You will hear a lot of fitpros talk about will power and focus and yet ironically this may actually undermine their clients attempts to change. When we tell people to focus on one aspect of behaviour and put thoughts of others out of their mind it ironically has the reverse effect. Wegner (1) coined the term, “ironic rebound”. His theory is that when you try to control the mind it introduces two processes. The first is an operating process that promotes the change and searches for mental content that is consistent with the new behaviour. The second is a monitoring process that runs tests to see if the operating process is required by searching for mental contents that are inconsistent with the new behaviour. The operating process requires a lot more cognitive capacity and is normally more dominant in terms of cognitive effect than the monitoring process. The two work synergistically to promote whatever level of mental control you initially enjoy. However, under certain conditions that reduce your cognitive capacity (stress, hunger, fatigue) The monitoring process gets the upper hand and this increases your sensitivity to mental content that is, ironically, the opposite of that which you intended.
If you want to test this theory then try this “don’t think about white bears, whatever you do get white bears completely out of your mind”. I’m guessing you now a very clear mental image of white bears. Understanding this and other aspects of how we psychologically make changes are key aspects of the new MI and behaviour change course. If you want to find out how to help your clients manage their lifestyle behaviour change then full details of the workshop can be found here: MI ONLINE WORKSHOP
Wegner, D.M. (1994) Ironic Processes of Mental Control. Psychological Review. 101, 1,34-52