Have you ever experienced this: You have a negative experience and find yourself thinking about it for days, weeks or months? Perhaps you want to let it go — and not let it bother you — but negative, intrusive thoughts recur. Today we’ll offer you a tip from the science of psychology to help resolve this problem.
First Step: Make Your Thought Tangible & Write It
The next time you have the recurring, intrusive thought….write it down. Put pencil to paper and note what is bothering you, and why it’s bothering you. It doesn’t have to be perfect grammar as nobody else is going to read it. Just get the thoughts you’re having on paper.
Then, tear-up the paper and throw it away. When the thought returns — after you’ve thrown the paper away — catch it and think something like “I don’t accept this thought, I’ve thrown it away, and it no longer exists“. Sounds a little silly, right? Well, research funded by the National Science Foundation suggests it actually works.
When we make a thought concrete it becomes tangible. We can keep or discard it as with any tangible item. For example, did you ever have a jacket ruined by a cleaner? It bothered you then, but have you thought about it lately? Probably, not. You “let it go” because it’s only a jacket, after all. Have negative, intrusive thoughts ever done you any good? If not, get rid of them.
In Practice: We Think About What We Keep
The researchers in the NSF-funded study ran several experiments. They asked college and high-school students, for example, to write their thoughts about body image in 3-minutes. Half the students were asked to throw-away their thoughts, the other half to keep their written thoughts. Then all the students took a survey answering questions on a 9-point scale (e.g. like, dislike etc.).
The author summarized the findings as: “When they threw their thoughts away, they didn’t consider them anymore, whether they were positive or negative”. Basically, the findings showed those who kept the written words kept the thoughts. Those who discarded the written words also discarded the thoughts. To “let it go”, literally throw negative thoughts away.
If you have a negative professional experience and unwelcome, negative thoughts pop-into your mind…you now have a way to respond. Write the thoughts on paper — making the intangible tangible — and throw the paper away. If the thought pops back, say “I can’t entertain you…you don’t exist“. If the tip works, great. If not, what do you have to lose?
- Reference:Petty, R. (2012) Bothered by Negative, Unwanted Thoughts? Just Throw Them Away. Association of Psychological Science.
(Copyright, 2017. Matthew G. Kenney. All Rights Reserved).