Tame Your "Puppy Mind": Getting Unstuck from Negative Thought Cycles
Updated: Nov 27
Brought to you by: Mental Gear Closet
On this beautiful Saturday morning, I find myself perseverating for 35 minutes on … a work issue from FOUR YEARS AGO at a job where I NO LONGER WORK. What?!
While this may not be a reflection of your weekend, you may relate to the hijacking of your mind by intrusive or stressful thoughts. Many refer to this as the “monkey mind.” A thought from your past or future pops into your head, and away you go. Needless to say I can relate.
After years of experience working through negative and intrusive thought cycles though both in and out of sport, this is what I've learned.
Like almost everything our bodies do, the seamingly useless ruminating about how I would now solve a conflict from years ago does serve some sort of purpose. It either offers:
1) Reinforcement or pleasure
2) A survival or learning opportunity
Take a moment to consider what my mind may have been trying to gain from the thought I described …
You’re probably right!
To add to that, I learned that my brain loves - even craves - solving mental puzzles. Undoubtedly, this is a quality that drew me into the field of therapy. Connecting to peoples’ stories and then weaving through the intricacies of their situation and personality to help them heal is exciting and deeply fulfilling. Put simply, my mind is like a puppy, hungry to explore and interact with the world. But just like a puppy, my mind finds whatever is accessible to “chew” on regardless of whether or not it’s helpful.
If I’m surrounded by stress, my mind perseverates on bad thoughts. If surrounded by my work and clients and hobbies, I focus on good thoughts. And when I run out of good thoughts, I switch back to the bad.
What do you think can be done in these situations?
Yep, you’re probably right again. Let me add three thoughts.
1) Put your “puppy” mind in front of the right “toys”
If surrounded by either stress or boredom you’ll most likely focus on this. Rather, try to find what changes to your environment, schedule, or daily routine redirect your mind to the kind of challenge or sensation you’re seeking.
Start by identifying what you want to feel more of. Is it calm and peacefulness? Energy? Connection? What you find to be positive or desired may be very different than for me.
Then, what would you need to add or eliminate in order to put yourself in this mental space for more of your day? For example, when I have nothing to do on a morning off my “puppy mind” runs wild. Doing something as simple as doodling on paper or tidying up your space can redirect it when it finds itself in stinky thoughts.
What would this look like for you?
2) Take a mental time out
This isn’t a normal time out. Rather than chastising yourself when pervasive thoughts come up, give yourself a time out from life to be totally in the feeling – to give the feeling space to run wild. You may let others know what you're doing so they don’t distract you, choose a preferred physical place to be, or even put it in your schedule.
But, when time is up, you must consciously and firmly redirect your mind to move on with your day. I recommend planning what your next task will be; otherwise it's easy to stay stuck on timeout longer than expected.
3) Stop sign
One strategy I sometimes use is to imagine a stop sign while physically and assertively saying out loud, “Stop!” The first time I heard of this technique I found it silly and unbelievable. There is no way something so simple would work! However experience has taught me otherwise.
Finally, while these are great simple strategies you can start using now, I strongly recommend checking in with a therapist or someone you feel comfortable consulting. Often, patterns and intrusive thoughts/actions in our life are like a fire alarm, alerting us to something deeper that needs our attention.