And I worry about that. Such anxiety loops are common. My favorite is Steven Wright's famous: "I worry about getting performance anxiety."
It also can keep us awake at night.
This human frailty has profound consequences. Dan Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard, refers to the failure as an “ironic” mental process. Whenever we establish a mental goal — such as trying not to think about white bears, or sex, or a stressful event — the goal is accompanied by an inevitable follow-up thought, as the brain checks to see if we’re making progress. The end result, of course, is that we obsess over the one thing we’re trying to avoid. As Wegner notes, “The mind appears to search, unconsciously and automatically, for whatever thought, action, or emotion the person is trying to control. … This ironic monitoring process can actually create the mental contents for which it is searching.”
These ironic thoughts reveal an essential feature of the human mind, which is that it doesn’t just think: it constantly thinks about how it thinks. We’re insufferably self-aware, like some post-modern novel, so that the brain can’t go for more than a few seconds before it starts calling attention to itself. This even applies to thoughts we’re trying to avoid, which is why those white bears are so inescapable.
What does this have to do with sleep? For me, insomnia is my white bear. My conscious goal is to fall asleep, which then causes my unconscious to continually check up on whether or not I’m achieving my goal. And so, after passing out for 30 seconds, I’m woken up by my perverse brain. (Most animals lack such self-aware thoughts, which is why our pets never have trouble taking a nap.) [More]
I think this could be one reason many of us are starting to control what suggestions or stresses get introduced into our brains during the day. Once they have taken up residence...
Ignorance may not be bliss, but it may help you sleep better.