The big picture of unwanted thoughts

Caught in a web
© Gino Andenmatten

By understanding all the factors affecting your thoughts, you can get really clear about how to get rid of your unwanted ones…


Thoughts come back depending on the meaning you previously gave, depending on your attitude to the original event. What meaning did you give? How did you react?

To get rid, you must change the meaning and attitude to “don’t care.”

If your attitude and meaning is fear, you cause your mind to react in primitive ways that are meant to protect you from danger. Anxiety, the fight or flight state is a state to save your life in extreme danger, it’s not a state that’s good for logical thinking…

All kinds of fear cause our minds to react in this primitive way, but our brains are wired for nature, to react in natural wild environments where our ancestors evolved to deal with real fears, real dangers such as lions and attacking tribes.

What you fear, you will see everywhere. That’s just what fear does.

So, many of our modern fears are irrational, dysfunctional — our primitive reactions very often don’t work in the modern world. When fear is dysfunctional you must use your intelligence to see that it’s dysfunctional and override the instinctive program, by choosing to ignore thoughts, impulses and feelings related to the dysfunctional fear.


If you think a thought means something, you will give it lots of attention, but attention is the volume control for thoughts. More attention means you create a bigger and bigger network of related thoughts, associations and triggers in your mind. If your aim is for a thought to not be there, you can’t make that happen by giving more attention.

Don’t care + attention elsewhere = ignore.

IGNORE unwanted thoughts.


If you believe that certain thoughts are serving you in some way, then it’s harder to let go. Ignoring will always work because ignore has “don’t care” built in, but it’s much easier if you can see the thought as meaningless first.

Deconstruct belief using simple reason and logic. If you’re confused about what’s true, then ask your friends and family — it’s much easier to see the truth of a situation when you’re not the one in the mess. Once you can see your thoughts and behavior are dysfunctional, not serving you, it’s easier to ignore them because why would you give attention to something you now see as meaningless?

Problem solving

If I could wave a magic wand and make your unwanted thoughts go away, would anything bad happen? If not, it’s not a real problem and you should simply ignore every instance. Most people are trying to think their way out of unwanted thoughts, because we’re naturally wired to put more attention to problems. But if the problem isn’t real, problem solving will make things worse, a lot worse. It will grow the problem.

Once unwanted thoughts create anxiety and confused thinking, there can be a lot of unpleasant effects, and what most people do is then try to untangle or deal with these effects. That will never work, you’ll just end up with more and more problems to solve. Get to the roots of the whole thing. If it’s not a real problem, drop all thoughts about it and see related anxiety as simply an effect that’s also to be ignored.


Depression creates depressed thoughts, happiness creates happy thoughts. Lift your mood by looking after your lifestyle… sleep, diet, exercise and so-on. And make all these good things into habits so that your health is building every day.


© Coqua

One unresolved worry is a big drain. Two feels like punishment. More than that and you’re heading for out-of-control anxiety and ultimate breakdown. Resolve all worries by asking “What is the outcome I want?” “What can I DO?” Then take the actions you’ve decided. If nothing can be done, set it for review in a week, a month, so you can let it go. The point of resolving all worries is to get them OFF your mind.

Lingering thoughts

If the initial event was shock or trauma, then thoughts and images can linger. Don’t care if they do, don’t care is always the right attitude. Like a song playing on the radio you don’t like… it’s not really a problem unless you make it one. Any anger, or frustration, will only make it linger longer.

It can be hard to take attention away from lingering thoughts, it’s like they need to be noticed. So look AT it, for say, 5 or 10 secs, just non-reactive, not caring, just looking, then carry on with what you’re doing again.

