Why can't I control all of my thoughts?

I hope I am not alone in this situation: Usually when I have decided to stop the frantic rush of my day, I begin to ponder the great mysteries of our world. Anyway, what normally happens is at some point in time a thought will come into my head that I might not particularly want there. For some reason, once this thought is in my mind I can’t seem to get it out unless I am interrupted with something else. A common occurence for me is to have the numbers 1,2,3, and 4 to run through my head in all possible combinations for up to 15 minutes straight. I think I want to stop, but I can’t seem to. Any help?

This sounds like what can happen in cases of OCD. I’d see a doctor or mental health specialist, if I were you.

I don’t think I can be of much help in way of an answer, but thought I’d add what came to my mind upon reading this. It’s not exactly the same thing, but oftentimes I find myself counting footsteps, especially on stairs, and don’t even realize it until I’m around sixty or so… Other times I will play little games like “I must count backwards from 5 to 0 five times before that car passes” and I will become so obsessed with succeeding that I get scared of what will happen if I don’t. Of course, nothing happens, but the panic is there. This, however, seems more like an obsessive-compulsive thing than anything else. The way you describe your experience, though, doesn’t make it sound like you feel as though you MUST cycle through your thought – it simply continues and you can’t stop it… Hmmmm interesting stuff.

I have thought about this as well. From what I have read, it seems that obsessive compulsive disorder would really bother me, or drive me to some point of discomfort. I don’t really have a problem with this, it just makes me wonder why I can’t immediately control every thought I have. Also, are these thought originating in my brain, or my mind?

There are varying degrees of compulsive obsession. I don’t have, for example, a severe case where I’m constantly scrubbing everything clean of germs, and washing my hands once ever five minutes with bleach. But I do constantly “recheck” that I haven’t forgotten to lock doors, and thoughts enter my head and roll around until I can’t move, or until some outside stimulus breaks the cycle.

If your thought patterns do become a problem, affecting how you live your life, then seek a professional consultation.

I can’t answer whether the patterns you describe are either fromm the brain or the mind, I’m not a psychiatrist.

Hi, moejuck! Welcome to SDMB!

Your question is intriguing – especially since this doesn’t bother you. That would drive me nuts! Do you want to make it stop? That is a little unclear to me.

None of us, I think, can have complete control over every thought although sometimes the practice of meditation can help.

Do you think in pictures or words?

Zoe, thanks for the welcome.

I want to be able to make it stop if I choose. It doesn’t really bother me at this point. However, if it got much worse, I think it could be a problem.

I think that most of my thoughts would be in picture form. I have what I call a “slightly photographic” memory. I seem to remember things by what they look like, or where they were located on a page that I was reading. I don’t know if this makes a difference or not.

Nobody can control their thoughts entirely, so that part is not abnormal at all. If you’d like to have a more peaceful run of thoughts in the evening, try meditation. There are books on the subject, and if you ask around, you can probably find a class on it in your area.

I don’t know much about OCD, and I won’t leap to a long-distance diagnosis. There’s plenty of information on the subject out there on the web (and you can bet it’s orderly and organized.)

There’s an old cognitive therapy technique. It uses a principle of associative learning. I wouldn’t promise that it will work, but FWIW:

Put an elastic band around your wrist. When you notice your mind counting, pull on the band an let go. The snap will sting. The association of the slight pain with the counting might make your brain choose to stop (i.e. it will associate counting with pain). This might take a couple of weeks of daily practice to see an effect.

It might also help to try to re-focus your thoughts on something else after snapping your wrist.

I used this technique once to get myself to stop indulging in sad thoughts about my ex-girlfriend, and I think it helped. Your results may vary, however.

Being unable to control your thoughts in and of itself isn’t entirely abnormal. All of us have had experiences where your imagination goes wild and pictures monsters lurking ahead of you down a dark alley or hiding under your bed. And all of us have had a particular train of thought that we didn’t really want to continue. Just think “root canal” or “finger caught in slamming door”, and I’m sure you start imagining more than you really want to.

Second, being able to control all your thoughts wouldn’t really be to your advantage. Your brain automatically categorizes the persons, places, animals, and objects you see. Doing so helps you make sense of the world, and helps you to recognize possible sources or indications of danger. If you had to rely on conscious thoughts in order to do these things, it would take you a lot longer to make sense of your surroundings and delay your recognition of danger. This could definitely be harmful.

If your persistent thoughts aren’t causing you any problems (and you certainly don’t regard it as a problem), then there’s no reason to think a disorder like OCD is the cause. What you’re experiencing might be perfectly normal. Thinking endlessly about something might just be something your brain does at the end of a long, frantic day (as you called it). Maybe your brain is so used to thinking about something and juggling that information in your head that it can’t really stop, even after the workday is over. Instead of juggling sales figures or stock prices (whatever is relevant to what you do), it juggles whatever you can think of.

As I see it, throwing out conditions like OCD in situations like these only serves to make people a wee bit paranoid about their mental health. Unless it’s really bothering you or interfering with your social or professional life, there’s really no basis to say a psychological disorder is the culprit.

Some years ago i had this wierd thing where anytime i made a specific movement, say, moving a muscle or a twitch of my left eye and my left finger, then i should do exactly the same thing with my right eye and finger! if i failed, then i had to do it again with the left side to equalize them or something and this could go on for a while…
i know it sounds stupid but it puzzled me for a long time. I thought i was going crazy :eek:
At least it wasn’t noticeable!
And one fine day, i stopped it. :slight_smile:

People are talking about OCD a bit here. Remember, the categorization of having or not having a disorder are somewhat arbitrary. Just about everyone has mild forms of several mental “illnesses”. It is relatively common and not anything to worry about until it starts interfering with your life. For instance, you say that you stop when something distracts you. When you stop being able to stop until you are finished whatever ritual or thought process you are running, then you need to seek help.

Yeah, or you might equate the pain with numbers in general, and before you know it you have to ask someone else to do all your addition!

This happens to me sometimes too. I just consider it a glimpse into the inner process. The mind keeps track of all sorts of information when your not paying attention.

I do the same thing, DIMOSC. For example, if I am walking and my right hand brushes up against my side by accident, then I must do the same thing with my left hand to “balance” it out. Same goes for stepping on cracks with my left and right foot, and so on.

It seems to me that from what I have read above that I probably have a mild form of something, but that it isn’t a problem unless it starts to interrupt my life to the point that it bothers me.

Thanks to you all for the free psych. session.

In Zen it is considered fruitless to try to resist your stream of thought, instead let it continue and observe what happens. Your thoughts will eventually die down.

It might also be something to do with caffeine. Its a damn strong drug…

Meditation, breathing techniques and a great deal of effort are needed to still a busy mind.

Try this, sitting alone; quietly; doing nothing. Watch your mind fly around and when it becomes out of control take a deep breath and concentrate on a spot in front of you. with your focus on one place your mind will still, but it takes a great deal of effort to maintain it. As with anything, through practice you will be able to keep it still for greater periods of time.

Zen masters, buddhists and martial arts masters claim to be in a meditative state all the time…

A little tangential, but wasn’t there a Russian author (Dostoyevsky?) who started a club, the only membership requirement of which was to sit in a corner and not think of an elephant?