 years of finishing college!!), I found out that he called home to ask about my whereabouts!!) I picked up the phone and told him harshly to leave me alone and that I’m a married woman now (I’m still single but I told him I’m married so that he will leave me alone!) It freaked me out like hell that’s he’s still got me on his mind. He couldn’t get a hold of me but now he’s become a major part of my intrusive unwanted thoughts that have been bombarding me for the last three years.

    Another couple of negative intrusive thoughts I have is health and sexual inappropriate image related. I’m very healthy and I look very young but the past two years everytime I see a breast cancer awareness ad and campagin, it freaks me out. There’s also this inappropriate sexual image immediately shows in my mind everytime I watch a romantic scene that I love and it riuns the moment completely!!! I don’t know why I’m having these bad intrusive thoughts that I never suffered from before! I wish I could take a pill designed to erase all these thoughts from my head once and for all :(.

    Rudain

    1. Hi Rudain,

      Everything affects everything else so the first thing I recommend is to read Happy Guide so that you understand the big picture into which unwanted thoughts fits. We have “what to do in the moment” when an unwanted thought happens, and then there’s all the lifestyle factors that play into the type of thoughts you have. So it’s good to get everything working for you. So please read Happy Guide, it has everything you need to know and do.

      For example, there’s an extremely powerful idea in there which applies to your stalker, and any other worries you may have. And that is to ask yourself these two questions… “What can I DO?” “What is the OUTCOME I want?” So, you gently and calmly ponder these questions until you’ve exhausted your answers, then you action them, then you let it go, in full knowledge that you’ve done everything that can be done. And then using this tool becomes something you can TRUST, so that whatever happens in your life, you immediately go to the laser-targeted practical solutions of what can be done about it.

      You may decide for instance that if you hear from him again, or perhaps if it starts getting out of hand, you’ll seek an injunction. I’m not saying you should, that’s just one idea that occurred to me. By the way, I’m not sure calling him was a good idea because what you resist persists, you’ve made the whole idea of YOU bigger and brighter in his head, made it more likely he will think and obsess about you. On the other hand, what you IGNORE tends to go away. Ignoring is usually the number one tool for getting rid of things you don’t want… people OR thoughts.

      So, yes, thoughts become HABITS, become associated with triggers such as sounds, music, sights, smells, even moods. But you are always in control by the ATTITUDE and ATTENTION you give whenever a thought arrives in your mental arena. Now this can get tricky because you must NOT CARE about thoughts you don’t want to be there. This is something that can easily trip you up.

      See the case of your sexual thought. Of course you care, you DON’T WANT IT there. But your mind doesn’t see “don’t” it only sees emotion, meaning that you attached to the inappropriate thought. So it will GROW this thought for you. And the association will become STRONGER.

      So the keys are absolutely attitude and attention. So the attitude is don’t care, or laughter and the attention is AWAY. If you ponder this it’s totally logical — for something to NOT BE THERE, the right direction is to remove all attention and meaning. But thoughts DIE AWAY, and habits take time to be reprogrammed, so you need to be CONSISTENT in your reaction.

      This is vital. One of the other BIG pitfalls is frustration that the unwanted thought is still there. That is a lot of attention with a lot of emotion. So it’s important to not care that it’s still there, because that’s the only way it can go. By your attitude, you communicate powerfully with your unconscious mind.

      So with triggers, for example a romantic scene that you have now associated with a sexual thought that you don’t want… a scene comes, the thought is remembered by habit and association, you look at it with disinterest and refocus attention back on what you were doing which was watching the romance.

      You don’t try to hold the unwanted thought OFF because that is ATTENTION. Place attention purely on what you want to be there, not on what you don’t want to be there.

      Hope this helps… let me know if you need more clarity.
      Mike

  15. Hello I suffered a panic attack back in June 2011 ever since then I have not been the same. I had to start going to a psychologist which has helped me greately. However, I still can not let go of these thoughts that produce fear and anxiety to a point where I just think I am going crazy. My psychologist tells me to meditate but whenever I do is only for 5 minutes and then I get lazy. How do I break this habit?

    1. Hi Mayra,

      There’s two ways you can go with letting go. You can “just do it” and then see in your experience that everything is getting better, or you can deconstruct the belief that is stopping you let go, then the letting go is easy because you won’t give attention to what you now see as meaningless.

      So… if you’re determined to go with plan B, then then question is “why can’t you let go?”

      The thing with meditation is that the harder it is, the more you need it, so I would set a goal… 15 minutes a day, and stick with it. Another MASSIVE help for you would be to commit to paying full attention to whatever you’re doing right NOW. Then EVERYTHING is meditation. That’s an awesome way to go and anchors your attention so that thoughts POP in contrast. So, rather than your mind constantly drifting around, you are rooted in attention to your doing, and then you see thoughts pop. That’s massive.

  16. Hi Mike!

    I’m so glad I found this website. I’ve tried to put in practice everything that I’ve read but it’s hard to get rid of unwanted thoughts. My story is something like this: I’m 24 years old and I have a 30 year old girlfriend. Before her, my relationships didn’t mean that much to me. Since she is older than me, having sex with her has been an amazing experience and we really enjoy it with each other. Since last summer, we have been having a long distance relationship… but I used to daydream about her all day, sexual thoughts included… I was so happy and everything was fine until I made myself this question during one of those sexual daydreams (being really open minded and respectful with homosexuals): “I wonder why gay guys don’t like women… they smell so great, their bodies are so sexy and sex with them is perfect”… and then I asked myself:”what if you are gay?” and ever since that day I haven’t stopped asking myself that question and having all kinds of unwanted homosexual thoughts here and there, all day long… I am certain I’m not gay… I have tried but I can’t find another dude attractive, it’s rather disgusting. Sometimes when maybe I forget for a little bit about the thoughts and everything is kinda normal, I might respectfully admire a beautiful woman’s face or body but right after the thought strikes back telling me: “But aren’t you gay?”. When my girlfriend visits me or I visit her, those days everything is perfect and my mind works perfectly… I forget about the thoughts and we have a wonderful time, I am able to perform sexually, everything is perfect… the problem comes back when I’m not with her. I don’t really know what to do anymore, I’ve read about HOCD and the syntoms are those fore sure… I just don’t know how to get rid of it. I think it would be waaaaay easier if I were gay and I would completely accept it and live with it, but I don’t like men and I find those thoughts so disturbing. I really love my girlfriend and I’m happy with her, but this is ruining it! I have gotten to the point of thinking that I just will make the decision of never having a partner again in my life since I am not attracted to men, and these thoughts strike when I’m interested in women.

    Thanks for your help! All this might sound funny, but it is hell, really…

  17. Thanks for the reply. I feel better after having read the article.

    I’m going to buy the book later today. Before I found this website I had been thinking that there’s something wrong with my lifestyle… maybe I study too much and tend to forget about my physical and mental health.

    I will read the book, for sure. Is there a version of it in spanish? I really want my parents to read it…

    Thanks a lot!

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