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Let your thoughts play like a radio in the background

As human beings one thing that we do constantly is ‘think’. Thinking can be an incredibly useful tool. As I often say, there would be no works of art, no Eiffel Tower or no Internet, if we didn’t have this amazing capacity to think.

However, thinking can be problematic! Sometimes our thoughts are not very helpful. Where OCD and anxiety is concerned they can be of a very anxiety provoking nature often accompanied with a sense of dread. These thoughts can really be about anything but some examples include;

“I need to say this phrase over and over in my head to prevent Mum from getting sick”.

“I have to wash my hands until I ‘feel right’”.

“I can’t use a knife because I could harm my child”.

As I’m sure you can see, these thoughts can be very scary and when treated as biblical truth, as fact… it makes sense to act on them. To do the compulsive behaviour or to avoid the person/situation which may give rise those challenging thoughts and feelings.


So how can we manage these thoughts in a more helpful way? A way where they don’t interfere with our own purposes in daily life?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the thought that’s the problem, it’s our ‘response’ to the thought that is the problem! In other words, none of us have any control over what thoughts show up in our head or what urges show up in our body! They just seem to appear out of nowhere! Sometimes they can be of a ‘nice’ variety and at other times- they can be of a very distressing nature- as we discussed above!

Remember you are not at fault for the ‘nature’ of these thoughts! They just happen!


One strategy which has proved incredibly helpful in my own life and with the clients that I work with is learning to and practicing; letting your thoughts play like a ‘radio in the background’.

So imagine you are sitting in your favourite restaurant with one of your close friends. Almost always, in a restaurant or a bar, there is some sort of music playing in the background. It could be something playing through speakers or it could be a live band playing in the corner.

Generally, as you focus on your tasty meal and the flowing conversation with your friend, you barely notice that there is even any music playing at all! You are too engrossed in the conversation, you are enjoying your meal! All the while the music has been playing, it didn’t stop just because you weren’t paying attention to it- it continued to play! Yes, you may have noticed the music when your favourite song came on or the live band played your favourite Bon Jovi tune, but for the majority of the time, it played a way in the background while you focused on doing what mattered!

So how does this relate to managing difficult thoughts and feelings?

Well, just like the live band or the music pumping through the speakers- your brain will continue to play, whether you pay attention to it or not! Just like when you ‘tuned’ in to the music when it was a song you liked- you can ‘tune in’ to your mind when its playing a ‘helpful thought’, a ‘useful thought’, a thought which helps to move you in a positive life direction!

When the music isn’t to your liking, or even if the band start playing heavy metal- you can still ‘choose’ to put your attention back to your tasty meal and the conversation with your friend, even if ‘you don’t like’ or ‘don’t want’ the music playing!

In a nutshell, we can’t stop the scary, challenging thoughts and urges from showing up, but we can choose to let them play like a radio in the background, while we redirect our attention to what’s really important to us at that given time!

So I encourage you to give this a go, next time your mind is racing with those intrusive thoughts which scare and intimidate you- just let them play. You can’t stop them from playing (just like the lousy band) but you don’t have to give them your full attention and believe them like a puppet on a string!

Paul Mc Carroll

OCD & Anxiety Specialist

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