The 'white bear' problem - why you need to know about it for your wellbeing

For the next 30 seconds, try as hard as you can, NOT to think of a white bear... Ready, go!

You will probably find it’s quite difficult, and that’s because we know that the more we try NOT to think of something, the more we end up thinking about it. What’s worse, is that once we have stopped trying not to think of it, there is a tendency to think about it more than usual - psychologists call this "ironic rebound" or the "white bear problem" to describe the process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface

So, when we’re confronted by painful thoughts or distressing emotions, it is natural to want to push them away. But the more we suppress them, the more difficult it becomes. And sometimes, we become “hooked” by them.

So what can we do?

1. Notice; pause, and identify what is going on in your mind - this will create a space between you and your thoughts, so they start to lose their power over you

2. Name; “I’m having the thought that...” - or maybe try some humour “Just got hooked again” / “Here comes anxiety”

3. Neutralise; accept your thoughts for what they are. Thoughts. You don’t need to run or hide from them

At MYNDLY we use psychological science to build wellbeing, for performance. We provide evidence based solutions for individuals and organisations.

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