Don’t Do It! Professor Wegner Reveals Why Telling Yourself Not to Think About Something Increases the Likelihood of Doing It.

Ironic Process – don’t think of a white bear! Photo by Robert Anthony Carbone on

Professor Daniel M. Wegner has discovered a phenomenon that is surprisingly common – telling yourself not to do or think about something often increases the likelihood of actually doing or thinking about it. This phenomenon is known as ironic processing, and it has to do with the way the mind works under pressure.

When we tell ourselves not to do something, two mental processes are triggered – one conscious, and one automatic. The conscious process is in our awareness, and it searches for anything to think about other than the unwanted thought. The automatic process, on the other hand, is outside of our awareness and searches for the unwanted thought. This is where the problem lies – when under pressure, the conscious process may become overwhelmed, and the automatic process takes over and leads to the very thing we were trying to avoid.

This phenomenon can be seen in many forms – from those who swear off unhealthy foods only to find themselves craving them, to someone telling themselves not to mess up and they do exactly what they are trying not to do. Wegner’s research has revealed that the more we focus on not doing or thinking something, the more likely we are to end up doing or thinking it.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent this from happening. Wegner suggests reframing thoughts in a positive way and focusing on what you do want to do or think about, rather than what you don’t. He also suggests taking deep breaths and releasing the pressure. Taking a break from the situation can also help, as it allows us to take a step back and gain a new perspective.

So, the next time you find yourself in a presentation telling yourself not to do or think something, take a breath and remember Professor Wegner’s advice – focus on the positive and the things that you do want to think about, and don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure to avoid it.

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