Do not think of a pink elephant

Oh dear. Did you manage to think of a pink elephant even though I told you not to? Now I’ve mentioned it twice it’s very difficult for you not to imagine a pink elephant. But that’s precisely what I want you to do – pause, deep breath now….do not think of a pink elephant.

Trying not to do something is often easier than trying to do it. It’s easier for you to think of a pink elephant if I tell you not to do it than if I tell you to do it. This is because in order not to think about it your brain has to suppress the thought. And stopping thoughts takes up more brain processing power than generating the thought in the first place.

So, preventing yourself from thinking things is actually difficult, which as it happens is quite important in terms of the Internet. Everyone of us has mental “baggage” – stuff we carry around in our heads that we would rather not. It may be negative experiences of some kind, it might be difficult or stressful times at work, or it could be relationship troubles. But what we tend to do is try to keep all that material “locked away”. We try not to think about it. And that’s hard.

Millions of people are using up considerable amounts of psychological processing power in attempting to stop themselves from thinking about those events and experiences they would rather forget.

Luckily though, human beings have developed a way of getting rid of the problem – sharing the secret thoughts or experiences with other people. Sometimes it might be a family member, a close friend, or even the hairdresser. But as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. And indeed this appears to be true. Once you have “let out” your secret or concern to someone else your brain no longer has to commit all that energy to stopping thinking about it. Hence you feel much more free.

But when you “tell all” to your hairdresser they take part – it’s a two way situation. This means you are aware of their reaction to what you are saying and you give more or less detail as required by their reaction. In other words you don’t go too far.

Now, though, many people are using blogs and so on to share their secrets and innermost feelings. The problem is, says Psychology Today, that people don’t know when to stop because that monitoring process that occurs face to face, preventing you from revealing too much, simply doesn’t happen online. The result is that blogs can often go too far, revealing too much.

The private self is not so private any more thanks to blogging and other new technologies, such as social networks and forums. So we clearly need to take more care. Blogging may have therapeutic capabilities as it enables you to offload some of your thoughts you were trying not to bring to mind too much. This allows you to free up your brain for more important tasks.

The danger is in the way people will react to you. In a face to face situation you would be able to stop things going wrong. But online you can’t easily do that, so you could offend or upset your readers, without care.

There’s only one way to be sure about these things – testing. If your blog contains material that is revealing something about you on a personal basis, it would be best to get it checked by someone who already knows you well. In other words, even therapeutic blogs need editors. Not for the text itself – but for the author’s benefit.

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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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