Do You Have a “Sticky Mind”? Psychologists Explain How to Stop Assuming the Worst

Photo: Getty Images/JGIJamie Grill
The soundtrack to my mind is a never-ending loop of catastrophizing, planning, regrets, and fantasies about my next meal. Up until now, I've considered the cyclical nature of everything that happens between by ears as par for the course of being human, but there's an official term for characterizing a brain like mine, according to two psychologists. Apparently, my mind (and perhaps yours) is too "sticky."

Like a cinnamon bun drenched in sweet, heavenly icing clings to your fingers on a Saturday morning, a mind like this grips onto certain though patterns, write Martin Seif, PhD, and Sally Winston, PsyD, in Psychology Today. "Stickiness of the mind is the term we use for a biologically based trait that is experienced as repetitive looping thinking, a sense of getting mired in worry, a talent for imaginative flights into catastrophic images and thoughts, and a tendency for junk channels of the mind to get loud and insistent instead of simply flowing by," they write.

Those who've dealt first hand with this particular plight know that it's not nearly as fun as other sticky things (like cotton candy or the aforementioned cinnamon roll). However, the experts warn that trying to buck a grueling inner-monologue won't help. In fact, it might do more harm than good."[R]esisting these thoughts by arguing with them, distracting from them, trying to substitute other thoughts, seeking reassurance about them, recoiling in horror, or admonishing oneself simply results in their return or the intrusion of even more distressing thoughts," say Dr. Seif and Dr. Winston.

"Stickiness of the mind is the term we use for a biologically based trait that is experienced as repetitive looping thinking."

Chanting, "Stop thinking! Shhh! GTFO of my head!" to yourself is an example of what psychologists call a "paradoxical effort"—a futile attempt to improve a situation that actually makes it worse. So instead of starting a mental brawl with yourself, change your relationship status with your thoughts (à la meditation). That means taking an almost third-party stance on your thought patterns that allows you to find curiosity, and even LOLs, in whatever's running through your mind on a given day.

"Therapeutic Surrender starts with a shift in attitude which works indirectly to relieve the distress and limitations associated with having a sticky mind," explain the psychologists. "It helps to see thoughts for what they truly are—just thoughts—no matter what they are about nor how dire their content."

Let's save the stickiness for decadent desserts and sunscreen-filled summer days at the beach. Deal?

In case you didn't know, it's possible to "veto" thoughts that are no longer serving you. And if you haven't tried a complaint cleanse, here's why you really, really should

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