In a series of studies from the University of Virginia, psychologist Timothy Wilson and his colleagues found that study participants from a range of ages do not enjoy spending even brief periods of time in a room with nothing to do but think. In fact, in the study they chose to be shocked in an effort to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes. The results were the same for all ages of participants, but what was not expected is that men disliked sitting alone with their thoughts more than women. In fact, 12 of the 18 men reported it as painful, compared to 6 of 24 women. Dr. Wilson, Ph.D. said men tend to seek “sensations” more than women, which may explain why 67% of the men found the experience of not being on their smart phones, listening to music or some other type of distraction more painful than electrical shock.
In a world where information is being communicated at all times, to shut down and remove one’s self from communication presents a feeling of isolation. Not only were the subjects cut off from other distractions, but they had their own thoughts continuing their messages. When you are alone with no distractions, issues you don’t want to deal with or hurtful things said to you in the past may come back to haunt you. These thoughts are present throughout the day, but due to distractions with our phones, the Internet, Facebook and other social media, we file them away and forget about them. Being alone allows the space for old thoughts to enter.
Using distractions is a Band-Aid for negative feelings left unresolved. They don’t go away, but they get acted on by negative behaviors due to feelings that you’re worthless, developing an eating or drinking problem, continually attracting bad people into your life, or not being able to commit because you feel overwhelmed with guilt or resentment. Below are suggestions to help you let go of your negative feelings, so the next time you have a chance to sit alone for fifteen minutes you will look at it as an opportunity rather than punishment.
- Allow yourself to look objectively at your thoughts without judging them. When you look at your thoughts objectively, you see they come and go and you needn’t fix them.
- Negative thoughts are communicated more easily, especially for guys, if they can distract themselves with a stress ball, stones or table gadget.
- Practice allowing feelings or thoughts to drift in and out by setting a timer. Begin with three minutes, then set the time for six and gradually add more time. Practice breathing slowly and let thoughts come and go as they please.
- The more you practice mindfulness, the less stress, anxiety and depression you feel. When you observe your own thoughts, you understand that they are not reality. These thoughts come and go through your mind constantly.
Everyone has thoughts they don’t want to think about, but when your fear of listening to your thoughts is so dominant that you would rather hurt yourself than think about the thoughts, you need help. Learning to observe your feelings without feeling panic about fixing them or denying them will increase your well being and help you feel happier in life.