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Thread: How to remain focused after tangential thoughts overtake? Or stop them altogether

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    Default How to remain focused after tangential thoughts overtake? Or stop them altogether

    Over the past few months I've become really good at identifying when my mind starts to wander onto a thought where I know I'll end up getting either emotionally affected the deeper I think about it, or they it's just distracting my focus when I'm trying to work. But at the same time I find myself unable to stop. Usually they're about my shortcomings, how I affected someone, a random occurrence that happened earlier etc. it's like an obsession that I need to fully ruminate on and explore all possible tangents (eg if it was about social interaction I'll have to google body language, or lately start think on their type etc,.. If it's emotional I literally start reflecting on my whole life and can get caught up for hours) before I can move on once I think I understand it.
    But it doesn't do me any help! Even if I spend all this time, I forget just as quickly the next day and if that exact same thought comes into my head. I'll remember my conclusion from yesterday but I still need to go through the process because I don't really trust my conclusion? It's hard to describe

    My biggest issue is that after I come out from my "thinking" I'll have lost all will to continue work or study. Also I'll become really withdrawn during this time.

    edit: LOL I just realized This is exactly it. I had to write this post even though I'm in the library in a study group but I can't get it outta my mind until I got it out so to speak.

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    suedehead's Avatar
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    Just ignore it. Let the thoughts pass through without dwelling on them or being overly critical about it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by suedehead View Post
    Just ignore it. Let the thoughts pass through without dwelling on them or being overly critical about it.
    If only that was so easy for me. I really wish I was capable of that.

    I mean, I am capable of that, but I've built up bad habits of letting my mind roam wherever it wants to over the years without thinking of the consequences on how it affects me when I think on negative stuff.

    The one thing I keep finding is that meditation is supposed to help, just learning how to stay grounded and in the moment. I've been working at it. I *think* it is helping, but so far it seems I've just become more mindful of WHEN these thoughts are coming into my mind. I guess the next step is learning how to let them go, it's funny though, I wonder if I was to just let all these thoughts go, what would be left of me? Maybe it's more of learning how to shift my thoughts to a more positive direction

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    I've been waiting for you Satan's Avatar
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    get some exercise?

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    You'll grow out of it. Well, at least in the way it debilitates you. Just relax about it and don't get so caught up. It's going to happen at some point, so don't worry about it and that will help speed up the process.

    Also; Exercise, Work, School, Community Service, Sports, Dating, etc..., etc... All those things will help you get your mind off of yourself. Which is essentially you're problem. You're absorbed in yourself.
    I would say that ethically you are still supposed to act as if you have unilateral responsibility; but simultaneously you have to be able to see the other as a fully autonomous, free, aware person.

    Medicalizing social problems has the additional benefit of rendering society not responsible for those social ills. If it’s a disease, it’s nobody’s fault. Yay empiricism.

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    You're making an enemy of your own mind. It's doing exactly what it evolved to do. Once you make peace with that fact, you will have a much easier time. The mind is a "don't eat me" machine. In the early days of our species, only those whose minds could be deeply conditioned by danger, remember it, predict it, be vigilant for its presence in the environment, etc. would survive. So our minds are basically the product of a process of natural selection by which, generation after generation, we were whittled down to the most vigilant and conscientious. Our primordial brains are attuned not only to predators like lions and tigers and bears, but also the threat of social ostracization. Without the acceptance and support of our tribe, we would perish in a world indifferent or even hostile to our survival. So our minds watch for ways in which we might fall short socially and incite people to reject us. We are exquisitely sensitive to the ways in which we breech social mores, or disappoint or offend others. We compare ourselves to others and even our own projections of an ideal self, against whose phantom perfection we will always fall short.

    This is the price we pay for our beautiful minds: the same mental capacities that have allowed us to thrive as a species, to construct civilizations, build the Roman aqueducts, write poetry, sculpt gods out of marble, and create the smartphone, etc. instill in us the capacities to ruminate, to remember, to be traumatized, to suffer. Short of inflicting brain damage on yourself, there is no way to get rid of the products of a mind thus evolved. You've found (just like I've found, and most people eventually find) that the more you try to get rid of certain products of your mind (thoughts, feelings, memories, etc.), the more suffering you create. Put another way, the more you make these things a problem, the more of a problem they tend to become. Why is that? It's the nature of the mind again. Once you make an enemy of your painful thoughts, your mind will activate the neural network that is enlisted in trying to get rid of a noxious external entity. And to do that, the mind needs to keep that very entity in awareness! You can't put out a fire in the kitchen by stopping thoughts about the fire.