One time I couldn’t get to sleep because of wind-chimes. And I just couldn’t get my mind off them. So… I decided to pay attention to them, not fight it anymore, but actually give them my full attention. I was asleep in about 2 minutes! The mind is so fickle, restless by nature, it soon got bored of the wind-chimes :-)

Personal mind power

Who’s the boss of your mind? Here’s the test: If you can stop thinking, you’re the boss, if not, your mind is out-of-control. To make sure you’re the boss, practice meditation every day, and get into the habit of flow… paying attention to what you’re doing with a quiet mind, just noticing thoughts come and go. This way, everything becomes meditation and you stay the boss.


A decision is a powerful thought — a clear intention to do it differently from now on. Decide to ignore every instance of unwanted thoughts from now on, and follow through until they stop coming, you’ve forgotten, they are not there, and you aren’t even aware they’re not there, they’re just not there.

Doing nothing

To follow through, you must do nothing. Anything else is problem solving or attention. So do nothing about it at all, unless you become aware that an unwanted thought has popped into your mind; then ignore it. Now… go back to doing nothing about it again, paying attention to other things quite naturally.

Swirling thoughts

If things have gotten bad; too many thoughts, too many triggers, no personal mind power, anxiety, then RIVET attention. Pick activities that take your attention for long periods of time like watching TV, reading a book and so-on. If you’re very anxious, exercise is the best way to burn up excess adrenaline and return your body to a neutral state.

Commit to meditation and flow — make it important to yourself to practice these methods until you have peace of mind. The greater the disturbance in the mind, the more disturbed you are, and so the greater the need for meditation.

In a calm mind, a thought is just like a little bubble rising to the surface of a still lake, just a little squiggle in consciousness. A disturbed mind though, is like a storm at sea. With regular meditation practice, you can return your mind to a peaceful state at will and powerfully direct your attention to where you want it to be — the power of “yes” or “no.”

Subtle forms of attention

As well as the obvious attention like actively thinking about something, be sure to notice yourself looking to see if the thought is still there, holding it down (suppression), fighting it, trying to push it away. Notice if you get angry or frustrated it’s still there. Notice all forms of attention and notice when your attention gets sucked in without you noticing — when you start thinking about it automatically.

The moment you notice you’ve been doing it is your moment of sanity, of awareness. The goal is that your unwanted thoughts are not there remember, so as soon as you notice any of this, put attention somewhere else — back to what you were doing is best, because it becomes a consistent re-direct, same every time, a good habit.


© Graham

What you repeat, becomes automatic. Every time you think the same thought you bed it in deeper and associate with more and more sensory impulses and other thoughts. If your network of unwanted thoughts has become big, then thoughts are triggering other thoughts habitually, running on auto-pilot.

To stop it, you need to be always aware, noticing each thought pop into your mind. This witnessing state is the best state to be in, and gives you the power to choose your attention, and not be sucked in.

Good habits solve unwanted thought problems. Your mood is created by your whole lifestyle, and your habits are the root cause of your lifestyle.

Nearly all problems are solved or ideally, avoided, by living right and thinking right and making all of that good habits so it’s automatic. Stepping out of thinking and into awareness is probably the best habit of all.

What to expect

Thoughts die away when ignored, you can’t just turn them off like turning off a light switch. The frequency and intensity reduce over time, and the fastest road to forgetting, is to be 100% consistent in ignoring every occurrence.

If you’ve made a habit of it, built a big network about it, been doing it for months or years, then you’ll always be able to do it. Habits are things you learn to do automatically like riding a bike, but just because you can ride a bike, it doesn’t mean you ever need to, or would choose to.

So if you ever make the mistake of giving meaning or attention again, to thought-habits you’ve got really good at creating, you’ll easily be able to ramp it all back up again. Just don’t ever get on the bike again. Be really clear about it.

It’s like you’re going to put a big fence around the whole of your unwanted thought network with a “no entry” sign at every in-road (trigger).

And when you stop caring — really, clearly, consistently — you communicate powerfully with your unconscious mind that “This is no longer important to me.”

In the end, the unwanted thoughts stop coming, you’ve forgotten.

