For over two decades researchers have shown that there are unexpected consequences when an individual actively tries to avoid certain thoughts. First, you will start thinking about the thought you are trying to avoid more. Second, if the thought is about a behavior, you increase the likelihood of engaging in that behavior. In short, avoidance makes you less able to control what you think and what you do. Further research is necessary to explore why thought avoidance is such a prolific self-control strategy when all available evidence points to its counterintuitive consequences. […]
Thought suppression commonly refers to the act of deliberately trying to rid the mind of unwanted thoughts. In early investigations researchers demonstrated that the suppression of a particular thought often resulted in the subsequent increased return of the unwanted thought, a phenomenon termed the ‘rebound effect.’ This basic effect has been replicated on many occasions, and a more recent meta-analysis suggests the rebound effect is robust.
Therefore, there is currently a general acceptance of the view that thought suppression does not work as a strategy for controlling one’s mind, and if anything makes one more susceptible to unwanted intrusive thoughts. For example, after watching a disturbing news item, I may attempt to suppress thoughts about this disturbing footage. However, the likely outcome of this will be that I will think about the footage more not less, and I may even begin to feel obsessed. […]
Studies have reported that thought suppression can have behavioral consequences. […] How many times have you carried a tray of food or drink thinking whatever happens I must not spill this, only to then redecorate the living room with it? These errors seem to plague us and chastise us all the more so because we knew exactly what we shouldn’t have done ahead of time. Thereby, it seems that the act of trying not to, or suppressing invites one to do exactly the opposite. […]
One must avoid using thought suppression in instances where one is attempting to control a behavior. This is especially pertinent when attempting to control behaviors such as smoking, excessive alcohol or food intake, as these are likely areas where thought suppression will feature as a control strategy.