I think we’ve all wished for a memory reset button at some point or another.
An embarrassing moment we don’t want to recall, or a painful experience we wish we could move on from.
Perhaps the most challenging of all is the people we so desperately want to erase.
The ones who have let us down, left us feeling rejected, caused deep heartache and pain, or even just the ones we can’t get out of our head and its driving us crazy.
Ok, so there might not be a magic switch to turn off thoughts of them. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t practical and effective steps you can take to banish them from your brain.
Here is how to brainwash yourself to forget someone
Can you train your mind to forget someone?
Sometimes I think I am the breakup Queen. It has felt at times like heartache follows me around.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Although I would agree, in those moments of grief, the loss can feel overwhelming.
And it’s made a million times worse by torturing yourself with thoughts of them.
The reality is that it isn’t always a long term relationship either that creates this frustration. Sometimes I create just as much suffering for myself by constantly thinking about the crush that I can’t have.
I have literally spent months on end daydreaming about a guy who doesn’t like me back.
If only we could put a leash on our thoughts.
Luckily, my heartache can be to your advantage.
I’ve learned several practical techniques, along with all the do’s and don’t when it comes to forgetting someone.
So let’s dive in.
How do you force yourself to forget someone? 10 steps to take
1) Make time to process your feelings
I know you want them out of your mind, so this first step can feel counterintuitive.
But it’s a warning. Call it a disclaimer before we go any further. And it’s this:
Bury your feelings and they don’t go away, they’re just hidden below the surface.
Realistically there is only so long we can ignore our emotions. Any attempt to hide from them has a habit of coming back at a later date and biting you in the ass.
Just ask anyone who has ever thrown themselves into a rebound relationship after a breakup — only for the devastation they were trying to dodge to hit them like a ton of bricks 6 months down the line.
As much as we want to avoid pain, when it is already upon us we have to give ourselves permission to feel it.
I’m sorry. I know it sucks. Especially if you were hoping that erasing someone from your life is going to erase the pain.
There is a big difference though between creating space to feel and express your emotions and wallowing or indulging them.
The former is cathartic whilst the latter is destructive.
Let me give you an example from my own catalog of disastrous dating:
During a particularly bad breakup where the man I was living with cheated on me, I made a rule for myself.
I decided that I wouldn’t cry outside the house. That I would try and move on with my life and make an effort to move forward and do new things.
But I also promised myself I would turn to healthy outlets to help me process the perfectly natural rollercoaster of emotions that were coming up.
My own toolkit involved:
– Journalling — getting things on paper can stop thoughts going endlessly around your head.
– Talking to friends or family about how I felt — there is always someone who is willing to listen to you.
– Meditation — it was actually when I was trying to stop the incessant thoughts about a former love that I first turned to meditation. It helps to instantly calm your frantic mind and find some much-needed stillness.
Obviously, you can discover what works best for you. But the point is, don’t try to bottle it all up. Give yourself time and space to acknowledge your emotions.
2) Cut contact
You’re not going to forget someone who you still see or speak to. That also goes for following them on social media.
There is a good reason that people who want to move on after a breakup turn to the no contact rule. That’s because it gives you time to heal and create new memories that don’t involve them.
For years I made the mistake of trying to “stay friends” with an ex or former flame. And you know what I discovered:
It doesn’t work. Not if you are trying to forget about them.
It’s incredibly challenging to allow yourself to move on and no longer care when you are still putting yourself in painful situations.
You have to put yourself first.
If you want to move on from an ex, cut contact until you are truly over them. If you have a crush on a friend and it’s not reciprocated, it’s ok to step away from that friendship for as long as you need.
If you had a few dates with someone but it didn’t work out, yet you still can’t get them out of your head, you don’t have to trigger yourself by allowing them to pop up on your Instagram stories.
Sometimes block and delete can be the most appropriate form of self-care.
3) Change your environment
After my last big breakup, when my ex moved out, I moved all the furniture around.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the moment the door closed after he came over to collect the last of his stuff, I got to work doing some serious Marie Kondo reorganization.
You don’t have to dramatically change things. But the reason I think it works is that it helps you to:
1) a) create change and a feeling of a fresh start.
2) b) feel a bit more in control and like you are creating order.
