Can’t stop thinking

Please Help asks…

“The thought is a very silly one, and what’s worse is I know that it isn’t true, but it still pops up! (As I was typing this, for example, ‘How do you know it isn’t true’ popped up, but I just ignored it.) The last two weeks have been very good, and I haven’t had any issues with the thought because I’ve been distracted with school (a sign that the thought is definitely losing some of it’s hold over me, as earlier this term even school couldn’t distract me from it.)

However it’s now the holidays and I have very important exams coming up, and I’m worried about being on my own and stuck in the house for so long because when I’m on my own the thought does tend to pop up and I can’t shake it, and this in turn stops me from being able to revise which makes me even more stressed and so makes the thought and the anxiety worse…

Should I just continue on with trying to revise and try and ignore the thought if this happens? Or should I just ignore the worry that this might happen in the first place? (I’m such an over-thinker haha!)

It also seems that everything I think about seems to link back to the thought, so should I just ignore this thought & go back to what I was thinking before? Or should I just focus on something else and not go back to what I was thinking over before the thought popped up?

It still seems wrong to ignore the thought, and that I must worry about it. I think this feeling about having to worry about everything stems from a health problem I had last year that was very uncomfortable, and no one seemed to know what was causing it so I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to find out what it was.

It was only in September this year that I saw a specialist, but the worry of the health problem seemed insignificant to the new intrusive thought. At the time of this health problem I would be constantly thinking that I just HAD to find out what this problem was because then I’d find the solution and everything would be ok. This is very similar to how I felt about the intrusive thought (before I discovered your website) so I think I ingrained the feeling that I had to worry about everything and that I had to find an answer from spending so long worrying about this health problem, if you see what I mean. I’m sorry this is so complex!

I suppose I should tell you that my fear is what if I’m a lesbian (I have absolutely no issues with other people being gay, it just isn’t what I want personally to be) I know know know that I’m not, but this silly thought keeps popping up, when I see a pretty girl it’s ‘oh do you fancy her?’ when I see a handsome boy it’s ‘oh are you sure you find him attractive, what if you’re lying to yourself?’ and then if I don’t react in a certain way to seeing an attractive boy, then the thought starts to pop up like crazy and I find myself following it through and trying to reason with it. It has just manifested itself into every area of my life, if I listen to music and the lyrics are about being in love it pops up saying ‘would you be singing this to a girl?’

I’m also applying to university at the moment and people say that where you discover yourself so now I’m worried that I’m going to discover I’m a lesbian there, which makes me not want to go when I used to be so excited for uni. I used to spend all my time fantasizing about boys (sad I know haha!) but now whenever I do the thought comes up ‘you don’t want this’ or I don’t get that excited feeling, because I want to feel it so of course I won’t.

The thing is the thought just doesn’t feel like a part of me, it seems like it’s coming from elsewhere! Sometimes I get these awful images too, but I just try to ignore them. It’s all just so complex. I’ve looked on some OCD boards but they just depress me as they say you need therapy and to go on meds but it’s such an awkward problem to explain to my parents and/or doctor as it can be taken the wrong way! I read that you need to face your fear, so do you think I should do this? Or just continue to ignore the thought? I read some success stories and some people have said that they just ignored it and eventually it went, so should I just continue on with ignoring it? And is it normal to sometimes have some relapses where you follow the thought through without thinking and get anxious?

Thank you so much for replying, and I’m sorry this is so long! You and your website have been such a help to me!”

Hi Please Help,

“The thought is a very silly one, and what’s worse is I know that it isn’t true, but it still pops up! (As I was typing this, for example, ‘How do you know it isn’t true’ popped up, but I just ignored it.)”

Yes, so what you can learn from that is that your mind does not produce true thoughts, but operates on how you felt when you had a certain thought, on instinct, or gives you the same quality you attached previously…

This rapid mental activity — one thought crashing into another and another endlessly, and you believing all this activity is “you” is a symptom of a mind out of control. Not to worry, now you know it, you can do something about it.

The thing you need to do is get SPACE between thoughts. Do not let your mind run endlessly. To get space, simply listen for the next thought to pop, calmly, just noticing. This stops thoughts and now there is space and you see thoughts coming against a background of silence… now there is contrast. Listening is meditation. So is focusing all attention on what you’re doing — which with practice you’ll see is the same “place” as listening. Focusing on your doing gives an anchor for your attention so that again, thoughts come in contrast to that — your attention is not drifting around, like the proverbial leaf in the wind.

These methods are talked about in more detail in Happy Guide, which will also give you the big picture of happiness into which “learning how to think” fits. So I always recommend reading Happy Guide first, before diving into any one aspect.

