Here’s the beautiful paradox of Acceptance: If you accept all of your worries and intrusive thoughts instead of trying to fight them or be certain about them, you’ll gradually get rid of them. This is not the goal of Acceptance because there’s nothing wrong with those thoughts. But it’s a wonderful side-effect of Acceptance.

When you fight intrusive thoughts, you place value on them in your brain, particularly to your subconscious, the part of your mind that’s throwing these thoughts and impulses at you. Your subconscious is a lot like a poorly trained puppy that keeps bringing you disgusting gifts.

Unfortunately, we’re the ones who inadvertently trained our subconscious puppies to pee all over our work, rip up our favorite relationships and constantly bring us rotting thoughts that stink up our brains.

The subconscious puppy in your head likes attention. So whatever you give attention to, it assumes you like, and brings you more of that. Even if it’s something you hate, the subconscious puppy has no way of understanding that you hate it. Your subconscious puppy doesn’t understand English. It knows some words but it doesn’t understand what they mean. If your subconscious puppy brings you the thought equivalent of a rabbit carcass, and you yell at your subconscious puppy for bringing that dead rabbit into your life and you keep talking about how you never want to see a dead rabbit again and you list all of the reasons why dead rabbits make terrible gifts, and you try to throw the dead rabbit away, or you take it and hide it somewhere inside of you, well, your subconscious puppy is going to bring you two bloody, rotting rabbit carcasses tomorrow. Why? Because you spent so much time playing with the subconscious puppy yesterday when it brought you one dead rabbit, surely you’ll play with it twice as much if it brings you two dead rabbits.

Whatever you do, whether you like it or not, your brain will encourage you to do more of it, because if you’re not dying from something in the short term, the more primitive parts of your brain are programmed to assume it must be beneficial to you.

Whenever you identify a thought as negative, you paint a big bulls-eye on it and your brain is going to bring up that thought more and more. Negative things are dangerous things. Dangerous things can kill us. And your brain wants you to stay alive, so it wants you to avoid dangerous things. Once you identify an experience as negative, it’s going to find every chance it can to remind you of that experience, to remind you of how dangerous it is, so you can avoid it. But the more you avoid it, the more it’s going to believe that avoiding it is keeping you alive, and it’ll bring up those thoughts even more.

So prove it wrong. Another thing your brain loves as much as keeping you safe, is conserving energy. If you show your brain that something doesn’t kill you, it’s going to quit reminding you about it, because it has other things to spend energy on. Acceptance is a great way to show your brain that all of these worries in your head are literally not worth your energy.

This was an excerpt from The Acceptance Field Guide: Navigating anxiety and depression in an uncertain world, which explores how to practically apply the concepts of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to overcome anxiety and compulsive behaviors in your daily life.

The Acceptance Field Guide is available for $2.99 on Amazon: