How to overcome negative thoughts with the ironic rebound effect

Posted on by in mind training techniques, Psychology





In this post, you’re going to discover how you can better deal with your negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions by overcoming the ironic rebound effect.

So why is it so important to learn more about the ironic rebound effect to overcome your negative thoughts?

Well unless you know how to deal with your negative inner experiences, you might be unknowingly making the problem worse. This can result in a host of destructive behaviours ranging from things like procrastination all the way through to alcohol and drug abuse. The problem with these destructive behaviours is they start getting in the way of you leading a truly satisfying life.

The history of the Ironic rebound effect.

Back in 1985 Daniel Wegner ran an experiment, where he told participants for the next five minutes, try to think of anything except for white bears.

What happened?

What they found is that all the participants couldn’t think of anything but white bears. In fact, they even thought about white bears more then if they were explicitly told to think about white bears.

After the experiment he coined the phrase the ironic rebound effect.

That is the more we try to push something away the more it comes back.

Isn’t this how we normally try to deal with our negative experiences?

That is, we try to suppress them, we try to push them away, we try to distract ourselves. Unknowingly, we’re actually make the problem worse. Unfortunately, the booby prize of using this strategy is that we are presented more times with the idea, the thought, or a feeling. Therefore we are more likely to start believing that. As we start believing it more it becomes one of our self-concepts or beliefs, and therefore; it starts becoming a guide for our lives.

More about the Ironic rebound effect.

Screen Shot 2013 08 17 at 9.50.35 AM 300x167 How to overcome negative thoughts with the ironic rebound effect To help you understand how this ironic rebound effect actually works, Wegner split the brain up into two different parts. The first he called the operator. This is the part of the brain that actually tries to put your attention to a different goal, away from the thing you’re trying not to think of. This operator is situated in the self-control part of the brain and therefore requires a lot of energy to be maintained.

The other part of the brain according to Wegner is the monitor. It is the part of the brain that is always on the lookout for the very thing you’re not trying to think about or feel. This part of the brain is just automatic and therefore doesn’t require a lot of energy.

The problem starts to occur when there’s an imbalance between the two like when you are fatigued. This results in the operator being less prevalent and then your are left with the monitor and because the monitor doesn’t need much energy to operate. Since the monitor is always looking for the very thing you don’t want to be thinking about, it is going to prime you to actually be thinking about it.

So what is the solution to the ironic rebound effect so you can overcome your negative thoughts?

Well it is actually kind of counter-intuitive and that is to let everything be as it is –  not trying to change it or avoid it or supress it. Therefore, it is about developing trust that you can handle whatever experience you have, carrying on with your life inspite of these thoughts and feelings.

How do you actually do this?

In the great self control book called Maximum Will power by Kelly McGonigal, she outlined a process that given by Philippe Goldin. He was a neuroscientist interested in seeing how people dealt with all their anxieties, depressions on negative thinking. He found that the following process was the best way that people could deal with their issues.

1)     So first of all become aware of the negative thought or feeling.

2)     Then direct your attention into the body, feel the muscle tension, your breathing, your heart rate, and try to locate the feeling in your body.

3)     Then go to your breathing. Just start breathing with whatever thought and feeling that is in your awareness.

4)     Then try to picture that there is a sky and in the clouds is the thought or feeling that you’re experiencing.

5)     Remind yourself that you don’t have to believe this thought or feeling. Even though that might be common to you it doesn’t mean that it’s actually true.

6)     As you keep breathing just imagine with every breath your pushing the cloud across the sky, and as it keeps going across it’s dissolving away.

shotLarge3 300x202 How to overcome negative thoughts with the ironic rebound effect 7)     Then keep going back to this practice every time a new negative experience arises.

So what if it doesn’t go away?

That’s alright. This practice is about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Also, if you are experiencing extreme panic or anxiety I recommend that you check out the link below which is for the Panic Away program. This is a highly recommended course. So check this out if you’d like a deep understanding of this type of practice.


So moving forward.

Next time you have a negative inner experience like a thought, or feeling, or emotion, just become aware that and go back through the steps to the practice that I just outlined.

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