Circular Thoughts: If I Don't Want Them, Why Are They There?

Circular Thoughts: If I Don't Want Them, Why Are They There?
Adriana Díez

Written and verified by the psychologist Adriana Díez.

Last update: 13 October, 2022

First of all, in order to understand what exactly circular thoughts are, we’ll need to define them. Circular thoughts are ideas that appear in our minds that don’t lead to a solution but instead just stay there, going over the same subject over and over again without contributing anything constructive. They are mental traps.

Circular thoughts therefore prevent us from freeing up space to come up with new solutions or examine other points of view. They just go around and around as they plunge us into a downward spiral of suffering. They are dysfunctional thoughts because they don’t help us. In fact, they create negative emotions and mental “knots.”

Many of them are preceded by the famous “What if …”: What if I don’t get it right? What if I fail or it isn’t for me? What if this isn’t my chance? What if I’m rushing? What if they’re not my ideal partner? What if I don’t get it? These are questions that just prevent us from coming up with alternatives. They don’t contribute anything, instead just taking up too much room in our minds — and time.

Why do our minds insist on going over the same thing again and again? The answer sometimes lies in our fears and anxieties. Sometimes it has to do with the mental routines we’ve created, or maybe our brains just need to be active. However, instead of trying to make circular thoughts disappear, the best way of dealing with them is to find new outcomes and solutions. Let’s see how we can do this.

A sad woman with circular thoughts.

Set aside time for your circular thoughts

Here is a psychological technique used to help people get a handle on their circular thoughts.

  • First of all, distinguish between thoughts that help you and provide solutions — functional thoughts — and those that appear involuntarily and only waste your time and energy — dysfunctional thoughts. You want to encourage the former and discard the latter.
  • Then devote a specific period of time each day to having your unhelpful thoughts. Whenever a circular thought pops into your head, divert your attention and let it pass. Later, at that specific time, focus on it.
  • During this time, repeat the thought over and over until it loses its power or you realize its uselessness.

This technique will enable you to stop thinking about what you don’t want to think about and to focus on something more productive.

A woman free and happy in the outdoors.

Direct your mind towards what you want

We own our thoughts and although thoughts sometimes appear almost without us realizing it, we have the power to decide what to do with them. The key is to be aware of them and learn to identify which of them do us good and which of them, on the contrary, set us on a spiral of suffering. We are responsible for granting them power as well as for taking it away. We choose when we listen to them.

As you can see, circular thoughts don’t result in new solutions, so by reducing the time and importance we give them they lose their power and go away. Setting aside time for them can actually help us focus on what we want to achieve and not on unproductive thoughts that just slow us down.

Circular thoughts are not good travel companions on the journey of life. Let’s take away their power. Let’s not forget that we are the ones who decide what to do with our mind. We are in charge of the value we give to what we think. And we own our time and our mind. We own our thoughts.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.