Why can’t I control my thoughts?

Did you know that on average you can have up to 60,000 thoughts per day? Think upon that for a moment. 60,000! This can be from the most boring and uninspiring, to the most shocking or cringeworthy, to those incredible eureka moments… So, realistically with all the advice, self-help books, memes, bio hacks and influencers, you’re never truly going to be able to control all of your thoughts all of the time - we are human after all.


Of these continual musings, it is thought that up to 80% of them are negative and 95% are repetitive. This doesn’t exactly sound like a healthy balance when considering our mental health, especially when our thoughts are the driving force behind the majority of our choices, actions, words and behaviours… Consuming negative thoughts, such as replaying scenarios and regrets, shame, blame, unhealthy comparisons, fear of failure or the future, can be debilitating, stressful and anxiety-inducing with resulting harmful physical impacts too, as well as death or suicide. 

Slightly depressing? Possibly. Yet, we can learn to control some of our thoughts by taking some responsibility, noticing and questioning them, reframing them, and taking action on them.

How to gain some control

Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts at some point. Even when these can seem bizarre, embarrassing, dark, devious or so ‘unlike you’ - that’s OK! These often pass. However, if you’re recognising unwelcome or unhelpful thoughts creeping in and taking over, looping, weighing on you, influencing choices, or fixing you in a permanent state, then, with a little practice and patience, there are ways of taming and reducing them…


It makes sense to avoid or remove yourself from things that may cause unease or harm. So too with thoughts. However, this can often have the opposite effect and make the feelings associated with them more intense. Instead, give space to the thoughts. Sit with them and begin to explore what’s going on for you.

  • Why is this thought significant for you at the moment?
  • What feelings does it generate?
  • What can you learn from it to understand yourself more?
  • Does this thought serve you? 


Following on from accepting the thoughts, altering your perspective might also be helpful as a way of gaining control over them. To do this, try observing your thoughts as though you’re a different person or an ‘outsider’ - this can give some distance and separation between yourself and your thoughts, allowing greater questioning and understanding of the situation. For example, if you were giving advice to a colleague or friend with these thoughts, what would you say?

Positively reframing thoughts and attitudes can be another constructive way of changing perspective, which is notably different from pretending nothing is wrong! This can enable self-compassion and learning to be kinder to yourself. For example, instead of thinking “I am unwell and unable to work, which will stop me from doing [insert list here!]”, you could say “I am unwell and unable to work, yet I know if I give myself time and look after myself I will recover to do [insert list here!]”. 

Mind full vs mindful

A mind full of thoughts can be a busy and tiring place to be. Learning and practising mindfulness (i.e. learning to remain in the present, with little or no judgement, to give a sense of peace) can aid in calming and reducing thoughts. There are now mindfulness apps, meditation music and videos, guided imagery to visualise and focus, simple breath work exercises, joining yoga class, or sitting quietly in nature.


A little bit of distraction can be effective in helping to control unwanted thoughts. Yet, it is important to note this is a temporary technique and not avoidance or denial. Suggestions include playing some calming or uplifting music, reading a book, gardening, taking a walk, calling or messaging a friend, visiting a loved one, reminiscing with photos, watching a film, getting creative, learning something new, tidying up or spring cleaning…


Practising daily gratitude can give a focus on the good things going on in and around your life, cultivating a positive outlook and lessening the grasp of negative thoughts. This could be from acknowledging the good-tasting coffee or wine to the people in your life, your home, health, the sun on your face, or a stranger’s smile. 

Get writing

The concept of journaling is relatively well known now with research showing that actively writing thoughts and feelings down can help ease the intensity, increase self-awareness and identify patterns and triggers. It can be a positive strategy in unloading the mind by removing the carrying of thoughts and placing them onto paper, which can then be kept or destroyed, depending on how you feel. 

Get talking

As mentioned, changing your perspective by sharing and talking through thoughts, can help to control them, and change their form, meaning, impact, or understanding. For some, this might mean seeking a qualified therapist, for others, this might mean talking to a significant other or a trusted person. There are also numerous charities, such as the Samaritans, to be called or messaged at any time of the day or night, whatever the circumstance. 

Controlling all our thoughts all of the time might be an impossible ask, yet what is possible is learning to understand some of our thoughts and how best they can be managed to keep us well and safe.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30
Written by Ysella Wood, Member of BACP ~ Dip.Couns ~ Golowhe Therapy
St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30

Ysella (also known as Izzey) is a counsellor and ecotherapist located in mid-Cornwall. She has a private practice called Golowhe Therapy working with individuals (young people, teens, adults) and groups, and offers the use of nature and the outdoors to support the therapeutic relationship, such as through ecotherapy and ‘walk and talk’ sessions.

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