So, you want to control your mind.
Unwanted thoughts can cause plenty of frustration and distress. You’re not alone in wanting to make them go away. It’s normal to have trouble convincing yourself to look up when feeling downcast in the face of stress and other challenges.
While actual mind control belongs in the realm of science fiction, you can work to change your mindset. It might take some effort to learn the trick of regaining control, but the 10 strategies below can help.
It goes without saying that you have to figure out what’s on your mind before you can begin to control it.
Nearly everyone experiences discouraging thoughts or emotional setbacks from time to time. If you’re currently experiencing some life challenges, you might find it even harder to maintain control over spiraling thoughts or your overall mindset.
Other troubling thought patterns might include:
- rumination, or looping thoughts
- negative self-talk
- cognitive biases, or errors in thinking that can affect your choices or interactions
- a fixed pessimistic outlook
Identifying specific thoughts and patterns can help you make the most out of the other tips that follow.
It’s human nature to flinch away from pain, so of course you’d prefer to avoid thoughts that cause distress.
Yet pushing away unwanted thoughts isn’t the way to gain control. That usually just makes them more intense.
Instead, try the opposite: Accept those thoughts, and let them in.
Say you feel a little low because nothing in your life seems to be happening the way you planned despite all your hard work.
Acceptance might involve telling yourself, “Nothing seems to be going right, and that’s discouraging. There’s only so much you can do to create change yourself, but giving up entirely isn’t the answer either.”
Acceptance can even offer clues as to why specific thoughts keep coming up.
Maybe you keep thinking about a fling who ghosted you. Accepting those persistent thoughts leads you to recognize that you really wanted your connection to last.
Their disappearing act left you with unresolved questions and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. You worry you’ve failed at dating and feel anxious about trying again.
Acknowledging these fears allows you to confront them and remind yourself that you’re not to blame for their bad manners.
Keeping the situation in perspective can help you manage your worries about it happening again instead of letting fear hold you back from finding someone new.
One great way to get in the habit of accepting unwanted thoughts? Meditation.
It may not seem as if meditation actually helps you control your mind, especially when you first start out.
You sit, you relax, but no matter how you try to clear your head, random thoughts keep popping back up to distract you from the calm you’re trying to achieve.
The trick lies in learning how to sit with the thoughts you don’t want. You notice them, but then you let them go, which helps loosen their hold over you.
And just like that, you’ve gained back some control. The more you meditate, the easier it becomes to let unwanted thoughts drift past.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, can help you become more skilled at focusing on things as they happen.
As you become more mindful, you’ll notice you no longer need to constantly pull your awareness back from troubling or distracting thoughts.
Meditation offers other benefits beyond improving control of your awareness: It can also relieve the intensity of negative emotions and stress, boost resilience and compassion, and even help slow age-related cognitive decline.
Self-talk can go a long way toward helping you change your mindset, but the way you talk to yourself matters.
When addressing yourself in the first person doesn’t seem to have much impact, try switching to a third-person perspective. For example:
- Instead of: “I feel miserable, but I’ve been through worse, so I can deal with this, too.”
- Try: “I know you feel miserable right now, but you’ve worked hard to cope with other challenges. I know you have the strength to face this new problem, too.”
It might feel a little awkward, but this cognitive reappraisal strategy
First, repositioning yourself as an outside observer helps create space from intense thoughts and emotions. You’re stepping back from a mindset that’s only fueling distress.
Looking at a situation from this newly distanced point of view often makes it easier to see the full picture, not just the most immediate effects.
Second, consciously choosing to examine situations from the third-person perspective helps you interrupt circling thoughts and explore your feelings
As you cast your mind back to the specific experience affecting you, replace questions like “Why do I feel this way?” and “What caused this to affect me so deeply?” with third-person questions: “Why does [your name] feel this way?” or “What about this situation triggered those feelings?”
Changing your perspective helps trick your mind into considering yourself as another person, giving you distance from your own hardships.
This also has benefit when it comes to cheering yourself on, since people also tend to accept outside support more readily than encouragement from within.
Positive reframing is another reappraisal strategy that can help you regain control over your mindset.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean pretending there’s nothing wrong, ignoring problems, or failing to consider helpful solutions.
Rather, it involves putting a more positive spin on your negative thoughts — looking on the bright side, finding a silver lining in the storm clouds above.
Reframing won’t change the actual outcome of a situation, but it can change the way you feel about your circumstances.
Say you slipped in wet leaves and fell off your bike while training for a race. You didn’t sustain any life threatening injuries, but you did break your ankle.
This puts you out of commission for several weeks, leaving you disappointed and irritated with yourself for riding carelessly.
