Dr. Abraham Low’s ground-breaking Mental Health Through Will Training book in 1950 taught readers that thinking too much about a given problem is called “processing.” It’s a matter of overthinking rather than taking action, reviewing negative ideas with a rationale that doing so might improve your quality of life. We might call them “wandering thoughts,” or “intrusive thoughts,” but they aren’t. They’re intentional, and we cause them by using the wrong vocabulary and harmful thinking patterns.
Mental health professionals worldwide advocate that we should not overthink matters, and that we should take productive action instead, as did Low. But anyone who begins to make that focused, objective thinking effort needs to know how to eliminate and how to prevent intrusive thoughts. Here’s a list of tips for how to do that:
- Let your muscles teach your mind that things are under control.
Take one or more positive actions instead of obsessing over possible negative outcomes. For example, if your room or desk are too messy and you have a history of remarking that it’s impossible to clean them up, start the clean-up effort. Bring a cardboard box and a trash can into the room. Toss in items that you haven’t used in a long time. Use the box for things that you can donate to some charity, the can for simple trash. Fill the containers. Need more? Fill them, too. Take out the trash and set the donations box aside. Make a mental note or jot down a reminder in your day-planner that you will take the donated stuff to a designated site on a specific date. Then do that before or on the specified day. While the deadline is looming, take the time to assess the neatness, the orderliness that you created in your environment. No matter how you stop processing, you generate calm with your behavior. The technique works even when you stop criticizing people in your mind or out loud. You allow things to simply “be” without attaching negative values to them. That’s quite a head-clearer!
- Behave in a positive manner just because you want to.
There’s no need to push off character improvements such as apologizing to someone “when the time seems right,” or to avoid some other self-improvement activity because you habitually sabotage yourself somehow. Make the apology, delighting the person who hears it without having expected to. Correct the habits that need tending to. Do not delay action with the rationale that you feel anxious, incompetent, clumsy, etc. Imagine yourself taking the necessary steps, behaving in admirable ways, and watch how your temper cools off. You’ll stop being angry at yourself. You’ll also witness solutions enacted with your pro-active behavior.
- Focus on self-discipline.
All normal people feel afraid and incompetent at times. They overcome that by behaving bravely and forthrightly. Think of the saying “Never let them see you sweat.” It was concocted by the Gillette Company in 1984, to promote antiperspirants. The motto appealed to the people adjusting with uncertainty to the dawning digital industry, rapid innovations in the medical and other worlds, and to a highly competitive employment world. Yes, pretending not to be nervous is an act, but it pays off with increased self-confidence and an end to intrusive thoughts that fill a person with fear, anger, and other negativity.
- Refuse to use negative words.
Someone wants to know how you’re feeling? Respond with “Getting better every day.” Your body has some ache or other? Don’t describe it to people who aren’t involved with the problem. When you do describe it to a doctor or to a compassionate friend, use neutral adjectives such as “cramp,” “discomfort,” or “pain.” Do not make this an emotional event with catastrophic “Horrible!” or “I’m gonna die!” comments. When someone annoys you, describe the nuisance in a factual manner such as “You’re too loud, it hurts my ears.” Do not announce “You act like you were raised in a barn!” Angry or catastrophic vocabulary tends to bring on intrusive thoughts that condemn the people, situations and expectations in your life.
- Calm yourself and your mind with objectivity.
Let life sound less dangerous than you made it out to be. Over time, it will become more relaxing. Your increasingly, intentionally calm mind will allow you to interpret things that way, ending intrusive thoughts.