How to get rid of unwanted thoughts

© Kees de Vos

A friend of mine is plagued with unwanted thoughts.

He’s been diagnosed with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and I can tell how bad he is at any given moment by the number of times he calls me — he says I say the same stuff as his psychologist but I’m a lot cheaper! :-)

I mean… this is a guy who is bordering on reckless in many areas of his life but is brought to his knees with fear from thoughts that are totally irrational…

If I told you what they were you’d think it was silly but these silly thoughts dominate his life completely.

I don’t believe in the OCD label, at least not in his case. What I see is an extreme example of the issues we all face — the inability to drive our own mental car, the inability to choose the focus of our attention, the inability to see thought for what it really is… Continue reading

My mind is out of control

Nameless asks…

“I’m plagued by unwanted thoughts every day all the time… My brain constantly sees stories and things that never happened but they’re very vivid… like having a movie in the background with the volume way up… I’m constantly in fear of getting hurt and fear of pain. Now I’ll admit this could have to do with some events in my life but long story short I am constantly on a hair trigger to snap because I’m afraid of getting hurt… but this always ends up firing off at the wrong people… Help me.”

beautiful blur fashion female
Photo by Pixabay on

Weed your garden

Basic info — you’ve got a weedy garden. Actually it’s well overgrown, more like a jungle :-) The analogy of mind to garden is very accurate. Thoughts are like seeds and you unwittingly plant and nurture weeds, before long you’ve got a jungle. This is the basic problem, good to know… Continue reading

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!”


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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… Continue reading

Irrational fear of zombies and other fictitious horrors

Rebecca asks…

“Can you help, I’m 20 and ever since I was 16 and watched Nightmare on Elm Street for my high school exams, I constantly think Freddie Krueger will come for me. There’s no pattern and thoughts just appear — I try to distract myself but I end up in one room of my house on my own with my son too scared to move.

Doctors won’t help; they just keep saying it will go with time, but it’s not going. Please help if you can — I can’t live any more days in fear.”

There are lions

The way your mind reacts to danger is primitive… that’s important to understand. So when you get immersed into a scary movie and imagine yourself as a victim of Freddie, your mind reacts in a way to protect you as if the danger was real — like if you saw a lion in real life. The more immersed into the movie you get, the more you suspend reality, the greater the response… Continue reading

Weird thought about my girlfriend

Jamie asks…

“I’ve been suffering from a suspicious nature for many years, not trusting people etc. This problem has given me so many problems in life and it’s still giving me problems. A few days back a weird thought came into my mind about my girlfriend, that she was lying to me about something, or more like hiding something and I started thinking about it and this started to grow in my mind.

Then I contacted James, he helped me to remove attention from it. Somehow I asked my girlfriend about it and she was angry and told me it was just a silly thought.

I know she was speaking the truth but somehow I wasn’t able to trust her I don’t know why, despite the fact that trust is the most important factor in relationship. She loves me a lot, and I also love her but whenever this thought comes to my mind I get in a bad mood and start to repeat ‘don’t focus on ideas you don’t want’ in my mind and starts to feel good but still focus remains there somehow, on the weird thought. Could you help me to solve this thing Mike?”

woman and man sitting on brown wooden bench
Photo by Vera Arsic on

Deconstruct belief to let go

Do you fully know that this is just a silly thought? Or are you still questioning its truth? Attention is the volume control for thoughts, so if you consistently remove attention as James said, it would die away and stop coming. But if you believe it’s true or question its truth or meaning, give it importance then that is attention. Attention with meaning ramps ups a thought’s volume very quickly… Continue reading

How to start meditating

© Buck82

Meditation is about returning to a natural state of being and a peaceful state of mind. It’s about being yourself, essentially. It’s a very simple thing too, with incredible power when practiced consistently. It’s about choosing attention and being aware, and the simple practice centers you in your true self so that you don’t get lost in habitual mind-chatter and identification with thoughts.

There’s lots of different methods for meditation but the one I recommend is to “listen.”

How to do it

All you do is listen intensely for the next thought to pop, that’s all. Try it now for 10 seconds and you’ll see that with enough intensity of focus, thoughts stop.

The reason this is the best is…

  • It’s utterly simple.
  • You can do it anytime, anywhere, as a sit-down practice or using all the in-between moments.
  • It works, even when the mind is very stormy or anxious.
  • It’s a tiny shift from “listening,” which is something you do, to “being,” what you are.

Continue reading

How to overcome an addiction to negative thinking

Peter asks…

“Almost all my life I’ve been addicted to negative thinking and I’ve been diagnosed with the possibility of OCD. I have a few problems that I’m working on — the most annoying is this one:

My mind somehow got in the habit of bringing back experiences that I hate from the past, and attaching them to the things or activities that I do like — it sounds weird but I’ll give an example:

If I’m cutting some paper — some decoration, and I hear a name of someone that I hate on the radio, my mind digs the old bad experiences up — and tries to attach it to the cutting. So next time when I do a similar cutting, my mind will probably pick that emotion and I will go through it again.

