Getting rid of nagging thoughts

How critical thinking skills can help you focus and not fret.

Nagging thoughts plague everyone. The problem is that they are rarely productive. They prevent us from thinking about the things we should be. Why? Because our minds aren’t always under our full control.

The way I get rid of nagging thoughts and anxiety is to address them. What am I afraid of? What can I do to avoid that? As soon as I have a plan to deal with the possible negative consequences, my brain relaxes and allows me to move forward with what I was supposed to be doing. This works every time and it’s very easy to do.   I have another blog post on why Proper Planning is Not Pessimistic, if you want to learn more (

Interestingly enough, the skill of questioning yourself and your motives is an essential aspect of critical thinking and freethought. Humanists practice them because they help us solve our problems, even if our problems exist only in our imaginations.

This rational approach to dealing with managing anxiety and worry only works if you have otherwise normal brain functions. If you are suffering from OCD, this won’t work.  OCD has a very strong genetic component and it is considered a disorder. Meaning people suffering from it aren’t able to control it without assistance from a professional. If you have OCD or suspect you might, talk to your doctor and seek professional help. You will be glad you did. Admitting your problem is beyond your ability to control is actually a relief as it puts you in a position to finally get your problem under control.

For everyone else – practice critical thinking. It really does help manage anxiety and worry rather well.

I’m curious to know what other people do to manage their nagging thoughts. Do you have a system that works well for you? If you do, please please share!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Jen! I agree with everything you've said here. These are good points. However, I'd also like to point out that, many times, nagging thoughts are nagging, specifically because they involve problems that cannot be resolved - at least, not at that time. We may want a solution really bad, or want a different solution than the one we know to be true. Yet, we currently lack the information we need to get there, or perhaps the information can't even be known at the time. Or, sometimes certain events must play out before we can complete our thought processes.

    In these kinds of cases, we end up "spinning our wheels" - rethinking the situation or the problem over and over. This can be a major source of aggravation and stress for many people. When we are suffering from these kinds of ruminations, the solution may be that we need less thought, not more.

    If we have identified a case where it is futile to run over the minutia of a matter repeatedly and no progress can be made, due to current data or conditions, then we should shift from 'contemplation' to 'meditation'. Here, the object is to learn to focus on the present moment and still the mind. With a calm, still mind and greater ability to focus our attention as our will directs it by conscious choice, we can think about what we need to think about, when we need to think about it, and *not* think in times or ways that are counter-productive and stress-inducing.

  3. Yeah - I was thinking about pointless worrying about hypothetical problems rather than real ones. Point taken, but even still, I find that if I address it and decide whether it is something I can do something about or whether I can't at the moment, that helps me put it aside in a kind of serenity prayer sort of way. Otherwise, it is in the background interrupting my current focus. Deciding that I am not working on it now seems to work. Sometimes it doesn't. That is where, meditation comes in and calming breathes and that sort of thing. So, yeah - agree. Though I would argue that calming yourself requires you to first figure out whether you can act on something in the moment or not.


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