    So, what's the best route to moving on with your life, while still accepting that you're sometimes going to experience painful thoughts and emotions? The only way is acceptance. Accept that these thoughts and feelings that perturb you are the normal and natural products of a life lived fully. No one gets out of life without regrets, embarrassments, failures, losses/grief, etc. And if you're like 6 out of every 10 men, or 5 out of every 10 women in the developed world, you may even have experienced debilitating trauma at some point. These are some of the most workaday, commonplace rewards we get for being a citizen of the living world. If you make a problem out of that, if you make such normal experiences you enemies, you are in for a heck of a lot of trouble.

    The information I write here actually comes from a form of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, pronounced like the word "act"). It's something I've personally found very helpful about three years ago in dealing with anxiety. Here are a few suggestions from ACT on how to let these thoughts be a part of your life, without letting them affect the quality of your life so much:
    • Title some of your most recurrent thoughts/emotions as you would a book/movie or a song, and just name it whenever your mind conjures it up: "Oh there's my 'I'm Inevitably Going to Fail No Matter What I do' story again."
    • Say, "Thank you, mind" for doing exactly what it evolved to do.
    • Note "I am having the thought that..." when you find your mind getting so heavily absorbed in a thought that you lose your sense of time and place. This can also be used with emotions ("I am having the emotion of...").


    Remember that these techniques won't necessarily make the thoughts go away. The mind is very stubborn and if a particular thought pattern is quite heavily laden with negative baggage and connotation for you, the natural tendency of the mind is to regard it as a particularly tenacious threat and keep it in awareness. Simply acknowledge that the mind is doing what it evolved to do, and reorient yourself to whatever it is you're doing. Good luck!
    "How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."
    -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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    Hmm that's really interesting. It got me thinking. The mind is basically predisposed to suffer. Why aren't we ever satisfied? Because the mind isn't supposed to make us happy, it makes us happy when we are in a good spot by essentially turning off. If I remember all the times I was happy in my life or even when i do something that makes me happy I remember it like a blur, I am on autopilot. Video games, tv, "happiness" means going on autopilot.. Letting life pass you by in a haze.


    but a part of me hates that. To be happy I have to essentially have to turn off my mind? Look at history. Anyone who made their mark seemingly suffered their whole lives. You have to do anything of worth. My problem is I'm right on the edge. I'm practical enough where I know that it's not worth it to suffer your whole life just to be someone important. But I also find it incredibly in genuine to just live your life and be happy. Ultimately I won't sacrifice my own happiness for suffering to achieve something greater, but I'm just introspective enough where thst constantly bothers me.

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    I guess that's not true though. People who live full lives can do both. Introspect and be fulfilled with what they've accomplished and also just live in the moment and be happy with what they've built.

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    Exits, pursued by a bear. Animal's Avatar
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    Here, read these two chapters of this book. It talks about exactly what you're pondering.
    "How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."
    -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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    both sides, now wacey's Avatar
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    Thank-you @Animal, that was a very insightful post. You have a real talent for writing with a clarity of thought.
    "If this to end in fire, then we should all burn together. Watch the flames climb higher into the night."

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    Quote Originally Posted by wacey View Post
    Thank-you @Animal, that was a very insightful post. You have a real talent for writing with a clarity of thought.
    I agree. That was a heck of a post @Animal!

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    Yeah thank you, that was a great post. It articulates exactly what I feel I've been trying to get at lately. I recognize people who are stuck in this "happiness trap" and I feel bad for them, but I am in it too. Thank you.

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    - do what is easy
    - write down what you want to do, specifically as possible
    - take a five minute walk
    - don't do two things at once
    - do everything else
    + don't use dashes as bullet points as it is a negative gesture
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    @ryoka14 I am gradually coming to terms with my distractibility. I have tried many techniques to improve my ability to listen to lectures. They were unavoidable while I was in school, of course, and I was always reproaching myself for being inattentive. As I got older, I found myself avoiding lecture-type situations. I felt bad about passing up opportunities to learn, but didn't really pin the source of my reluctance on my distractability. I have tried ritilin, but didn't like being medicated.

    I have lately begun to accept my tangental thoughts as a manefestation of creativity. I have started carrying a notepad and writing down quick notes about my tangents, so that I can return to whatever I was trying to listen to. Sometimes I even let my mind wander farther down a path and don't reproach myself for it! It has been healing for me to be able to accept my brain as it is.

    I think it is interesting that segments of American society have embarked on a campaign of acceptance of physical limitation and/or disability; but rather than embracing it, the use of medication is often the approach to mental issues such as distractibility.
    You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek.
    But first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril.
    You shall see things, wonderful to tell. You shall see a... cow... on the roof of a cotton house. And, oh, so many startlements.
    I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the ob-stacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward.
    Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation
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    do what subteigh does with his tangential thoughts and turn them into thread topics...

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    i tell myself to focus. talk talk talk
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