You’re reading this because you’ve been thinking of something repetitively. Because you can’t seem to shake the cycle of thoughts going through your mind, you have become frustrated. You may even recognize that they’re of no value to you, but for some reason, your mind is tempting you to dwell on these thoughts very often or all the time.
It’s not so much the thoughts themselves that makes it frustrating: it’s the fact that no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to shake them. With most things in life, it takes consistent effort to solve a problem or figure something out. So when we apply that to repetitive thoughts and find ourselves not making positive progress, it’s easy to become dejected, and we’re surprised when our efforts seem to exacerbate the problem.
Repetitive thoughts can be about weird or random things; do not treat their content as a reflection of you. Because they’re completely nonsensical. I first discovered mine while I was working at a water park as a bus boy. All day, I would walk around in the sun, worrying about the degree to which I enjoyed my life. I was hyper-focused on whether my emotions were the correct ones in given situations. I would watch people’s faces and try to mimic their expressions because I was terrified I was losing my ability to feel pleasure, peace, and contentment. This caused me to spend hundreds of dollars on video games, the funds for which I earned by working a job that made me miserable. I desperately hoped I would enjoy each game, but they all disappointed me because I was so focused on enjoying them that I couldn’t. The loss of a hobby made me more convinced I was losing my ability to feel pleasure.
My repetitive thoughts continued, their subject shifting over time, but I was persistently frustrated. Presently, although I will admit to feeling heaps of anxiety at certain times, I feel I have gotten the repetitive nature of my thoughts under control through careful effort over a long time. Here are some of the steps I took and things to keep in mind for similar results.
1.Progress won’t happen overnight
The miserable summer I spent realizing how my brain betrayed me, I tried a new technique for controlling my thoughts almost every day. I used a rubber band on my wrist, tried thinking of a stop sign, tried using positive affirmations, and each time, I was disappointed by their inefficacy. I would even try techniques over and over again, hoping they’d work, but they never did. Don’t make the same mistake; recognize that you will not be able to get a firm grip over your mind immediately. You’ve already dealt with repetitive thoughts for I don’t know how long, so what’s a little while longer? Patience is key here.
2. Invite your thoughts in, no matter how scary they are
This is something you have to practice, but when you feel repetitive thoughts coming in, invite them into your life with a simple phrase. I say things like “Oh hey!” to my thoughts, “Come in! Sit down, get some drinks.” I visualize the thoughts as grey globs like those on Mucinex commercials. Even if your repetitive thoughts happen all the time and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when they occur, try practicing this every so often in your day. As you become more acquainted with the words and with your mental picture, you will become more comfortable with your thoughts and regain some ease. Do NOT try using this technique a hundred times
an hour and expect your mind to be clear. Take it slowly. Do it a few times a day, and make sure you focus on your image (For me, the Mucinex monsters in my house, but it can be whatever you want). Once you associate a goofy image with your thoughts, it characterizes them and sets them apart from you. If you expect it to work immediately, you will become frustrated when it doesn’t and be more inclined to give up. So only do this technique as often as is comfortable.
3. Try to understand that you will never be able to control the workings of your mind
The perceived quality of your thoughts is not a realistic reflection of anything you’re doing or the quality of your life. If you have symptoms of OCD, you may find your mind tempting you to do, say, or avoid things. In life, many of us learn to solve problems by their “roots,” and we learn to perceive thoughts as the “roots” to action, so instead of focusing on what we do, we try to focus on why we do it: the thoughts that lead us to action. And that’s fruitless—it doesn’t work. We can’t attack our thoughts by piling more thoughts on top of them.
4. Practice meditation
A mental illness is like a parasite in that it’s willing to sacrifice the quality of life and thoughts of its host so it can survive and grow stronger. Each time we give in to an obsession or stoke a negative thought, our parasite is pleased, and for a moment, we feel we’re in control. I had an on-and-off relationship with meditation: each time I did it, I felt it was unfair I had to spend time to feel sane for 15 minutes. And that kept me away from it; even if we recognize something is good for us, like meditation, our minds are proficient at tricking us into thinking it’s unfair that we have to do them. But understand that everyone is different and that you’re only helping yourself by acquiring good habits. With meditation, you learn to see your thoughts as separate from you. In other words, you learn to sever the belief that thoughts are the roots to action. You will learn that they don’t always have to be.
5. Keep a journal
You don’t have to write every day, and this may be another thing your mind tricks you into avoiding under the belief that you’re only crazy when you need to try to not be crazy. I try to write a bit each day, but every so often, I spend up to an hour and a half writing up to 10 pages in my current journal. I rant about stupid things, let my thoughts fold in on themselves, and come to crazy conclusions. But after a session like that, I feel like a damn newborn baby. My mind buzzes with clarity at understanding everything I had been thinking is away from me, expressed in a closed book that can’t hurt me.
6. Be patient and curious with yourself
This is the most important thing. It hardly matters how much energy you put forth, but if you do something every day and don’t rush yourself, you will feel content in the gradual progress you make. It’s hard to be patient, because we want so badly to not be miserable and to “fix” ourselves, but it’s necessary to realize your thoughts will never be perfect, and it may take a while to see growth. We’re willing to spend time losing weight, but when it comes to mental instead of physical health, we feel that issues should resolve themselves. But it’s only by methodical action that we can sustainably improve.
If you have any questions, need accountability, or want advice to get started, comment, message, or call me and I will try my best to help.