Battling with your thoughts?
Try not to think of a pink elephant! Time yourself for one minute or two, thinking about anything you like, but under no circumstances are you to think of a pink elephant! Don’t think of a pink elephant!
Set an alarm on your phone for one or two minutes. Close your eyes and think about anything you would like to think about but you must not think of a pink elephant! And if the pink elephant does come into your images or thoughts you must get her out!
After the exercise: What happened? Did the pink elephant intrude? Who was in control – you or the elephant? What was your quality of thought – focused or unfocused? To conclude, whether you thought of her once or every few seconds, she intruded, and therefore, you failed the task BUT no big deal. Some people can get quite frustrated about this task, but this was just to illustrate how difficult it is ‘not to think’ of something. Remember the learning from this exercise, next time you tell someone “Don’t worry”!
Now let us do that again but with a twist.
Time yourself again for one minute or two, thinking about anything you like but this time if the pink elephant arrives, she can stay there. You can allow the pink elephant to appear as much as she likes, in whichever format she likes.
After the exercise: What did you notice this time? Who was in control – you or the elephant? What was your quality of though – focused or unfocused?
Did the pink elephant appear? The difference here is that in the second part of this exercise ‘I gave you permission to allow the pink elephant to be there’. As a result, when you allow something to be there, it fades into the background and no longer dominates your attention. However, when you are told not to do something, you still do it because it remains at the forefront of your mind! This is basic psychology. When I suggested the pink elephant in the first part of the exercise, you had to imagine the elephant first, to not imagine it! Does that make sense? You had to see the pink elephant in your minds’ eye, so you knew what to avoid, however once she was there and the instruction was to get rid of her, she effectively became a boomerang. This is exactly what happens to your thoughts, which lead to worry. A thought leads to another, to another, getting more negative each time. And because you do not want to think negatively, or want something bad will happen, then all you can do is think about it!
Have you ever experienced hearing a tune that you cannot seem get out of your head? You now know that the reason that you can’t get it out your head is because you are trying to get rid of it, which paradoxically secures the boomerang effect.