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.
Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.
Read Chapter 1 “The Happiness Secret”
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