So thoughts die away, and by consistently re-directing attention away every single time, you reprogram every single trigger and association to the new reaction, the new habit of simply paying attention to what you’re doing. Soon, no roads lead into your unwanted thought network, they’re all re-directed.

So this is very important… be utterly consistent in ignoring unwanted thoughts, totally clear about the process, giving you total faith in its effectiveness, meaning you’ll never get frustrated or impatient, and follow the new way with 100% absolute consistency.

If you have any questions about how to put the advice into practice, or need clarification on any points, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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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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4 thoughts on “The big picture of unwanted thoughts

  1. I’m so glad I found your website.

    So I think I just realized I have OCPD tendencies. I’ve been dating a girl long distance for about 4 months and last week she flew out to see me (prior to this I had been flying to see her). Everything thing seemed fine initially but towards the end of the 3rd day of us hanging out, I was feeling tired and irritable and her smiley face just annoyed me so much. I brought it up to her that I like serious conversation, but what I meant (and too ashamed to say) was that I almost didn’t want her to joke around or smile. I know this was ridiculous and unreasonable and unfair, but the emotions I was struggling with were so strong. Of course this really confused her and hurt her, feeling like it came out of the blue. (almost like “We’ve known each other for 6 months now and now you’re telling me there’s something about my personality that you don’t like? If I were in your place, I would have not even started the relationship if there were personality differences I was struggling with.” )

    She’s a great gal, but sometimes when I think of her, and the thought of her smile/joking around, it evokes fear and disgust. I don’t want this to be the case. I want to believe I can change and value her smile. I want to care for her and want this relationship to work out. It’s discouraging because this is a trend in many of my previous relationships, where I would find something I disliked and it would seem like a giant in my mind that whenever I thought about the person, there was no sense of affection.

    Thank you for any input you may have.



    1. Hi James, it’s difficult to give a definitive answer without knowing your situation in depth. But I can tell you for sure that the aim is to be at a point where you are acting naturally — not just with your girlfriend but with everyone, with the world. All the points in the article above are relevant and play their part. And by getting to a place where your mind is calm and your body is healthy, you will be able to simply be happy, and act naturally. Thought is largely taken out of the picture.

      It’s no coincidence that you were feeling tired and irritable on the day when her smiling face annoyed you. The overall aim is to achieve a lifestyle that creates health and happiness. When you do this, and you simply feel good for no reason, these types of problems and situations tend not to happen.

      But in the meantime, these thoughts which are simply annoyances, and unwanted, can simply be ignored. You can make a decision right now that they won’t get in the way of your relationship. Ignore them and they will gradually fade away into nothingness.


  2. I am currently having recurrent lingering unwanted thoughts that are very disturbing and are affecting me in my daily life. It all happened when i got an anxiety attack and I’m struggling with it since. Never thought like that before until the anxiety came in. Your website helped me understand what they are and learn to ignore but what can i say to my self or a good practice when they start lingering in my mind? Thank you for your help!


    1. Hi Hilda, for lingering thoughts, look AT for a few seconds completely cold and indifferent, then gently re-focus on what you’re doing. These kind of thoughts are generally the result of trauma, either an actual event, or a traumatic/shocking thought. So, once you understand that the thought has no value to you, you understand it’s just the mind actually trying to protect you in a very primitive way, then you get rid by removing meaning from it.

      So you must always have an indifferent attitude, not care, that is the fastest way, and not care if it lingers even, because any other response means meaning which means it will linger for longer. Patience is needed, it will die away, these type of thoughts don’t just go like switching off a light switch.

      So… also be aware that you’re trying to forget, so you let it go completely, don’t think about it at all, don’t look for it and ponder how to get rid, get clear first and then just notice only when it pops into your mind. Then apply what I said. At all other times, you forget it, as you would with anything you don’t care about.

      Awareness prevents mind-chatter, so that is something to be doing all the time using the listening method.


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