Blaming yourself will likely only make you feel worse. Self-compassion, however, can help you accept the disappointment in stride and turn your attention toward your next opportunity.
Maybe you praise yourself for always making sure to wear your helmet, tell yourself you’ll be better prepared for the race next year, or feel grateful you didn’t break anything else.
According to a small 2014 study, guided imagery does seem to promote a more positive mood and may help ease stress and anxiety.
Once you feel calmer, you might have an easier time maintaining a relaxed state and regaining control over your thoughts and overall mindset.
Get started with this simple exercise:
- Get comfortable — sitting down works best — and close your eyes.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths. You’ll want to keep breathing just like this as you create your visual scene.
- Using plenty of sensory details, create a relaxing scene in your mind. Try to think of something that brings you peace, whether that’s the lakeshore at your childhood home, the well-trodden path at your favorite park, or a leafy, crisp autumn day. Fully develop the scene by including the sounds, smells, and the feel of the air on your skin.
- Picture yourself wandering through the scene you’ve created, mindfully noticing your surroundings and taking in every detail.
- Keep breathing slowly, letting the peace of the scene wash over you and help you relax.
- Spend 10 to 15 minutes enjoying your image.
- Finish the exercise with a few deep breaths and open your eyes.
Expressing thoughts in writing may not change your frame of mind immediately, but it can help you improve control over unwanted feelings.
The simple act of writing down a thought is often enough to reduce its intensity. It might feel scary to directly challenge and accept distress, but putting those feelings down on paper allows you to acknowledge them somewhat indirectly.
If you’d like to keep even more distance from upsetting thoughts, you can even try writing them down in narrative form, as if telling a story.
Writing can help you get more comfortable with expressing difficult emotions. Eventually, those unwanted thoughts may trigger less of a fear response, and you might not feel the same distress when they come up.
Try wrapping up a meditation or imagery session with 15 minutes of journaling. You can write about any thoughts, positive or negative, that came up while they’re still fresh in your mind.
Journaling also helps you find patterns of unhelpful thoughts or behaviors.
Maybe you regularly take on the blame after quarreling with your partner. This leads you to feel bad about yourself and doubt your relationship skills.
Observing this pattern helps you realize you both have a role in the conflict. You resolve to practice healthier accountability for your own part as you work toward more productive resolution in the future.
You won’t want to distract yourself in every situation; it’s probably unwise to resolve wandering thoughts during a co-worker’s presentation by pulling up a game on your phone.
In some circumstances, though, focused distractions can help redirect thoughts and improve your frame of mind. Certain types of distractions might even boost motivation and productivity.
Say you’re feeling down and out of sorts because a week of bad weather has postponed your hiking trip. You’re miserable because you can’t do what you planned, so you turn your attention to things you’ve been meaning to accomplish.
Finishing a library book, cleaning your room, and sorting old clothes to donate helps you feel like you’ve made the most of your time. This inspires you to get even more done before heading out.
Other positive distractions might include:
Just make sure you’re using distractions as a temporary break, not complete denial or avoidance.
When circumstances out of your control add stress to your life, it often becomes more difficult to regulate your state of mind.
Stress and anxiety can fuel unwanted thoughts. This can provoke more worry, leading to a cycle that can rapidly become overwhelming.
Start taking back control by exploring key sources of stress in your life and seeking potential ways to remove or reduce those triggers.
Most people can’t completely remove stress triggers. Stress often comes from outside sources. You can’t always control what happens around you.
That’s where self-care comes in. Setting aside time to nurture your mind and body can promote improved well-being overall. It also makes it easier to bounce back from life’s difficulties with a more hopeful outlook.
Self-care can involve:
- getting quality sleep
- eating nourishing food
- social connection
- asking for help when needed
- making time for relaxation
Learning to control your mind is sometimes easier said than done.
The tips above may not make much difference for persistent mental health conditions and symptoms, including:
- obsessions and compulsions
- intrusive thoughts that keep coming back or get more intense
- overly suspicious or negative thoughts about others
- lingering grief or sadness
It’s worth seeking professional support for any mindset that affects your relationships and overall well-being. A therapist can help you begin to identify underlying issues and explore potential solutions.
Therapy also offers space to work on self-compassion and practice positive self-talk, two helpful strategies for regaining control over your mindset.
Look for a therapist who offers:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
- acceptance and commitment therapy
- psychodynamic therapy
These approaches are specifically designed to help people get better at accepting, challenging, and reframing unhelpful thoughts.
You don’t need to be psychic to control your mind. You may just need some practice and a bit of patience.
If you continue to have a hard time regaining control over your mindset, a therapist can offer guidance.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.