How to Stop Thinking What You Can’t Stop Thinking About?   Leave a comment

No matter what I did, how careful I was, regardless of all the scenarios in my mind that I could possibly conjure and then safeguard against, it kept happening.   I’d pick a self park garage so no attendants could do a Ferris Beuler on me and take my car out the back door for a joy ride.  I’d straddle two spots so nobody could park next to me.  And, I’d always find an area void of other cars so there were ample places to park instead of right next to my vehicle.

But it made no difference.  Out of all the open spaces some idiot in a minivan would chose to wedge in right next to my car, dinging my driver door for good measure.  Or, someone would back out of a spot squarely into the rear of my car, leaving a series of sloppy looking scrapes exposing bare plastic bumper.  But my favorite is the non-sensical scrape on the hood I once found, as if for a moment someone attempted to park on top of my car and then realized it wouldn’t work.

And with  every scrape, nick and dent I would obsess about it for days.  I’d literally spend hours looking at it in all different lights hoping it might disappear on its own.  Rubbing on scrapes until some paint came off and it looked even worse.  Trying to find a similar paint colored marker and filling in scratches, which gave my car that Beverly Hillbillies look.  And when I couldn’t stand ruminating about the imperfection, I’d go in my house and obsess on how poorly my vehicle looks and how quickly I could get it repaired before anyone saw the damage.  God forbid my Toyota Solara was not in perfect condition!

Interestingly, the actual damage in many cases didn’t even warrant the cost of the repair.  But my mind was racing and all thoughts were of my now ruined automobile. This behavior had to come to an end.  I’m a fairly intelligent person and here I was out of my head about a tiny imperfection on my car.  It’s not like I was driving a brand new Ferrari.  And this had happened before and would happen again. However these intrusive thoughts could ruin my day in an instant making it impossible to concentrate on anything else.

So, I talked to my psychologist about it.  And, she taught me a new way of thinking. Let me be clear, its hard to change your thought process.  It just doesn’t happen because you want it to.  You have to practice.   And be forewarned, it can be painful.  You are training your mind to do something it is hard wired against.  Usually such obsessions show up in individuals with OCD, which makes it even harder to control your thought process.   Since OCD is an actual illness usually coupled with some type of bipolar disorder, it is even more difficult for these people to master. I can speak first hand on this.

To me at first it seemed utterly impossible. I was told to wait for the next imperfection to arise on my car.  Living in San Francisco, it didn’t take long.  My psychologist then asked me, “what would be the worst thing that can happen if you leave that scratch on your car and never do anything about it?”  To my amazement the answer was so simple…  Nothing.  My rational self said it wasn’t noticeable to anyone but me and didn’t effect the way the car drove or its functionality.  It probably wasn’t even worth the cost of repair.

It was suggested I just live with it for a while, so I did.  Eventually my irrational self stopped drawing my eye to the scratch like a magnet every time I saw my car.  After a few weeks I completely stopped noticing it.  It became unimportant.  I still wanted to take care of it, but I decided to wait until something noticeable happens and have it all repaired at the same time.

I started to use this type of thinking in other aspects of my life unrelated to automobiles.  I call it the “Worst Case Scenario” technique.  Just think of the worst case scenario of what is eating you alive.  If you realize it’s nothing tragic, make arrangements to rectify the situation or leave it alone.  Then move on to other things because you’ve done everything you can.  Ruminating on it accomplishes nothing.

Do not expect this to work overnight.  But practice eventually pays off.  So the next time you are going off the deep end obsessing about something minor which your mind is making very major, try the “Worst Case Scenario” technique. Then take the Mafia’s advice and “forget about it.”

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