How To Stop Thinking About Someone In 15 Simple Steps

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woman thinking about someone

Have you ever found that you just can’t stop thinking about someone — what they did or said, and how bewildered or hurt you were by their actions?

When someone hurts us, our children, or someone we love; gossips behind our back; or simply acts in ways that confound us, we can focus on it for hours or days.

We’re washing dishes, driving, or walking the dogs and we can’t stop thinking about how the things the person said were unkind, untrue and self-centered; their image and their words keep resurfacing. Five hours, five days, five weeks later, there they are: We see their face in front of us, even if we haven’t seen them in person during this time.

(To be clear, I'm not addressing how people deal with trauma or abuse here — situations that require professional help and intervention. I'm talking about day-to-day interactions we have with others that leave us mentally sputtering.)

How can you stop thinking about someone — what you should have or could have done differently — when the same thoughts keep looping back, rewinding, and playing through your mind again and again?

Or maybe, for you, it’s not about a person. Maybe it’s about what you got or didn’t get, what you need but don't have, or what isn’t right in your life. Usually, there is a person involved whom you feel deserves blame for whatever is wrong.

But all of this is toxic cyclical thinking, and most of us know that it is emotionally and physically harmful to us.

Studies show[1] that a ruminating mind is an unhappy and unhealthy mind. When our monkey mind is unhappily fraught with replaying altercations, resentments or losses, we trigger harmful inflammatory responses in our bodies.

Scientists can increasingly pinpoint how ruminating plays a role in depression, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, asthma, and heart disease. The stress chemicals we wallow in are far worse for us than the event that brought them on in the first place.

Plus, toxic thinking doesn’t feel good. It’s like getting caught on a spinning, centrifugal-force ride at the fair that was fun for a few turns, but now makes you feel sick (literally).

You want to get off — but you can’t.

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We work so hard to remove toxicity from our lives: We buy organic, we avoid unhealthy foods, we remove chemicals from our home, we eat green, and we clean green. But we put very little concerted effort into trying to go green in our minds. So what is the green solution for toxic thinking?

Here, I share some insights on how to stop myself from spinning stories, ruminating, worrying, and replaying thoughts about someone or something.

These 15 small but powerful ideas work for me, but of course, you should choose the ones that resonate most with you. Many are based on teachings from leaders in mindfulness practices in psychology.[2]

How to stop thinking about someone

1. Apply the "no contact" rule.

"Less said, more time." This is my own personal motto. Saying less and letting more time pass when we’re dealing with a difficult, reactive person is almost always a smart move. It allows us to simmer down, let things go, and take the high road.

Also, by not contacting the other person, we aren't inviting them into our thoughts, including their input on the situation. We're left to come to the conclusion that's healthiest for ourselves.

2. Give it time.

You've probably heard this before and, of course, it's easier said than done. But it's often said because it really works. We sometimes feel the need to respond and react to difficult people or situations right away, which is why we stew over what to say or do next.

Buddhist psychologist Sylvia Boorstein suggests that instead we simply give ourselves permission to wait and see what happens next. And, as it has been said before, time really does help us heal.

3. Don't obsess over who's to blame.

Ultimately, this is beside the point. Picking apart past events and trying to assign blame (including blaming yourself) is rarely productive. Bad things and misunderstandings most often “happen” through a series of events, like a domino effect.

No one person is entirely to blame for the end result. In the end, it doesn't matter whose fault it was — the fact of the matter is that life goes on, and you should, too.

4. Unfollow them on their social media and delete their number.

If you continue to follow them on Facebook or Twitter, it's easy to be tempted by just one post. Suddenly, you can't stop looking at everything they've been up to recently, and you only feel worse.

This goes for technology, too. If you get stuck looking at old text messages, this can cause you to spiral, too, and it will be impossible to think about anything not related to them.

5. Allow yourself to honor your emotions, process them, then set them free.

Buddhist meditation teacher Norman Fischer suggests that no matter what’s happened, the biggest problem we face is our own anger. Acknowledge how you're feeling so you can process it.

You can write in a journal, talk to a good friend, go on a long walk, or do anything else that helps you. Whatever you do, don't let yourself sit in your pain and anger. Once you've processed how you feel, give yourself permission to let it go.

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6. Develop new hobbies — or rediscover old ones.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is force yourself to think about anything else. Hobbies are a great way of keeping yourself distracted while enriching your life, cultivating new skills, spending quality time with others, and even spending quality time with yourself.

