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Imagine a pink elephant. What is it – big or small? Bright or pastel? Happy, sad, tired or inspired? Draw it in your imagination in every detail.
Now stop thinking about him. Ponder for half a minute on any other topic and see where your thoughts take you. How long did you manage not to think about the pink elephant? Most begin to imagine it again after a few seconds. The same goes for annoying unwanted thoughts: the more we suppress them, the more they bother us. This is called the pink elephant paradox.
What is the nature of the paradox
In 1987, the American Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published article titled “The Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression”. It talked about a study consisting of two experiments. During both, the subjects were asked to speak their thoughts aloud for 5 minutes. But only in the first experiment, the participants were asked not to think about the polar bear, and in the second they, on the contrary, had to think about it.
As a result, in the first case, the participants remembered the polar bear much more often, despite the fact that they were asked to do otherwise. Scientists have suggested that attempts to suppress a particular thought have the paradoxical opposite effect and can lead to an obsession with that thought despite best efforts to ignore it. Dostoevsky wrote about a similar phenomenon.
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Try to set yourself a task: not to think about the polar bear, and you will see that he, damned, will be remembered every minute.
It doesn’t matter if it’s thoughts about a polar bear, a pink elephant, or something else. Attempts to suppress them, on the contrary, increase the likelihood that they will firmly settle in our head. scientists more describe this phenomenon with the help of the “theory of ironic processes”.
For example, when we have problems, family and friends can give advice in the style of “Just stop thinking about it.” Instead, we only cling to negative thoughts even more.
What consequences can it lead to
The Pink Elephant Paradox affects how we think, feel and make decisions. You have probably experienced the effect of this phenomenon on yourself when you could not concentrate because of an annoying thought that did not want to leave your head. But there are other consequences as well.
Recurring negative emotions
Intrusive thoughts include repetitive thoughts, pictures, and impulses. Unfortunately, they are often associated with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, even mentally and physically healthy people can notice the influence of obsessive thoughts and emotions, comparable to an obsession.
There is proof ofthat intrusive thoughts and their accompanying emotions are associated with negative thought patterns. All this is more common in those who do not practice mindfulness – do not focus on images, sounds, thoughts and emotions, but suppress them.
Without mindfulness practices, it is harder for us to find an opportunity to cope with our feelings, and we begin to repress them. This feeds our “pink elephant” and turns ordinary thoughts into obsessive ones.
One small study showedthat people who tend to have negative thoughts, as well as those who tend to worry often, find it much more difficult to focus on a particular task. This means that the more often we are visited by obsessive thoughts, the more easily we are distracted.
Social networks, e-mail and other available forms of communication and entertainment can tear even the most diligent person from work. Add to this unbidden intrusive thoughts – and it becomes even more difficult to concentrate.
Scattered attention makes our brain try to multitask. Not only creativity and productivity suffer, but also personal and professional relationships.
Inability to make decisions
It’s hard to focus on anything when the same thought is constantly spinning in your head. This also affects the ability to make decisions – rationality and balance fade into the background, and obsessive thoughts take their place. As a result, we fail to form a correct, objective opinion about the situation, and we make the wrong decisions.
How to Deal with the Pink Elephant Paradox
You can’t completely avoid intrusive thoughts. But there are a few techniques that will help you pay less attention to them.
Introspection guaranteed protect against the negative influence of obsessive thoughts. And especially the acceptance of unwanted painful thoughts and feelings helps – it reduces the level of anxiety.
Mindfulness shifts our attention to the present moment. It helps to get rid of the fear and worries associated with endless thoughts. Try to accept any of your thoughts and not treat them negatively.
Being distracted constructively
The next time another obsessive thought enters your head, try to switch to some task. This will help your brain rewire.
Choose an activity that completely absorbs your attention, such as reading a book, talking to a friend, going for a run in the park near the house, painting or watching a movie.
Keep a positive outlook on the world
Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two parts. In the first column, write down all your negative thoughts, and in the second column, replace them with positive ones.
Let’s say that after a failure at work, the thought “I’m a failure” haunts you. It can be changed to this: “I made a mistake, but I learned from it.” This exercise “sucks” the energy from obsessive thoughts, and they lose all power over you.