Whether it’s a song you can’t stop singing or the memory of a painful break-up, the more you try to get something out of your mind, the more it seems to stick. Here’s why, according to the new book, White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: the Psychology of Mental Control by Daniel Wegner:

Wegner says trying not to think about something actually guarantees it’ll be on your mind.

For example, let’s say you’re trying not to think about a painful break-up. While one part of your brain is trying to distract you, another part has to remember what you’re trying NOT to think about. It’s a mental Catch-22 – so the thought stays fresh. The same applies to that after dinner snack. The more you try to control the thought, the stronger the urge to eat becomes.

So what’s the fix? For simple things like a song or a slice of cake, Wegner suggests going with the thought. Sing the song or say out loud: I really want a piece of cake. But a tougher memory - like a bad break-up - requires a slightly different approach.

Bend the ear of your best friend or write about the memory. The technique is called "habituation" – and it’s the reason why talk therapy gets people over negative experiences. It works because the more you examine your thoughts and feelings, it transforms them from emotional into something intellectual –and they lose their power!

If you’re ready to learn more, check out White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: the Psychology of Mental Control by Daniel Wegner.