Spring cleaning and tidying your space is a constructive distraction. It feels like you are welcoming in new energy and banishing old energy.
Have a clear-out, shift around your space, and remove momentos or reminders of this person.
Your decluttering of them can also extend to the digital world too.
Maybe you want to delete old messages, and remove pictures from your phone. Maybe you just want to remove their name from your contacts list.
4) Distract yourself
When I have too much time on my hands I overthink. Maybe you can relate?
Now is not the time to sit ideally and let thoughts overwhelm you. You need to distract yourself.
And there are many ways to do so.
Go for a walk, listen to music, and hang out with friends. Do things that you enjoy — whether that’s some kind of hobby or sport, going to galleries, reading or watching films.
But when you’re trying to forget about someone, it’s better to keep busy.
When someone is stuck in our heads, we end up making them the center of our world.
But going out and doing fun things that don’t involve them reminds us that there is plenty of joy to be found that has zero to do with them.
If you’re trying to get over an unrequited crush, put yourself out there and meet or date new people.
If you want to stop obsessing about your ex, get out there and make new memories that don’t involve them.
5) Drain the emotion out of your memories
During one of my breakups, I learned this really neat trick.
I read it in hypnotist Paul Mckenna’s book ‘How to mend your broken heart’. He shared some ‘how to forget someone psychology’ that helps you to move forward.
The most distressing thing when we can’t get someone out of our head is often the supercharged emotions we experience when thinking about them.
It’s not so much having this person in your head that’s the problem, it’s the feelings it creates.
After all, if you felt neutral about them, you wouldn’t care if you thought about them. And not caring is what means they most likely wouldn’t come to mind in the first place.
So learning to strip the emotion you feel from your thoughts of this person can help you to forget them.
Here’s the technique:
1) Think of a time you spent with this person
2) As you replay the memory in your mind, remove yourself from the scene. So rather than experiencing it as though you are there, zoom out and observe it as though it’s a picture and you are watching it from above. Keep zooming out until you feel less emotional intensity over the scene.
3) Now, rather than see the scene in color, picture it in black and white. Keep allowing your imagination to drain all the color until the picture becomes transparent.
The idea is to recode your memory and remove the emotional intensity you feel around this person.
Distancing yourself so that you observe it from the third person rather than putting yourself directly into the scene, and taking away the color, helps minimize those feelings.
Do this whenever you find yourself daydreaming about someone.
How do you erase a memory? The reality is that you probably can’t. But you can make it less painful by diluting the intensity of it.
6) Quickly stop thoughts that arise of them with this simple exercise
Seen as you are human and not a robot your thoughts are bound to run away from you.
Despite your best efforts, you are likely to realize that you have started to think about the very person you are trying to forget.
This means it’s easy to get caught in a loop that keeps you stuck in obsessive and repetitive thinking.
If you want to forget about them, your imagination can be your enemy.
In fact, there is a condition called aphantasia where some people are unable to vizualize things in their imagination.
As a consequence, people who don’t have a mind’s eye are usually much better at moving on. It seems the pictures we create in our minds can keep us stuck as we replay the past.
Instead of indulging, it’s important to cut off runaway thoughts of this person whenever you notice them.
Put a rubber band or some kind of elastic hair tie around your wrist and as soon as you realize that your mind has drifted, gently twang the rubber band.
Rather than being some kind of sadomasochistic act, it’s meant to to be a physical way of anchoring you back in the present moment.
It’s your body and mind’s cue to drop the thought you were having and bring your attention back to the now.
It might sound like a super simple trick, but I promise it really works.
7) Strengthen your self-love
When you’re dealing with trying to forget someone fast, it’s easy to become frustrated and even feel helpless.
I want to suggest doing something different.
Replace thoughts of this person with thoughts about yourself. Swap feelings of love or desire for this person with greater attention to your own self-love.
It’s something I learned from the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê. He taught me that the way to find love and intimacy is not what we have been culturally conditioned to believe.
As Rudá explains in this mind blowing free video, many of us chase love in a toxic way because we’re not taught how to love ourselves first.
So, if you want to move forward without this person, I’d recommend starting with yourself first and taking Rudá’s incredible advice.
8) Practice forgiveness
It’s an irritating fact of life that the things we try and push away have a nasty habit of getting even further embedded into our minds and lives.