I’m trying to manage this by focusing on something else. But the problem is that when I try to hide that memory which was just brought to me, I can’t simply think of something positive, because I’m afraid the bad memory will get associated with it.

I was reading an article about this:

‘Letting go’ of something that is bothering you means refusing to dwell on it, obsess over it, focus on it, worry about it, fume over it, and so on. Instead, you simply set it aside and turn your attention to other tasks that don’t upset you….

This is exactly what’s almost impossible for me, because the positive things get associated with the negative ones… sometimes I’m even scared to talk with some people on some days (the days I wanna do something that I like), as those people might mention the names of people that I hated.

I’m afraid the few things that I enjoy will get corrupted by association with bad memories. By the way, I have no other problems with moods etc.

I think that first: my mind is addicted to a negative thinking. At least one negative thought at the time must be worked on in my head (since I was a little – old bad habit). And also I think that my mind should just get a little bit stupider, in order to not be that attentive/watchful to every little thing. I sometimes cant believe how quickly it can bring up some memory once it’s triggered by something… and that thing just runs though my head in a few seconds and starts to bother me.

Why does my mind just try to destroy everything I like?

That’s what I don’t understand… normal regular people — when something bad happens or when something they hate is recalled in their heads — they simply focus on things they like and bad things are gone… not in my case. I’m even afraid to do anything like that because bad thoughts could be brought next time along with it.

This habit of associating is kind of a new thing — last 2-3 years. Any ideas what I can do / practice etc? Thank you in advance.”

shallow focus photography of man wearing red polo shirt
Photo by Nathan Cowley on

OK, let’s start with the big stuff… the very big info you need for a new mindset and understanding about how your brain works. When you have a better understanding of how it works, you’ll be able to get your mind to work for you.

The big stuff is this: Attention is the volume control for thoughts.

Factors feeding attention in your case are meaning and habit…

An idea you give meaning to has a certain QUALITY, and that quality determines how it affects you subconsciously. For example, you have fear attached to some of these ideas and so you mind will play patterns designed to protect you from real life dangers such as lions. The way your mind responds is the same and can include a fight or flight response (anxiety) plus lots of attention plus very easily made ASSOCIATIONS… Continue reading

OCD rituals

Daniel asks…

“I’m doing my best to stop my unwanted thoughts and habits, but I just can’t get rid of them. I automatically think about them and make up actions I can do to stop my thoughts from happening, such as touching something a certain amount of times or running up stairs to turn the TV on in less then 20 seconds. I’ve had these thoughts for a couple of years now and it feels like it’s starting to take over my life.”

OCD ritual hand washing
© Stephanie Schupska

Habits are subtle and powerful. And you’ve been doing this for a few years, so you can’t retrain them overnight. It will take a few weeks at most though, if you do it right.

You need to see this behavior for what it is… instinctual behavior that is operating in a dysfunctional way and has morphed into something strange…

We are wired a certain way when we FEAR something, whether that is a LION or a THOUGHT. The way we react is the same.

So you need LOGIC and reason to see that this is simply dysfunctional, it serves no purpose. Once you can reason it, then you can let go because you can see it has no meaning at all… it’s just faulty wiring… Continue reading

How to stop thinking so much

Elaine asks…

“I’m an over-thinker, especially at the moment. Can you tell me how to stop thinking so much? Wish I could switch off! Not as well as I was. Worrying.”

Thinking too much
© Luis Sarabia

When I spent most of my time lying down because of CFS, I would practice meditation and relaxation techniques. So I did A LOT of practice :-)

You can learn to switch off… I recommend “listening…”

Try it for 10 seconds… become very alert, enough to catch the next thought that pops into your head.

Hey presto, no thoughts! Then it’s just a matter of keeping on doing it over and over until you’re really good at it. You can make it into a meditation too which is easier because you’ll have less distraction… Continue reading

Meditation habit

© Vitali Maniakin

Wayne Dyer was talking about his friendship with Deepak Chopra in a talk he gave.

“Whenever I had a problem and would talk to Deepak about it, his answer was always the same — meditate…”

I’m paraphrasing but that’s very interesting I think. Whatever your problem, meditate.

If you’ve got a problem, really, the last thing you want to do is keep focusing on the problem. The solutions don’t come from focusing on the problem, they come from focusing on the solutions…

Anyway, this resonated with me because that’s similar to something I’ve been saying to myself for a long time — “the worse I feel, the more I meditate.” Whenever life starts to go bad… meditate MORE. If it’s GONE bad, do lots and lots of meditation. Continue reading