Unwanted thoughts can cause plenty of frustration and distress. While actual mind control belongs in the realm of science fiction, you can work to change your mindset. It might take some effort to learn the trick of regaining control, but the strategies below can help:

Identify the thoughts you want to change
It goes without saying that you have to figure out what’s on your mind before you can begin to control it. Nearly everyone experiences discouraging thoughts or emotional setbacks from time to time. If you’re currently experiencing some life challenges, you might find it even harder to maintain control over spiralling thoughts or your overall mindset. Identifying specific thoughts and patterns can help you make the most out of the other tips that follow.

Accept unwanted thoughts
It’s human nature to flinch away from pain, so of course you’d prefer to avoid thoughts that cause distress. Yet pushing away unwanted usually just makes them more intense. Instead, try the opposite: Accept those thoughts, and let them in. Say you feel a little low because nothing in your life seems to be happening the way you planned despite all your hard work. Acceptance might involve telling yourself, nothing seems to be going right, and that’s discouraging. There’s only so much you can do to create change yourself, but giving up entirely isn’t the answer either. Acceptance can even offer clues as to why specific thoughts keep coming up. Acknowledging these fears allows you to confront them and remind yourself that you’re not to blame.

Try meditation
Meditation is a great way to get in the habit of accepting unwanted thoughts? You sit, you relax, but no matter how you try to clear your head, random thoughts keep popping back up to distract you from the calm you’re trying to achieve. The trick lies in learning how to sit with the thoughts you don’t want. You notice them, but then you let them go, which helps loosen their hold over you. And just like that, you’ve gained back some control. The more you meditate, the easier it becomes to let unwanted thoughts drift past. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, can help you become more skilled at focusing on things as they happen. As you become more mindful, you’ll notice you no longer need to constantly pull your awareness back from troubling or distracting thoughts.

Change your perspective
Self-talk can go a long way toward helping you change your mindset. When addressing yourself in the first person doesn’t seem to have much impact, try switching to a third-person perspective. For example:
• Instead of: “I feel miserable, but I’ve been through worse, so I can deal with this, too.”
• Try: “I know you feel miserable right now, but you’ve worked hard to cope with other challenges. I know you have the strength to face this new problem, too.”
Repositioning yourself as an outside observer helps create space from intense thoughts and emotions. Looking at a situation from this newly distanced point of view often makes it easier to see the full picture, not just the most immediate effects. Consciously choosing to examine situations from the third-person perspective helps you interrupt circling thoughts and explore your feelings. As you cast your mind back to the specific experience affecting you, replace questions like “Why do I feel this way?” and “What caused this to affect me so deeply?” with third-person questions: “Why does [your name] feel this way?” or “What about this situation triggered those feelings?” Changing your perspective helps trick your mind into considering yourself as another person, giving you distance from your own hardships.

Focus on the positives
Positive reframing is another reappraisal strategy that can help you regain control over your mindset. Positive thinking doesn’t mean pretending there’s nothing wrong, ignoring problems, or failing to consider helpful solutions. Rather, it involves putting a more positive spin on your negative thoughts — looking on the bright side, finding a silver lining in the storm clouds above. Reframing won’t change the actual outcome of a situation, but it can change the way you feel about your circumstances.

Try guided imagery
Guided imagery is a meditation technique where you visualize positive, peaceful scenarios to promote a calmer state of mind. Once you feel calmer, you might have an easier time maintaining a relaxed state and regaining control over your thoughts and overall mindset.
Get started with this simple exercise:
1. Get comfortable — sitting down works best — and close your eyes.
2. Take a few slow, deep breaths. You’ll want to keep breathing just like this as you create your visual scene.
3. Using plenty of sensory details, create a relaxing scene in your mind. Try to think of something that brings you peace, whether that’s the lakeshore at your childhood home, the well-trodden path at your favorite park, or a leafy, crisp autumn day. Fully develop the scene by including the sounds, smells, and the feel of the air on your skin.
4. Picture yourself wandering through the scene you’ve created, mindfully noticing your surroundings and taking in every detail.
5. Keep breathing slowly, letting the peace of the scene wash over you and help you relax.
6. Spend 10 to 15 minutes enjoying your image.
7. Finish the exercise with a few deep breaths and open your eyes.

Write it down
Expressing thoughts in writing may not change your frame of mind immediately, but it can help you improve control over unwanted feelings. The simple act of writing down a thought is often enough to reduce its intensity. It might feel scary to directly challenge and accept distress, but putting those feelings down on paper allows you to acknowledge them somewhat indirectly. Writing can help you get more comfortable with expressing difficult emotions. Eventually, those unwanted thoughts may trigger less of a fear response, and you might not feel the same distress when they come up.

Focussed distractions
You won’t want to distract yourself in every situation; it’s probably unwise to resolve wandering thoughts during a co-worker’s presentation by pulling up a game on your phone. In some circumstances, though, focused distractions can help redirect thoughts and improve your frame of mind. Positive distractions might include spending time with loved ones, listening to calming or uplifting music or taking a walk. Just make sure you’re using distractions as a temporary break, not complete denial or avoidance.

Manage stress
When circumstances out of your control add stress to your life, it often becomes more difficult to regulate your state of mind. Start taking back control by exploring key sources of stress in your life and seeking potential ways to remove or reduce those triggers. Most people can’t completely remove stress triggers. Stress often comes from outside sources. You can’t always control what happens around you. That’s where self-care comes in. Setting aside time to nurture your mind and body can promote improved well-being overall. It also makes it easier to bounce back from life’s difficulties with a more hopeful outlook. Self-care can involve getting quality sleep, eating nourishing food and social connection.