11/06/2012 12:26 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST

Out, Damned Thought!


You might remember the line 'Out, Damned Spot...Out, I say' from the play Macbeth. The line is spoken by Lady Macbeth, whose husband has killed the king of Scotland at her urging. Her guilt over the murder gradually drives her insane. When she speaks this line she is sleepwalking, and she imagines that a spot of the king's blood stains her hand.

Have you ever felt that way about a thought you were having -- that you just wanted it 'out'? It might not be driving you insane (or it might) but it certainly could be occupying your waking hours, impacting your energy, and affecting your overall mood.

An interesting blog post in Forbes by Alice Walton called How to Kill a Thought (in a Good Way) got me thinking hard about it (in a good way). So often, our thoughts often feel like unwanted intruders.

It is true that ridding yourself of unwanted thoughts can be easier said than done. If you focus on the thought (because you are trying to get rid of it), you actually might end up nurturing it and it will grow even bigger. Then, it can become embedded even more strongly in your brain! If you try to ignore it or hide from it, you might also be inadvertently 'feeding' (reinforcing) the thought. Either way, the thought grows. Now that's frustrating!

So, consider this simple process to begin right away. First pay attention. Notice what you notice. Then, start immediately to rid yourself of unhelpful thoughts:

Remember, Thoughts Are Not Facts

Your thoughts are simply that -- your thoughts. They are not the facts of the situation in which you find yourself, but are instead a reflection of the story you are telling yourself about the situation. Facts are concrete, observable to everyone, and the same for everyone. Thoughts are your interpretations of the observable, concrete facts you notice. Sometimes the line between them can be blurred if you don't take time to separate them. Mindfulness can help! Check out Elisha Goldstein's recent blog post Making Mindfulness Work .

Nag In The Other Direction

One thing we know about your brain is that -- while it is beautiful and amazing -- it can only be in one place at any one time (or hold one kind of thought at a time). So, when you want to get rid of a negative, nagging thought, you have to replace it with a positive, nagging thought. And, yes, somehow nagging (repetition over and over) is required. Your brain spends more time on the negative, naturally. So, you have to work extra hard at spending time on the positive (according to Barbara Fredrickson, three times as hard). Andrew May has a cool 48 Hour Positivity Challenge to help you with this in Executive Style -- check it out!

Nurture The New Positive Feeling Regularly

When you start to feel better, be mindful of the better feeling -- focus on it and nurture it. Where is that feeling in your body? What other sensations do you notice when you are feeling more positive?The more you focus on the positive emotion, the stronger it will grow and spread until finally, the damned negative thought is history!

You can do this. You are all you need. In an interview in HuffPost's Healthy Living section, Jon Kabat-Zinn said, "Today, people recognize that they're not going to find well-being from the outside, or from a pill; they're going to find it by looking inside." He continued on with this statement which might just might make you pause for a moment: "All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for."

You are what you are looking for, thoughts are just thoughts, and mindfulness can become your new habit. Out, damned thought...Out, I say!