“The last two weeks have been very good, and I haven’t had any issues with the thought because I’ve been distracted with school.”

Attention is the volume control for thoughts. If you have a thought or a whole load of thoughts around one topic that you don’t want, then keep removing attention. This happened naturally for you when distracted, but you can take control of the situation too, and simply choose what has meaning and value to you, and what does not. Pay no attention to stuff you don’t want to be there — remove meaning and attention.

“I’m worried about being on my own and stuck in the house for so long because when I’m on my own the thought does tend to pop up and I can’t shake it.”

Stress or in this case, the specific stress of low level perceived danger (being on your own) causes previous fears to appear vividly in your awareness, even if you feared being gay. This reaction is instinctive not intelligent, it’s primitive. It just operates on meaning, feelings, how you perceive your environment. The stress response also changes how your body and mind actually work so that your senses become heightened, logical thinking is suppressed and you become more automatic and reactive.

So stress is always a potential pit-fall that can ramp up old habits that we’re trying to get rid of. So your aim should be to not get stressed, to take action on all your “worries,” to be super organized, so that you can get all unresolved stuff filed in a system and free your mind from worry. We’re not designed for these endless problems. Again, Happy Guide has the info you need to free your mind. It’s simple stuff.

“Should I just continue on with trying to revise and try and ignore the thought if this happens? Or should I just ignore the worry that this might happen in the first place? (I’m such an over-thinker haha!)”

In the moment it’s always simple… yes or no to THIS thought, so yes, ignore it. You worry it will happen because it happened before and you weren’t clear, you questioned the truth of it etc. So go into it with a clear plan — “the thought isn’t true, and I want to be free of it, so I will ignore every occurrence of it or any related thought” (such as worry about it coming).

So if you’re revising and it comes, ignore quickly and refocus on your study. Repeat… be utterly consistent in not caring about it and removing attention.

“It also seems that everything I think about seems to link back to the thought, so should I just ignore this thought & go back to what I was thinking before? Or should I just focus on something else and not go back to what I was thinking over before the thought popped up?”

As you start to give meaning and attention, a thought will grow rapidly and if you fear the thought (“could this be true, omg!?”) then it will appear vividly everywhere in your experience and become associated with lots of stuff. This other stuff then triggers the thought you don’t want and then you’re out of control, and give lots MORE attention to how to stop it. So you can see how quickly we can create a big problem by not nipping unwanted thoughts in the bud.

But all these new triggers are easily reprogrammed once YOU are CLEAR about the NEW way. Your mind simply gives what YOU give meaning to, so once you communicate clearly with your mind by the meaning and attention you give, your mind will quickly catch up. It’s like you put a big fence around the whole subject with “NO ENTRY” at every entry point. The entry points are all the associated triggers. So all you have to do is be clear about the new way, and ignore every single time the old thought is triggered — so you put up a “no entry” and a redirect every time.

And these redirects become habits, and so very soon play out automatically. Trigger > “Garbage” > Remove attention. Consistently.

“It still seems wrong to ignore the thought, and that I must worry about it.”

That’s because it comes with the quality you previously gave. Your feared it, questioned it, worried about it. So it comes back with quality of “extreme importance” that you put there.

“I would be constantly thinking that I just HAD to find out what this problem was…”

Our minds are wired to put MORE attention to PROBLEMS. That itself is a problem because if you have unwittingly given meaning and attention to something insignificant, you can quickly create a big mental complex that can be tricky to exit. It takes a clear SEEING of the dysfunction, so that you don’t fall into this trap of trying to think your way out of a maze of unwanted thoughts. You can’t think your way out because attention is the volume control, more thinking is GROWING the problem.

“I think I ingrained the feeling that I had to worry about everything and that I had to find an answer from spending so long worrying about this health problem, if you see what I mean. I’m sorry this is so complex!”

Yes you made an understandable, but seriously bad error; that more thinking would help. It helps if you need to figure out how to avoid lions but not if you want to stop thinking about being gay. We’re still wired for nature.

It GETS complex but luckily, the solution is simple, as explained above.

“I find myself following it through and trying to reason with it”

That’s the wrong direction. Do not engage, do not fight or hold down or hold off, beware subtle forms of attention and calmly rivet your attention elsewhere every single time. Again, there is the issue of your ability to do this… which is why you’d be wise to make meditation a part of your every moment, so that you never get sucked in.

“I read that you need to face your fear, so do you think I should do this?”

This advice doesn’t apply here. In some situations, fears have to be faced, but rarely head-on. That whole idea is nuts. Fears should be faced bit by bit, where avoidance due to fear is limiting one’s life.

“…should I just continue on with ignoring it?”

