Trying to break a habit? Avoid temptation?
For addictions, habits, and temptations, you're often battling your own mind.
The harder you try NOT to think about something, the more power that thought has over you. If I told you NOT to think about a polar bear, what do you immediately imagine?
David Wegner was the founding father of thought suppression research, and concluded that by telling ourselves to avoid thinking about something, a part of our brain is actively working to keep the thought at bay. The brain "checks in" every once in a while to make sure we're not thinking about that thing... which of course brings it to mind.
So what are some ways to avoid unwanted thoughts?
Distract yourself. Give your mind something else to focus on, and you'll have less mental energy to think about temptations.
As the saying goes, "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Don't let your hands or mind be idle!
Luckily, we've compiled a list of ideas you can try for good distractions to keep your mind busy.
1. Get outside
Being out in nature has many benefits for the body and mind. It's fantastic for the senses, and it allows you to escape. If you're addicted to technology, taking a digital detox even for just a few hours can get your mind off of things.
2. Learn a new skill
When you learn something new, you not only distract yourself, but you also become a more interesting person! Take an online course, buy a how-to book, or sign up for a class in your neighborhood. Some ideas of things you can learn: a new language, gardening, calligraphy, knitting, origami, paper crafting, chess, floristry, dance... the possibilities are endless!
3. Read a book
Try to choose a book that's unlikely to remind you of the thing you're avoiding. Choose your favorite author or a topic that really pulls you into the storyline.
4. Be social
Spend time with friends, family, and coworkers! Choose to spend time with people who are good influences and won't tempt you with your weakness. When you're with people you enjoy, the conversation is a powerful distraction. For an added challenge, try meeting new people.
5. Take on a home improvement project
How about finally painting that room like you've been meaning to? Or remodeling the kitchen? Now's the time to start that involved project that will occupy your time and your mind. The wonderful thing about home improvement projects is that you get to enjoy it after and have that sense of satisfaction when it's done.
6. Write or journal
Putting pen to paper is extremely therapeutic. You never know what might come out! You can journal your thoughts freely, or get some prompts to guide your topic. If you enjoy writing stories or articles, have at it! Do what you enjoy best. Prefer to type but want to avoid the internet? Try turning off wifi and using a word processor. You can even take your laptop outside or somewhere wifi isn't readily available for a true escape.
7. Go to a public space
By being out in the world, you hold yourself accountable to social norms. Even if you're surrounded by strangers, you're more likely to be on your best behavior than when you're home alone with no witnesses. Plus, people-watching can be a great distraction.
8. Do a puzzle
Jigsaw, crossword, trivia: you name it! Pick your puzzle of choice, and use it to occupy your mind for hours. Think of puzzles as workouts for your brain.
9. Play an instrument
Music has the ability to evoke emotion and even curb anxiety. Choose music that makes you feel good. Play (or learn to play) an instrument to your favorite tune. Consider making it social by finding other people to jam with.
10. Get moving
Exercise can help you zone out. It's therapeutic and the post-workout endorphins feel great. You can go for a walk, try yoga, play a game. What matters is that you're moving and up off the couch. That said, if there's a milestone you're striving towards (e.g., completing a rock-climbing wall, beating a personal record, mastering a balancing pose), you'll be able to laser-focus on that goal and distract yourself even better.
11. Be artsy
It's hard to make time for creativity when your day is full of obligations. However, by practicing creativity, you enhance your problem-solving skills. Plus, when you do art for the fun of it, just for yourself, there are no right or wrong answers. Express yourself however you'd like. Time to break out the crayons, paint, or clay!
12. Clean like crazy
Use this opportunity to go through your closet and KonMari the heck out of it. Cleaning is a good way to distract yourself, and it can be more enjoyable when you have some good tunes or a podcast playing. Clean the shower, dust the bookcase, go through piles of saved papers. It will feel so good when you look around your space and see how tidy and clean your space is.
13. Bake or cook something complicated
When you're trying to follow a recipe, you need to give it your full attention. Otherwise, you might mix up salt with sugar or a teaspoon with a tablespoon, and that can make a baking disaster. Trying to avoid sweets? Cooking healthy foods can be just as challenging. Bonus: with this distraction, you get something delicious to eat and share at the end!
Helping someone out can be a great way to take your mind off things. Plus, you get a "helper's high" rush of endorphins when you do good. Consider committing to a regular volunteer effort to get to know fellow volunteers. Can't commit to a regular schedule? Look for upcoming festivals or other events happening in your community: these events can almost always use a hand!
What are your favorite ways to distract yourself? See what works best for you, and be open to changing things up.
Now whatever you do, DON'T think about this article. Just kidding.
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