Should You Embrace Your Negative Thoughts and Urges?

by Stephen Mills on February 19, 2012

I know this is a rather strange suggestion, but I have recently finished an excellent book on willpower: The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It.  Towards the end of that book there was a chapter called “Don’t Read This Chapter: The Limits of ‘I Won’t’ Power”.  The key idea was that trying to put things out of your mind makes those things more likely to stay in your mind and thus more likely that you will act upon them.  It’s called ironic rebound.  Instead you should actually think about whatever it is you don’t want to think about or do and you will be less likely to think about or do it.

This is incredibly counter-intuitive.  If you crave something, pondering it should intensify the craving right?  Actually some research is showing that it does just the opposite.  The author describes experiments on chocolate, smoking, and dieting that show people who try to suppress their thoughts about a craving actually end up indulging to a much greater extent.  In one experiment women who were encouraged to avoid thinking about chocolate subsequently ended up eating twice as much of it as women who were encouraged to think about and express any thoughts they had about chocolate.

I’ve been trying this out myself and strangely enough it seems to work.  Whenever I have the urge to snack on something I know I shouldn’t be snacking on, I just imagine how it would taste and how it would make me feel.  Then I choose not to act on it and move on.  Instead of averting my eyes I look right at the tasty treat.  Amazingly this seems to dispel the urge and allows my mind release the thought.  Strange but true.

“When you stop trying to control unwanted thoughts and emotions, they stop controlling you.  Studies of brain activation confirm that as soon as you give participants permission to express a thought they were trying to suppress, that thought becomes less primed and less likely to intrude into conscious awareness.  Paradoxically, permission to think a thought reduces the likelihood of thinking it.

This solution turns out to be useful for a surprisingly wide range of unwanted inner experiences.  The willingness to think what you think and feel what you feel – without necessarily believing that it is true, and without feeling compelled to act on it – is an effective strategy for treating anxiety, depression, food cravings, and addiction.”

— Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct

The key is to think and feel whatever you want, but don’t act upon those thoughts and feelings.  This is just one of many ideas in this excellent book and I thought it was worth sharing with you.  It certainly seems to work for me.


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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

AnnaLou February 20, 2012 at 9:04 am

Hmmm…This is really inspirational and I want to thank you because of this post…
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Latia February 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm

This post it helps me to realize a lot of things..Thanks for sharing to us..
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Ellai February 20, 2012 at 8:22 pm

I actually have learned a lot from this post and I am sure most people will be interested to read this…
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Arline12 February 21, 2012 at 7:04 am

I believe that accepting other people opinions is the best way to improve your life, its about change the bad habits into good one and improve natural attitude t become more productive..
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Wendy L. Conger February 22, 2012 at 1:45 am

Negative thoughts won’t do you any good and criticisms are good because it only meant that you have still room for changes and growth.
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Mrs.Batista February 22, 2012 at 9:12 am

hmmm very interesting post! a friend of mine always saying that negative thoughts should be let go you should embrace the positive ones if your urges are negative, let them go too if they are positive, then embrace.
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Charryh February 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Negative thoughts and vibes are definitely should be taken away because it will just affect our performance and how we live everyday…
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Krizelle February 23, 2012 at 11:11 am

In order to attain every goal in life and looking for the step of success, we need to let go all the negative thoughts and urges because its a hence for all the greatness…
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Sarah April 25, 2013 at 10:05 pm

So much more influence comes from the positive side of thinking and that’s where my focus will remain, thank you…


Juanita Sanchez February 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm

NIce definition of ironic rebound. It never fails that when ever we try to suppress a thought it inevitably resurfaces. You have to deal with the issue andmake a decision before it stops.. Look at it as unfinished business.
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YnnaRada February 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Great article to read! Negative thoughts and vibes is big challenge to overcome. But i will try the method you have mentioned here. I learn a lot on this post and i’m sure a lot of people will benefit from this. Thanks for sharing this to us.
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Yronelle February 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Having negative thoughts in everyday life is normal…But we have to make sure that at the end of the day, we change it into positive ones…
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shane26 February 28, 2012 at 7:48 am

I love the article you have shared to the readers…Negative thoughs may always just be there…But we have to remember we can change it to positive ones…
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Nicole Schuman February 28, 2012 at 10:41 am

Great article! The wise way to get rid of negative thoughts is to surround yourself with good and positive people it will help make your day brighter and lighter. Thanks for posting!
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Devhonn February 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I hope you can post more because there are a lot of people waiting for your next post here…
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Ayie February 29, 2012 at 3:42 am

This should be shared because most people need this, especially those depressed one and who are introverts…
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carolynhoffman16 February 29, 2012 at 5:04 am

Thank you for sharing this inspirational post. This is very helpful for introvert individuals to manage their depression.
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Arline February 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for sharing this useful and inspiring advice..I would apply this to myself..
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wynonaelliott  February 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm

There’s no reason to embraced negative thoughts and urges because these are the hindrance of success and other attaining goals…
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Mrs.Batista March 1, 2012 at 9:54 am

I totally agree with you.. I thinks we should not really embrace this kinda thought.. It will always hold you back.. That always what happens to me.. And I always regret it for having the negative urges.. As they say “no guts no glory”, how can you achieve your goal if something is holding you..
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Francinne March 2, 2012 at 12:49 am

Introverts can definitely benefit from the post…Thank you for the thoughts shared here and I hope you can post more of this too…
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Brandon March 5, 2012 at 6:14 am

The reason why were here and face the reality of life is about embracing all the greatness and success of life, not embracing negative thoughts a reason to pull down one self and feel insane at a time…
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Tyler March 6, 2012 at 10:31 am

Negative thoughts and urges are a part of life. It is what we do with them that makes the difference. They are neither good or bad.
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Rose37 March 9, 2012 at 6:56 am

Negative thoughts and urges are the factors that glorify one self and this is the reason why we are strong enough in facing every challenge of life…
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Bianca March 22, 2012 at 4:22 am

Very inspirational post..
Thanks for sharing..

Now i know of how to overcome Negative thoughts and urges..
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Jeff April 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I believe it’s called Exposure and Response Thereapy.


Derek J. Maak June 18, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I’ve never really thought about it from that perspective. Usually if I don’t want to think about something I just try to keep it from occupying my mind by doing other things. But maybe that’s why it lingers.

If you decide to think about it, the key is to still have the willpower not to act.
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Ann Cotilard July 27, 2012 at 5:57 am

Yes, it is very important to embrace the negative thoughts and urges since these can be able to let you understand everything and this can develop your personality as well.
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Vanessa Worth August 15, 2012 at 12:08 am

If we want to survive on this harsh world, in my own opinion we must not embrace our negative thoughts since it can give negative impact to our life. I have experienced it and I got a negative result on embracing these negative thoughts.
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steven September 21, 2012 at 6:41 pm

hi everyone 😉 i thought you might like to see a movie called WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW! very interesting its on netflix it will make you think alot! best wishes to all


Sarah April 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

After dieting unsuccessfully for years, I found this to be true as well. If I focus on what I need to give up it becomes my obsession. Instead I implement positive changes, redirects and rewards to myself, this in turn makes it easier to reach my intended goal…


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