Yes, that’s all you really need to do. Be calmly CLEAR that you don’t want it there, then ignore every instance.

“And is it normal to sometimes have some relapses where you follow the thought through without thinking and get anxious?”

Yes it is because thinking has become over-powerful and made us semi-conscious. It’s become so habitual that our attention gets sucked in. The more you can stay meditative (in a natural state of awareness of being) the less likely you are to be sucked in.

“You and your website have been such a help to me!”

Wonderful! Glad to have helped :-) By the way… every time you find yourself worrying, STOP. Ask yourself “What can I DO about this,” and stay with the question. Keep it practical and when you’ve figured out what you can do, put it on your to-do list and then let go. Take action and let go.

And please don’t forget the big picture… because what we’re talking about is a small but important part of “how to be happy.” Please read Happy Guide to put all this into the full context of a happy life.

Best wishes,
Michael Kinnaird

8 thoughts on “Can’t stop thinking

  1. I am a teen who has the same exact problem as ‘Please Help’. I couldn’t believe another person suffered this crazy problem that has been disturbing me a lot. I even cry periodically sometimes because I feel so helpless and I can’t confide in anybody because this is such a sensitive and awkward topic. This is no real problem, yet this is a very HUGE problem for me. I don’t know how I developed this homophobia. I don’t want to go mad, I want to be well and be rid of these nonsense and I hope you can help. Thank you so much.

  2. Hi Scared,

    I’m James, Mike’s brother and partner on Happy Guide. If you have the exact same problem as “Please Help” then the answer is exactly the same :-) Mike has laid out exactly what to do in the article.

    It’s important to know this:

    — You are NOT homophobic. These are simply unwanted thoughts that now have a sense of meaning and importance because of the attention and feeling you have brought to them. The answer is to remove attention and importance from them — ie. laugh at them as ridiculous, ignore them, and the thoughts will soon drop away in importance and frequency. What we pay attention to, grows. What we remove attention from, dies away. This is the way our brains work. It cannot be any other way.

    — You are NOT mad, and you are not at risk of going mad. You have told your brain “this is important” by worrying about and analyzing these thoughts.

    Now you will tell your brain “this is junk, irrelevant” by having a “don’t care” attitude towards the thoughts, laughing at them, ignoring them.

    So your problem is only a problem if you TELL your brain “this is big, this is important, this is a problem” by keep paying attention to the thoughts, and worrying about it. Keep laughing at what rubbish the thoughts are, and then just ignore them whenever they pop up — that is the answer :-)

    Take care,
    James

  3. Thank you for actually spending time to read my message and giving me thoughtful and helpful advice. I’ve been struggling with this for quite a while and I just keep suspecting people around me are gay (!!!!!!!) and ultimately I even question myself until i totally freak out. I will try to follow your advice and nip these stupid thoughts in the bud before they become out of control. I really hope this is just a bad patch I’m going through and someday I can look back and just laugh it off. Thank you very much very much once again.

  4. You’re welcome :-)

    And don’t wait until “someday” — laugh at them now :-) Remember, thoughts are not inherently “true” or “important”. They have only the meaning and importance that we give them, through our attention to them and feelings about them. So by laughing at these thoughts, and ignoring them, you will soon train your brain that these thoughts are junk.

    James

  5. thanks mike for giving me advice..I will definitely tel my frnd to do al dat things..but right now my frnd is not talking with dat girl (who has proposed her).. so is it a right way to handle situation?? as in i even know dat other girl..she is very nice n feeling guilty for whatever happened becoz of her..n she doesnt want to lose her frndship becz of this scene..so what wl u suggest for this..

    1. Hi Yudi… open and honest talking usually resolves things. Sometimes, it’s best to let things settle a while and let things take their course. At some point, a good thing would be for the “other girl” to write, say sorry etc, suggest that they forget the thing ever happened, that she doesn’t want to lose her best friend etc. That would be a good move once your friend has had some time to get her mind off and get back to herself.

  6. I have a thought that everything we do or say or think I’d in the past over and over on loop its driving me insane but the thoughts are true so I should just let it it go I’m suffering from ocd and anxiety and depression I have suicidal thoughts because I feel I don’t want to think no more about anything I’m scared I am on meds but they aren’t working please help I’m at a loss with life

    1. Hi Ben, I’m really sorry to hear that you’re suffering. But you are *exactly* why we created Happy Guide. After 20+ years of research and experience, the cause and effect of what you’ve described is very clear to us. The absolute best thing you can do now is read the book. It only takes an hour and is the quickest, simplest route back from where you are to health, happiness, and a peaceful mind. It has helped countless people in a similar situation to you. You can read feedback from readers here. And you can get started with Chapter 1 here.

      Best wishes,
      James

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