Harvard's Daniel M. WegnerWhen people undertake to control their minds while they are burdened by mental loads–such as distracters, stress, or time pressure–the result [will] often be the opposite of what they intend. …

Individuals following instructions to try to make themselves happy become sad, whereas those trying to make themselves sad actually experience buoyed mood.

When people in these studies are encouraged to express their deepest thoughts and feelings in writing, they experience subsequent improvements in psychological and physical health. (See also Resistance is Futile on this blog.) Expressing oneself in this way involves relinquishing the pursuit of mental control, and so eliminates a key requirement for the production of ironic effects. After all, as suggested in other studies conducted in my lab with Julie Lane and Laura Smart, the motive to keep one’s thoughts and personal characteristics secret is strongly linked with mental control. Disclosing these things to others, or even in writing to oneself, is the first step toward abandoning what may be an overweening and futile quest to control one’s own thoughts and emotions.


When we relax the desire for the control of our minds, the seeds of our undoing may remain uncultivated, perhaps then to dry up and blow away.


The Seed of Our Undoing by Daniel M. Wegner
From Psychological Science Agenda
January/February, 1999, 10-11.