4 Ways to Stop Thinking About Someone


All of us have found ourselves thinking too much about someone we know we shouldn’t at one time or another. Annoyingly plagued by reminders of their existence that we’d rather be ignorant to. It’s difficult to make it through an hour without some thought over your history together. Furthermore, this wouldn’t be so bad if the thoughts weren’t followed by painful feelings of sadness and hurt depicting the bitter end you two had — or the non-existent start, for that matter.

What gives?

Why are you thinking about them so much?

And why can’t you stop?

I aim to answer these today.

Humans: Creatures of Habit

When we find ourselves thinking about someone too much, it is because we are in a habit of doing so. For that matter, anything in our life we find difficult to stop will be rooted in a habit. It’s in our nature.

Whether you were in a relationship with someone, dated them for a few months, or were rejected before a relationship could even start, consciously thinking about someone will eventually turn into unconscious thinking — whether we want it too, or not — . Habits are our brain’s way of simplifying life and conserving mental energy.

As Donald Hebb famously says;

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” — Donald Hebb

The problem with this is that the object of our affection I.e, someone else, becomes embedded in our brain long after the relationship may have ended. Moreover, habits run on cues; things that prompt us to follow through with a habit, and as such, we have little control over when a habit decides to play out. This is especially true where thoughts are concerned as thoughts can be invasive and automatic.

Suddenly you can’t cook without remembering their favorite dish, you can’t walk the street without seeing a similar car to theirs, and can’t listen to an album you both loved without an invasive thought of your time together — and so on. Your world becomes a trigger to which your habit of thinking about them follows.

Breaking Bad Habits

If we can’t choose when we’re thinking about someone, what are our options? How do we stop doing something that we have no control over?

1. Acceptance

We simply allow the thoughts to come and go — accepting the feelings that arise with them.

As Carl Jung says, “What we resist, persists” and as someone who has experienced crippling anxiety in the past, being reactive to our thoughts only reinforces the habit. Like adding fuel to flames, the more we try not to think about something, the more we actually do. Accepting our inability to control our thoughts by suppression is therefore critical.

This was highlighted in the renowned study on the ineffectiveness of intentional thought suppression carried out by Daniel Wegner in 1989. In a simple but effective experiment, over 5 minutes, he asked participants to ring a bell each time they thought of a white bear — something he had told them NOT to think about prior to testing. Interestingly, these individuals thought about the bear at least once every minute.

The consensus? Telling yourself to not think about something simply won’t work and can’t be applied to our wish to stop thinking about someone — we’ll simply think of them more. In accepting our thoughts for what they are we take away resistance and allow things to simply BE. Eventually, these thoughts will dissipate like a wave in the ocean.

2. Don’t React

In the past, thoughts about them would have triggered us to reach out; ask how their day was, make plans, or seek their comfort when we were feeling low.

As the relationship is no longer functioning, however, these reactive behaviors no longer serve a purpose. Reaching out only leads to guilt, you can’t suggest plans, fantasizing and ruminating over them is pointless, and they aren’t a source of comfort. Nevertheless, our brains are in the habit of motivating us to do all of these things — despite the fact we KNOW we shouldn’t.

In anxiety management, avoidance behaviors simply reinforce the anxiety. This is because a feedback loop between our behaviors and beliefs is created in which our brains are told we MUST react in that way to fulfill the cycle. This is how all behavior is reinforced: We do something that supports the belief and in turn, the belief reinforces the behavior. Consequently, in stopping acting on our thoughts, we stop reinforcing a habit.

The reason no contact rules are so effective and recommended in light of break-ups is to avoid reinforcing something that should no longer be reinforced. By giving yourself distance from the person and not giving in to urges to reach out you allow your mind to stop associating that individual with a reward. A habit of thinking is just a precursor to a habit of DOING. Stop the doing and eventually, the thinking will subside.

3. Turn Your Attention Elsewhere

When we have nothing to do, we’re more likely to think and as a result, be driven to react to our thoughts. As mentioned above, we don’t want to reinforce a bad habit and so it’s important to turn our attention elsewhere.

Thoughts evoke emotion but so too do behaviors. It can be difficult to not react to our thoughts when they are causing us distress — so turning your gaze to something that will generate positive emotions will help you in light of these circumstances.

Moreover, regularly engaging in productive states of concentration I.e., flow states is beneficial as they give us breaks from our busy minds. It’s difficult to think about something, or someone when our minds are engaged in a task.

Importantly, this will create distance between you and your invasive thoughts; allowing you time and space to see the situation for what it truly is. If things haven’t worked out, there will be a reason for this that is difficult to see when engulfed in ruminative thoughts.

4. Reframing Your Thoughts

Reframing thoughts is another good way to combat invasive and distressing mental cycles. As we are locked in a habit of thinking and behaving, reframing the thoughts when they arise helps associate new meaning to the person we can’t keep off our minds.

For example, maybe you’ve enjoyed a year-long relationship only to be cheated on. Despite the infidelity and subsequent break-up, you can’t stop thinking about them and feel an urge to reconcile despite knowing you shouldn’t.

As habits are based around rewards, even when situations turn sour, our brain will continue to associate that individual with a good feeling — and it will remind you of this, especially when you are feeling low.

Reminding yourself of what your reality truly IS will help prevent fantasy and attachment from ruling the show. Write lists and make mental notes of the hurt you faced when thoughts attempt to misguide you. Over time, a new picture will be painted of this individual — not as someone who is good for you, but someone who is not.

Inevitably, there is no easy way to go about getting someone off our minds. However, there are active steps we can be taking to help our situation — like accepting that this is a habit that won’t stop overnight, not acting on our thoughts, and reframing old, unhelpful ideologies.

Time heals all wounds, but only if you show up to the process.

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