That’s because we give it energy.
The struggle to be rid of it is what charges it and keeps it alive. Our desperation to be done with it ends up inadvertently fuelling it.
Neutrality and acceptance allow things to more effortlessly exit our lives without needing to force them.
When it comes to people, I find forgiveness is the best way to let go for good.
Strong emotions like anger, sadness, or disappointment are more likely to keep you locked in a cycle of thinking about someone.
That’s why feeling your feelings is an important step of the process that you can’t skip.
Learning to forgive them and yourself brings about healing that helps you to release thoughts of them.
Sometimes that means taking off the rose-tinted glasses and getting real with yourself.
Recognizing their flaws and your own, and accepting that we are all flawed human beings simply doing the best we can — but not always getting it right.
Sometimes you might think that there is nothing to forgive. But the truth is that sometimes it is the situation that we need to forgive, and not even a person.
We have to forgive life for things not working out the way we wished. We have to forgive ourselves for feeling whatever we feel. We have to forgive the other person for rejecting us, betraying us, or hurting us in whatever way they did.
Undeniably it’s a process, and it usually doesn’t happen overnight.
But as they say, “the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference”. If you want to be truly free of someone — forgive them.
9) Choose a story that serves you
I’ve always found the concept of the truth fascinating.
When I was younger, I was slightly obsessed with knowing the truth. I treated it as though it was this one undeniable universal thing.
But the older I’ve got, I’ve realized it’s not actually the case.
Certainly, when it involves any kind of subjective human emotion, there is no one truth.
One of the most painful aspects of dealing with things when they don’t work out the way we would have liked is the endless questioning of “why?”.
Why did they do this? Why don’t they want me? Why do they not feel the way I feel? Why did they betray me? Why did they leave me? Why did they fall out of love with me? Why did they treat me this way?
Whatever the “whys” we get stuck on, we’re unlikely to ever know the truth. Because the truth is way too complicated that it doesn’t really exist.
Instead we make up an endless amount of potential scenarios that we grasp onto. But we create more pain and suffering by replaying these painful stories in our minds.
So if there is no way of truly knowing the truth, I think it’s better to create a truth that serves you.
Let me explain:
I’m not saying to delude yourself or actively lie to yourself. I am saying find a story that feels good for you and stick to it. Get your story straight in your own head.
That truth might be “this is painful now but for the best in the long run. We once shared love together but it’s time to move on”.
Don’t then create more pain by second-guessing yourself and questioning whether you got it right or wrong.
Allow your feelings to guide you. Look for a story that helps you to heal and feel better. Then tell yourself it.
Personally, I even like to write this story out daily in my journal until the emotions I feel around someone start to dissipate.
10) Focus on your own personal development
If you want to stop thinking about someone, turn your thoughts to yourself.
Now is a great time to distract yourself with what is important to you in life.
That might be working on a goal or dream you have always had. Immersing yourself in learning something new. Pushing yourself into trying out a new skill or hobby for size. Or just doing something you enjoy.
It could also be looking at your strengths and weaknesses. What are your talents and skills? How can you use these to help you in life?
Or maybe it’s simply being grateful for all the wonderful things in your life.
The point is, whatever you choose to focus on, make sure it’s positive. And don’t dwell on negative stuff.
Sure, Netflix can be a great distraction in the short term to try to stop thinking about someone. But building and shaping your life to be bigger, better and stronger is a far more rewarding way of brainwashing yourself to forget somebody.
Be so wrapped up in yourself, that you don’t have time for them.
You’ll find that over time, you will naturally begin to notice less and less about the other person.
To conclude: How to brainwash yourself to forget someone
When you want to move on and leave thoughts of someone behind, then there are techniques that can support you in doing this.
But realistically, it can take time to fully forget them.
Maybe you’ve seen the film ‘Eternal sunshine on a spotless mind’? In it, a couple who have broken up undergoes a procedure to erase all memories of one another in a desperate attempt to forget each other.
But without the wisdom of those memories, they continue to repeat the same patterns, returning to one another and continuing their cycle of suffering.
My point is that whilst you don’t need to torture yourself by dwelling on someone, neither should you make it your mission to erase them completely.
All experiences we have, no matter how painful at the time, are valid. They add to the rich depth that makes us live, learn and grow through what we go through.