The ‘write-rip-throw’ approach to ditching negative thoughts

Negative thoughts making your life a misery? Well, rather than ruminating on them and giving them oxygen, there’s a simpler way of getting rid of them. Just write them down on a piece of paper, rip them up and throw them away.

Write your bad thoughts down and let them go to be free of them. (pic: istockphoto.com/AnikaSalsera)

Write your bad thoughts down and let them go to be free of them. (pic: istockphoto.com/AnikaSalsera)

Sounds too easy? Too free of angst? No use if you just can’t let go…?

Research begs to disagree. It’s people who hold onto their negative thoughts who preserve them. Physically binning them – rather than just imagining you’re throwing them away – takes away their power. Here’s how…

A study by Ohio State University and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid found that people discarded their thoughts when they wrote them down on a piece of paper and then threw their paper away. But the thoughts linger (in the form of judgements or critical inner voices) if they keep the bit of paper in their bags or pockets to protect it.

“At some level, it can sound silly,” says Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, who co-authored the research. “But we found that it really works: by physically throwing away or protecting your thoughts, you influence how you end up using those thoughts. Merely imagining engaging in these actions has no effect.

“The findings suggest that people can treat their thoughts as material, concrete objects. That is evident in the language we use,” he adds. “We talk about our thoughts as if we can visualise them. We hold our thoughts. We take stances on issues; we lean this way or that way. This all makes our thoughts more real to us.”

As a writer and avid journaler, I hate to think that the thoughts I keep in my precious notebooks could be harbouring the very thoughts I am trying to transcend.

But I think this technique could help with passing thoughts rather than recurrent or long-held ones. The researchers say they need to do more work on stopping those thoughts coming back.

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