The Ironic Effects of Trying to Control Attention - Deepstash
The Ironic Effects of Trying to Control Attention

The Ironic Effects of Trying to Control Attention

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The Ironic Process Theory

The Ironic Process Theory

  • It is the psychological process where a person tries to suppress certain thoughts but ironically ends up thinking about them instead.
  • It was first explored by Daniel Wegner in 1987.
  • Also known as the ironic rebound and the white bear problem. For example, when you try to suppress yourself from thinking of a white bear or a pink elephant, you're more likely to imagine one instead.


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The Trouble With Trying To Control Our Thoughts

We have two mental systems that work side by side whenever we are thinking about something or feeling a certain way, these two systems are intentional and monitoring systems.

  • The former orients our attention to focus on our tasks or our goal state and it requires a lot of effort to do this.
  • The latter's only job is to recognize if our attention is being deviated from said task or goal and alert the intentional system to work harder.

Now, there is an imbalance in the task difficulty between the two systems .


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The Solution To Mental Control

  1. Whatever it is that's acting as the mental burden needs to be minimized or alleviated. Let yourself get rest, go to therapy, do some yoga or anything that de-stresses you.
  2. Frame your goal in a proactive manner rather than being avoidant. Occupy yourself with something that you find enjoyable, meaningful, or satisfying.
  3. Allow yourself to think and feel about things. Oppression brews rebellion, even in the mind. So, labeling things as forbidden will only make us more obsessed with them.


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