9 ways to get rid of unwanted thoughts


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.

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

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

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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


  4. 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.


  5. 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.



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