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How to Stop Thinking About the Polar Bear

We have all been frustrated by recurring intrusive thoughts. They might be about situations that are annoying, painful, stressful, angering, confusing, or frightening. Recurring thoughts might interrupt your work, studies, or play. They might even interfere with your sleep, and your fatigue could ramp up the recurring thoughts with increasing persistence. Well-meaning people might tell you to stop thinking about it. If someone says, “Stop thinking about the polar bear”, that just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the polar bear is all that you can think about. How can you break this cycle of obsessive thinking?

Meditation is the practice of disciplining your mind through quieting your thoughts. One type of meditation involves focusing your mind on a single object, sound, or phrase. When your mind wanders during meditation, as it always does, you consciously shift your focus back onto the object, sound, or phrase. As you practice meditating and redirecting your focus over time, it becomes easier.

You can shift out of unpleasant recurrent thoughts – the polar bear - by redirecting your focus to something else. It’s not helpful to tell yourself to stop thinking about the polar bear. Instead, tell yourself to think about the zebra. Your "zebra" can be a beautiful place in nature, a joyful song, the aroma of your favorite food, a success that you had, a happy event, or something similar. As you consciously focus on the zebra, the polar bear disappears.

If you need more assistance in dealing with your thoughts, feelings, and/or actions, please call me for an appointment at 512.687.3436.

~Linda Eldredge, Ed.D., Psychologist

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