Mind Control and Ironic Process: Take the Pressure Out!

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Text comes from: Warum uns das Denken nicht in den Kopf will: Noch mehr nützliche Erkenntnisse der Alltagspsychologie (2013) by Dr. Volker Kitz, Prof. Dr. Manuel Tusch, published by Heyne Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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We should not and absolutely do not want to think about something - and that is precisely why we constantly think about it all the time. This is not only impractical when it comes to getting rid of annoying-cherished habits.


Here writes for you:


Dr. Volker Kitz fawnDr. Volker Kitz is Spiegel-Best-selling author, psychologist and ex-lobbyist.


Here writes for you:


Prof. Dr. Manuel TuschDr. Manuel Tusch Professor at the Münster University of Applied Sciences and director of the IfAP.


From the author:




Bad habits

With the habits it would be harmless. For example, “Today I won't think about cigarettes all day!” or “Today I don’t keep staring at my sexy colleague’s back.” - if we do, the consequences are still relatively manageable.

Anyone who suffers from sleep disorders and constantly says in bed in the evening "Now I don't think about my sleep problem, I just sleep" - will do the opposite.

Mental diseases

But even the most severe psychological diseases such as depression or anxiety disorders are often tried to be treated by breaking up existing patterns of thought.

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Because the more one instills the patient "Don't think of XY", the more powerfully this thought hovers in your unconscious - and at some point the more freely it clears its way into consciousness.

The ironic stranglehold

The ironic processes have us firmly in their ironic hand, both small and large. So be careful if you want to solve problems by "suppressing" a thought or action.

If you want to gain more mental control over yourself, you can use the following two insights for yourself: First, the “focused distraction” helps. Determine a certain thing from the start, which you always think of immediately when the “bad” thought arises.

Avoid backfilling

Of course, the distracting thought should not come from the undesirable category: "Instead of black chocolate, I'm just thinking of white chocolate." It works better like this: Chocolate = Eiffel Tower. In this way you at least avoid more serious relapses.

On the other hand, the more capacity you have in your brain, the better your mental control. If you want to change a property, do not necessarily try it when your brain is otherwise busy.

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Do not achieve the opposite

If you are particularly stressed at work, running in a marathon, or your partner or the jackhammer on the construction site next door just annoying, you risk not only that it will not work - so you would have nothing to lose.

You risk being able to do exactly the opposite of what you want: that you end up surfing the Internet more, eating more peanut flips, getting even more upset about your sister.

Take the pressure out

“It's not a good time to start dieting right now,” so it's not just an excuse. At least not always. However, if you find that it's never a good time for something you want to achieve, it can be worthwhile to start somewhere else:

At the stress sources, which at first glance do not really have anything to do with the property you want to get rid of. So we take the pressure out: Now think again of a purple cow. All day long.

Reading tips

  • Wegner, DM, Schneider, DJ, Carter, SR, White, TL (1987): Paradoxical Effects of Thoughts Suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 5 - 13.
  • Wegner, DM, Ansfield, M., Pilloff, D. (1998): The Putt and the Pendulum: Ironic Effects of the Mental Control of Action. Psychological Science, 9, 196 - 199.
  • Erskine, JAK, Georgiou, G., Kvavilashvili, L. (2010): I Suppress Therefore I Smoke: The Effects of Thought Suppression on Smoking Behavior. Psychological Science, 21, 1225 - 1230.
  • Erskine, JAK (2008): Resistance Can Be Futile: Investigating Behavioral Rebound. Appetite, 50, 415 - 421.
  • Wenzlaff, RM, Wegner, DM, Roper, DW (1988): Depression and Mental Control: The Resurgence of Unwanted Negative Thoughts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 882 - 892.
  • Ansfield, ME, Wegner, DM, Bowser, R. (1996): Ironic Effects of Sleep Urgency. Behavior Research and Therapy, 34, 523 - 531.
  • Wegner, DM (1994): Ironic Processes of Mental Control. Psychological Review, 101, 34 - 52.

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