How to stop thinking about things you want to stop thinking about

Image grabbed from clarabarm on Flickr

The other day at dinner, I asked my eleven-year-old niece what her earliest memory was. She mentioned going to Bohol and watching Dora the Explorer. I asked her what she remembered specifically, but she couldn't say.

I remember the connection between Bohol and Dora the Explorer. We were at Bohol Bee Farm, and we had gone down the cliff to the little hut on their wooden dock. Keona was probably two years old then, and she was just learning to speak. She knelt on the hut's floor, held on to the balustrade as if she were in prison, and cried out to the sea, "Ayudame!"

This was the time she'd speak snippets of Spanish, picked up from Dora and Diego. It was a funny period -- whenever she couldn't find anything, she'd tell her mommy to "Get the map!"

When we told her about this the other night, Keona said, "I don't even know what that means anymore." She's into manga now, and she's trying to learn some Japanese words.

While I know very well that childhood is the golden age for lifelong trauma, I also marvel at how quickly children can discard their old selves and create new ones. I'm generally happy to be an adult, but I wish I had retained the childlike ability to wake up one morning and just decide to be a different version of me, unencumbered by consequences and memories.

It's still probably as simple as just making the decision, but I've found that as I grow older, I often base my identity on past events. Of course, now that I'm wiser (ahem), I'm choosing to focus more on the life I want, not the life I've had or the life that has been, by default, given to me.

That conversation with Keona led to me digging up a link I'd saved from the writer Jonathan Carroll's website. To be honest, I've never read his books (he's a fantasy writer; it's not the genre I'd normally read first; I'm missing out on a lot, I'm sure), but I have been following his Facebook account and his posts on Medium because I love how he sees the world.

His post was an exchange on how to stop thinking about things you don't want to think about. You can read it here, but basically, it's about what you can do to stop thinking about things that make you feel bad, like heartbreak or fears or, in my case, past shame: SFS. Shrink, fade, swipe. Shrink the memory, watch it fade, and swipe it away.

I've been using that hack to forget some memories (many are embarrassingly trivial but have had such a huge emotional effect on me!), and it's been helpful.

Eventually, all this thinking about memory reminded me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which got me thinking twice about my wish to be able to erase memories when I was in my twenties and every heartbreak felt colossal.

I still have no desire to wipe out memories completely, especially after now enjoying the benefit of time. Nothing is quite as painful as they were when they happened, and I've developed a stronger capacity for pain and a richer appreciation of the seasons of life.

I don't mean to sound like an old woman -- I'm still figuring a lot of things out and there are days when I still feel evolutionally delayed -- but I've had a lot of time behind me now, and I'm finding out the wisdom in the advice I used to think was trite: "Just give it time."

So, from what I remember so far, here is how to stop thinking about things you want to stop thinking about.

1. Try the SFS method, but note that you'll need to do it several times.
2. Just give it time.
3. Remember that you wouldn't really want to erase all bad memories. Honestly, some of them are worth their weight.