There’s much we don’t know yet about the subconscious. Here’s an example of a strange phenomenon that is sure to lead to interesting future discoveries–eventually:
If you find you are obsessing on a thought, you can stop it with a simple rapid eye-movement technique. Here are the instructions, from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (by Davis, Eschelman & McKay) p. 132:
[When you are stressed by the thought,] keep your head still and rapidly move your eyes back and forth between two predetermined points. [Repeat] twenty to twenty-five times. You can rapidly move your eyes between two corners of a room or window, between one hand resting on each of your knees, or between two sides of a table. As soon as you start moving your eyes, stop concentrating on the stressful event, and let your mind go.
This bizarre technique actually works. I use it when I am obsessing about “things to do tomorrow” when I should be unwinding for the night or enjoying a swim.
Why does it work? Well, here’s what I observe, introspectively. I simply can’t do both things at once. I can’t both move my eyes rapidly and think about everything I have to do. When I take a few seconds to make the rapid eye movements, it feels like I have “flushed my buffers.” I break the vicious cycle of the thought feeding on itself. Once I break the cycle, the thought that was obsessing me is gone.
It turns out that there is whole school of therapy that uses this technique (in conjunction with specially targeted questioning processes) to help people process emotional trauma. Exactly how and why it helps is yet to be explained. There is some speculation that eye movement is connected to how we store memories or how we do high-level processing.
So, how should you deal with strange information such as this? I hope you won’t ignore it just because we don’t understand it fully. We know the phenomenon exists. Don’t take my word for it–you can try it yourself. Sometime when you are obsessing about something and know you should stop (but can’t seem to), try this rapid eye movement technique. There is no risk to trying it–and I have no doubt you will get the same introspective proof that it works that I did.
Until psychology advances much further, “try it and see for yourself” will be a necessary part of learning about the field. Your own introspective observation is a crucial source of evidence.
I’m glad to see The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Handbook cited. It shares a plethora of tips and strategies for achieving relaxation, many of which I have personally found valuable. These include this bizarre eye trick, which I also recommend people try. It’s truly something you need to see with your own eyes!
Yes, Daniel, it is!
Glad you’re sharing about this! The technique also works by just tapping your knees, alternately, back and forth, while sitting down. I think it’s the back and forth that helps the right and left sides of the brain integrate. The rhythm is also very soothing.
Also, the therapy you mentioned, if anyone is wondering, is called EMDR.
Thanks for the alternative. I don’t use explanations like “it helps the right and left sides of the brain integrate,” because I don’t see how that could be directly validated. But introspectively, I see that the eye movement definitely requires a rapid switch of attention that helps you break out of a context. I can imagine the tapping on the knees draws the attention similarly.