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What happens when you hear someone say, "Don't think about elephants?" You think about elephants, right?


This can literally happen with any topic and any situation and it's just a fact of life, which our brains have become accustomed to.

Writing for The Conversation, Robin Bailey, a senior lecturer in psychological therapies at the University of Central Lancashire, explains that this sensation is known as "thought suppression", and can increase the prevalence of thoughts in your mind that you're otherwise trying to forget.

It's never going to be an easy thing to completely ignore, but it's probably not too bad if it's about someone you fancy or a great movie that you saw.

On the other hand, it can be a crippling reoccurrence when you're trying to kick a bad habit – like smoking, drinking or spending too much time on social media.

We could just say don't suppress those thoughts then, but that's easier said than done. Studies have shown that thought suppression can actually be a detriment to a person's health.

Research published by Appetite in 2008 showed that both men and women ate more chocolate after deciding not to think about the sweet for five minutes.

The results came from a study involving 134 men and women, who were asked to either express or suppress thoughts about eating chocolate. Those that blocked the thoughts ate more than those that did not.

Similar results have been found in studies on smoking and sexual desire indicating that thought suppression wins no matter what.

With that in mind, how can we possibly combat this sensation when trying to kick a habit?

One way of dealing with it is metacognitive therapy and the "detached mindfulness" technique developed by Adrian Wells of the University of Manchester.

This involves being aware of your thoughts without over-analysing them and constantly revisiting them. The hope of this is that it will eventually disappear and become a part of your subconscious.

In an interview with State of Mind, Wells explained "detached mindfulness" further.

By mindfulness we mean awareness of thoughts, that is to say specifically metacognitive awareness and the ability to distinguish a negative thought form a subsequent worry or rumination response to that thought.

By detachment, we mean stopping or disconnecting any response to that thought, and in a more profound way experiencing the self as separate from a thought as simply an observer of it.

We realise that quitting a bad habit isn't always easy, as your body has become dependent on those stimulations, but not completely erasing them from your mind might be a great place to start your journey.

HT The Conversation

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