Alpha Thoughts: Taming the runaway thought-dogs we call intrusive thoughts…
This is a recap of a dialogue between myself and another anonymous internet stranger in search of help with intrusive thoughts. After several affirmations from others that the advice I offered this person hit home for them as well, I hope a few more readers might also find something useful from the following conversation.
Internet Stranger: I’m so confused and lost. Intrusive thoughts, persistent nervousness…I’ve tried exercise, meditation, acceptance…nothing has helped. These thoughts tell me nothing matters, all is meaningless, but that’s not me. I don’t truly believe those things. How can I rid myself of these thoughts? Is it even possible?
Yours Truly: Do your negative thoughts appear with any pattern or predictability? At certain times of the day, after an unpleasant task, during something pleasurable…or just seemingly random?
IS: Seemingly random.
YT: Can you see this issue objectively and realize these thoughts are not representative of the ‘real you?’
IS: I know these thoughts aren’t a representation of who I am. Logically I understand it, but simultaneously they simply still bother me because I’m thinking about things that are out of my control and I know it’s not healthy, and I can’t find a way to stop.
YT: Please don’t think me callous when I say that it is in your control to stop this. Now. When I say, “Don’t think of an elephant,” what pops into your mind? You think of an elephant. Our brains aren’t us. They do what they want, and they can be assholes. When I asked if you can objectively see these thoughts don’t represent you, and you agree, what you are saying is that you realize that these ‘brain patterns’ aren’t representative of what you really believe.
So. What is happening here is that a runaway thought is manifesting and you are giving it power and life by allowing it to exist long enough to elicit feelings and contemplate the meanings behind these thoughts. Do you follow/agree? I’ll wait…
IS: I agree 100%. My question has been, and still is, how do I allow these thoughts to just be? I know that’s the right thing to do, I just don’t know how to go about it.
YT: Okay awesome. I’m making sure we’re on the same page, and it sounds like we are. The ‘how’ you are asking is the most important question to ask and you already know the answer. Let’s find it. What do you do when your dog starts to run away?
IS: Well, chase after my dog would be the option that comes to mind. If my dog outran me I’d have to trust that he just comes back one day.
YT: The first thing you do is call that dog back. Giving chase causes it to keep running. As with these thoughts, you don’t give them a chance to get away from you. You stop and call your mind back to where you want it. It is that simple. Does that make sense?
When old doubts start crawling out of my mind and into my thoughts, I know I have two choices. Do I let them loose into my day or do I sweep them back into the shadows and go about my business. Those are my choices.
I promise you it is as simple as really believing that this is in your power to control and when the time comes, stop and think: Do I want to go this way today? Do I want to feel like shit and have all of my productivity swept away by nourishing these thoughts with my attention?
Now if you’re somewhere that you can’t easily jump online for a quick distraction or whip out a paperback to dive into, you’ll need some ideas in place for where you will guide your thoughts when you need to call them back.
If you can pinpoint where you’ve been physically a few times in particular when these thoughts have seemed the strongest, that would be most helpful. You’ll need a game plan in place for different scenarios. Let’s say you’re in your car, stuck in traffic. Turn up the radio and sing/air drum along. Flex your abs and buttocks in time with the music while counting in your head. Try to conjure up details from the last dream you can recall. Say the alphabet backwards. Whatever you do, have a plan, then act on it.
Think of these negative thoughts as fragments of physical memory glitches in your hard drive. You are not your hard drive, nor the software it runs to function because you can observe these glitches, which you have already done. Personally, writing helps me see into my shadows more clearly and I find I’m most objective when I’m typing out my feelings and thoughts.
When these negative thoughts arise, keep at what you were doing beforehand, or find something more productive to do that requires more focus, and they will disappear again. They may occur every day and you’ll have to call your mind back each time. Be patient with yourself. Praise yourself when you follow your plan, but don’t bash yourself for ‘relapsing.’ Just doing better next time is all you need to get back on track.
You’ll see that over time, your brain isn’t you. The true ‘you’ is situated somewhere up and outside of our bodies. I see you are 18. I became a mom at your age. Think about how different we are and yet how similar our human ‘malfunctions’ seem to be. Let this comfort you; you’re not alone your efforts to wield control over your body’s brain. What seems ‘compulsive’ is often super fucking normal, we just don’t open up like this to each other throughout the day. It really would be much easier if we were all telepathic, then we’d see how crazy we all think we are 🙂
Be patient. Create a plan tonight. Put it into action at the next opportunity. Repeat. You’ve got this.
IS: Thank you so much. This really does put a lot into perspective. I always see “Just let it be,” when it comes to negative thoughts, and I just sit in a room and wait until they go away which doesn’t tend to work. So I guess keeping myself occupied is significant. One thing is I typically lie in my bed for awhile when I wake up and just think, so maybe getting up right away and hopping in the shower is a better idea. I guess this isn’t a case of where this is an actual issue I have to deal with, but rather divert my attention elsewhere and let it diminish. I truly appreciate the input, kind stranger. Anything else I should know?
YT: Ah, big smiles from me while reading your reply. You’re there—just follow through. Just keep at it. You will have shitty days. I still do. But the most precious commodity we have is time and if we waste it dwelling on bullshit that doesn’t add value to our lives or move us forward, all we are left with is regret. I’m sure you’re already near your limit for how much time and energy you want to deplete on this problem.
Be proud of yourself when you see that it only takes a fleeting moment of your day instead of minutes, hours, or much longer, as it has for me. That right there is success, hard earned and achieved. I hope you can take this lesson with you and use it over the years. I wish I had learned this a long time ago, but some of us have to learn the hard way. The only reward is the chance of helping someone understand this lesson a little more easily, and hopefully sooner in life.