How To Distract Yourself When Obsessed By An Idea

Updated March 18, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

Our minds are beautifully complex, and often taken entirely for granted. As busy as our brains are each day, taking care of every movement, thought, or word we say, when not occupied with tasks that challenge it, our minds become bored. When our minds become bored, we tend to focus on the inconsequential and we often leave our minds vulnerable to negativity and self-doubt. In fact, our minds are not unlike a puppy who heads for the trash bin when bored. When left to its own devices our minds will seek out the trash in our lives and spill it all over our nice clean floor.


Proactivity Helps with Inactivity

The best way to avoid nagging negative thoughts is to keep our minds busy with purposeful thinking. Even if we are watching television, it should be with purpose. Instead of channel surfing spend television watching time engaged in a program that makes you think, makes you feel, and one that involves you as a person. When reading a book, have a pen handy. Write in the margins, asking questions, underlining passages, and highlighting quotes that are meaningful to you. Avoid the habit of simply scrolling and clicking on social media. This is a habit I compare to my cat rolling all the toilet paper off the roll. He does this when he is bored.

When we engage our bodies in an enjoyable or otherwise physical activity, our minds also become engaged. Walking in the neighborhood or city streets, through historic areas, or even on hiking trails will engage our minds in purposeful thought. Walk in an area that makes you feel uplifted, where the sights, sounds, and smells are pleasing. If you live near a small town square walk early in the morning when the smell of coffee and baking bread fills the air. Greeting the shop owners and delivery persons as they begin their day will create a sense of connectivity.


When a nagging or obsessive thought or idea comes to mind, engage yourself physically in an activity that involves the whole self. If at work and sitting at a desk or work area and it is possible to take a break, take a brisk walk, breathe in and out deeply. Physically shake off the nagging thought. Envision a dog shaking off water. There is a reason for the old saying, "Like water off a duck's back." It works. Try it.

Checking Off to Avoid Checking Out

The best way to avoid nagging and persistent thoughts is to keep our minds actively engaged. Sometimes our thoughts may be of tasks we have avoided, paying a bill, calling a friend, cleaning the fridge. Take care of these things. Check them off the list. Declutter your mind and get on with your day, with your life. The things we do not take care of will begin to reek, like the discarded wrapping to last night's fish. The smell draws the attention of our puppy brain and we keep slapping it away, but the smell persists until we take out the source and discard it.



We all have nagging or persistent thoughts. Generally, it is either because we are bored or we have not taken care of a life or work detail. Most of the time we can rid ourselves of these thoughts by engaging our minds, or taking care of business. For some, this may not be so easy. For some, no matter how hard they try their minds cannot let go of an obsessive thought or idea. When someone has persistent or obsessive thoughts, it is uncomfortable and it can interfere with daily functioning and relationships. It may be time for that person to seek out professional help to get to the source of the obsessive thoughts, and learn strategies to help cope with them.

If you or someone you know just cannot seem to let go of a persistent idea or thought, it may be time to seek help from a qualified, licensed mental health professional.

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