Sunday, December 20, 2020

How can you declutter your mind? New study offers clues


News Release 17-Dec-2020
University of Colorado at Boulder


"Let it go." "Think about something else." "Clear your head."

In our attempts to de-clutter our busy minds and make room for new, often more productive thoughts, people tap an array of different approaches. Which works best, and how does each strategy distinctly impact the brain?

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Texas have taken a first stab at answering this question, combining novel brain imaging with machine learning techniques to offer an unprecedented window into what happens in the brain when we try to stop thinking about something.


Afterward, participants were told to: replace the thought ("replace apple with mountain"); clear all thoughts (akin to mindfulness meditation); or suppress the thought (focus on it and then deliberately try to stop thinking about it). In each case, the brain signature associated with the image visibly faded.

"We were thrilled," said Banich. "This is the first study to move beyond just asking someone, 'Did you stop thinking about that?' Rather, you can actually look at a person's brain activity, see the pattern of the thought and then watch it fade as they remove it."

The researchers also found that "replace," "clear" and "suppress" had very different impacts.

While 'replace' and 'clear' prompted the brain signature of the image to fade faster, it didn't fade completely, leaving a shadow in the background as new thoughts were introduced. 'Suppress,' on the other hand, took longer to prompt forgetting but was more complete in making room for a new thought.


Hit a wall on that report at work? Let it go for a while.

"People often think, 'If I think about this harder I am going to solve this problem.' But work by clinicians suggests it can actually give you tunnel vision and keep you in a loop that is hard to get out of," said Banich.

[Been there myself.]

In a counseling setting, the findings suggest that to fully purge a problematic memory that keeps bubbling up, one might need to deliberately focus on it and then push it away.


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