Dr. Abraham Low’s ground-breaking book, Mental Health Through Will Training (Willett, 1984), taught readers that thinking too much about a given problem is called “processing.” It’s a matter of overthinking rather than taking action. 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 wishing to engage in more focused, action-oriented thinking needs to first know how to eliminate and prevent intrusive thoughts. Here’s a list of tips for how to do that:
Take one or more positive actions instead of obsessing over possible negative outcomes. For example, if your room or desk is 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 and the can for simple trash. Fill the containers. Need more? Fill them, too. 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.
Do Not Procrastinate With Behavioral Improvements
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 been expected to.
Correct the habits that need tending to. Do not delay an 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.
Most 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 people adjusting with uncertainty from the dawning digital industry, rapid innovations in technology and an increasingly competitive employment environment. 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.
Avoid Negative Words
Someone wants to know how you’re feeling? Respond with “Getting better every day.” You’re feeling aches and pains? 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 words such as “cramp” or “discomfort.” Do not make this an emotional experience with negative and extreme words like “terrible” or “agonizing.” 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,” as your negative vocabulary tends to bring on intrusive thoughts that condemn the people, situations and expectations in your life.
Calm Yourself and Your Mind With Objectivity
Try and observe your life and circumstances as an outsider. This can be done by constantly considering all the positives in your life and viewing the negatives through the lens of a positive outlook. If your romantic life isn’t going anywhere, for example, think of it as an opportunity to work on yourself.
Your calm mind will allow you to interpret things without immediately jumping to negative emotions, thereby reducing intrusive thoughts. Having your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you follow the steps above but are still having a hard time, you can seek counseling from a professional. There are plenty of qualified therapists that are trained to help people whose intrusive thoughts are disrupting their day-to-day lives.