With a new hobby, you may find out something new about who you are and what you really enjoy most in life. Whether you're investing time in a new hobby or one you already love, it's always time well-spent.

7. Don't fixate on someone's motivations — you'll probably never know for certain and it won't matter anyway.

“Don’t try to figure others out.” This is another Norman Fischer teaching. Ask yourself: If others tried to figure out what you’re thinking, or what your motivations are, how right do you think they’d be?

They probably wouldn’t have a clue as to what’s really going through your mind. So why try to figure out what others are thinking? Chances are extremely good that you would be wrong, which means all that ruminating was a colossal waste of time.

8. There's a difference between the facts of what happened and the emotions they made you feel.

This can be difficult, but don’t treat them as if they are the same thing. In other words, don’t believe everything you think, based on how it made you feel. We experience our emotions—anxiety, tension, fear, and stress—keenly in our bodies.

Our emotions are physical. We often take this as a sign that our thoughts must be facts. How could we feel so bad if our feelings weren’t true?

Tibetan Buddhist Tsokyni Rinpoche teaches that when we’re emotionally hijacked by worry, regret, fear, anxiety, or anger, we must remember that the emotional and physical state we experience is “real but not true.”

9. Look beyond this experience to achieve personal growth.

Insight Meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach suggests that when we are locked in anger, taking offense over something said or done, making judgments, or fuming over how we were treated, we add to our own reservoir of suffering.

An event + our reaction = suffering.

When we’re able to be present with our feelings and inquire why we’re experiencing such a strong reaction and what our feelings tell us about ourselves, that’s a learning opportunity.

An event + inquiry + presence = growth.

Center your thoughts on growth.

10. Decide how much meaning this person brought to your life and if any of it is even left now.

We place a lot of importance on the people we have in our lives, but we do not distribute it equally, and not all of the people in our lives are equally meaningful to us

Sometimes, that can be difficult to see. We may mistake a meaningful presence in our lives for financial security, status, or something else that doesn't truly add meaning to our lives

We may also find that, as time goes on, someone may have had great meaning to us in the past, but no longer does. Think of the experiences you had with this person and whether they added meaning to your life before you let yourself be consumed by them.

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11. You can't change the past — accept this, so you can move forward.

When we churn over past events, we often search for how we might have done things differently to prevent a crazy altercation or regrettable outcome. But you aren't a time magician.

What happened yesterday is as much in the past as what happened a thousand or more years ago. We can’t change what took place way back then, and we can’t change what happened a week ago. However, we do have some control over our future.

12. Forgive, so you can have closure.

Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield teaches, “It is not necessary to be loyal to your suffering ... focusing on the trauma of ‘what happened to me.’ Yes, it happened. Yes, it was horrible. But is that what defines you?”

Forgiveness is not something we do just for the other person. We forgive so that we can live free of the acute suffering that comes with holding onto the past. Kornfield teaches, “Forgive for you.”

This will help you to move on from the feelings of betrayal, injustice, and otherwise having been wronged that you can't stop turning over and over in your head. It allows you to close this chapter and begin the next one.

13. Practice meditation.

Here is one image that works for me every time: Imagine that you are at the bottom of deep blue ocean watching everything swim by. Watch all of your thoughts pass by you. "Imagine that you are the deep, calm, blue sea.”

I always relax when I hear this.

14. Practice mindfulness by sending them thoughts of love and kindness.

Intuitive Medical Healer Wanda Lasseter-Lundy suggests that when you can’t stop thinking about someone who’s hurt you, “Imagine yourself sending them a beautiful ball of white light. Place them in that ball of light. Surround them with it, holding that white light around them, until your anger fades.”

Try it; this really works.

15. Take a 90-second timeout from whatever you're doing and practice deep breathing.

To control your emotions, you first have to break your thought pattern. Neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel says, “After 90 seconds an emotion will arise and fall like a wave on the shore.”

It only takes 90 seconds to shift out of a mood state, including anger. The next time you find yourself stuck thinking about the other person, stop whatever you're doing and give yourself a 90-second break — about 15 deep in and out breaths — to let that emotion cycle through rising and falling.

When you take these timeouts, you’re breaking that holding pattern—and the hold your thoughts had on you.

Now doesn’t that feel good?

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Donna Jackson Nakazawa is an award-winning researcher, writer and public speaker on health and family issues.

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This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.