The average person has about 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts every. single. damn. day.
Let’s just break that down a bit. 50k-70k thoughts per day puts us at 35 – 48 thoughts per minute. If that number didn’t just blow your mind, maybe you should think about it for a minute.
Seriously, with these numbers is it any wonder why it’s impossible to quit bad habits or force yourself to stop thinking about someone/something?
Think about the last time you had a break up, tried a new diet, or attempted to break a habit. How difficult was it to keep your mind off of Jenny your ex, those delicious potato chips that are always by the checkout line, or that pack of cigarettes you have just in case hiding in your closet? My guess is the more you tried not to think about it, the more you thought about it, which led to a FB stalking session, a “couple chips” that ended up turning into a whole bag, and a tiny puff of a few cigarettes.
Don’t blame yourself for those lapses, though. The problem with our attempts to get something out of our head is that we’re going about it all wrong. People assume that changing your thought patterns means suppressing those unwanted thoughts, but this is the worse thing you can actually do.
Here’s an example of why thought suppression doesn’t work:
Whatever you do right now, don’t picture a pink frosted donut with chocolate sprinkles.
I’ll bet you a million dollars you’re thinking of that donut right now, and I know I’d win. Why am I so confident in that bet? Because according to Psychology Today “suppression has actually been shown to increase the frequency of the thoughts you were trying to rid yourself of once the period of active suppression is over.”
So, if we know we can’t stop these thoughts by actively trying to avoid them or push them away, what can we do? Well, researchers have found that the following two techniques prove higher success rates at changing up thought patterns (especially negative or harmful ones.)
Replace the thought
When you find yourself wanting to skip the gym, replace that thought with one that focuses on your goals and the positives of your situation. E.g. Instead of thinking about how tired you are and want to skip the gym, think about how great you always feel after a good sweat session.
Disrupt the thought and action connection
The worst part about having thoughts you don’t want is not the actual thought itself, it’s the fact that you might want to act on those thoughts. Who cares if you think about candy bars as long as you don’t eat one, right? So, if these thoughts start to push you to act on them, create a plan to disrupt the connection between the thought and action. When you start to think about calling your ex, go outside and take a 5-minute walk. Thinking about eating junk food? Blast some music that gets you pumped up and thinking about something else. Over time your thoughts might just fade away.
When trying out these new techniques for the first time remember to be easy on yourself. Self-development is always going to be a work in progress. When you have little set-backs and mistakes, don’t beat yourself up. Just keep moving toward your goals.
1. What’s the one thought/habit you want to change?
2. Have you tried other techniques for changing up your thought patterns? What’s has and hasn’t worked?