Is there a term for unbidden standard thoughts? Can I train myself to stop thinking them?
December 15, 2003 2:20 PM   Subscribe

When I perform some everyday tasks, or walk past certain locations, I think the exact same things every time. It isn't just me, is it? Is there a term for these unbidden little standard thoughts, and can I train myself to stop thinking them? [examples inside]

For example: every time I walk past the local bakers, my mind recites verbatim a conversation I had with the woman behind the counter on the day Labour won the 1997 general election. Every time I make toast, I use a special buttering method (!) taught to me by my Grandad, and my mind first repeats the time I was taught, then the time I told a friend about it sometime in 1996, and then - for a touch of meta-whatever - I always think about why I'm thinking about all this yet again in exactly the same terms as when I first noticed the phenomenon.
posted by jack_mo to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've had that happen before. Can't help answer your question, really, but I can at least help verify that it's not just you. :-)
posted by oissubke at 2:28 PM on December 15, 2003

Oh, it's not just you! I can't find a non-alarmist link, but consider mild Asperger's syndrome. It's a predominantly male thing; think record collectors, train-spotters, Trekkies, etc. Just be aware when the compulsions force you to walk past the bakers, etc., for that's when your falling into obsessive-compulsive territory, and might need some help.
posted by punilux at 2:41 PM on December 15, 2003

and one of my obsessions is correct grammar
**wanders off to re-count the number of footsteps to the bathroom**

posted by punilux at 2:47 PM on December 15, 2003

I did this a lot in high school, and forced myself to be aware of what was going on: using your example, if I was approaching the bank I'd force myself to think of something else - anything else - and if my mind tried to wander to that conversation I'd try to recall something else about that day, or focus on some other stimuli in the area.

I never considered it an obsessive-compulsive behavior, but at the same time I found I was getting annoyed that the same thoughts kept coming back. I figured I was smart enought that I was capable of thinking about all sorts of other things, and after awhile the triggered memories went away.
posted by jazon at 2:48 PM on December 15, 2003

That happens to me all the time. It's like deja vu except instead of thinking "I've been here before" you're thinking "I've been in a situation like this before and I thought this" [or heard this or saw this &c]. It's like a sense of place/event/though overlap. Whenever I look at pie in a pie carousel I remember the same waitress at the Stow Airport who showed me how to open a pie carousel. When I smell diesel exhaust when it's snowing out my mind always goes back to one image of my dad starting the snowblower when I was a kid. It's not like a memory in that, for me, I'm not thinking "oh, I remember this" it's more like an image that snaps into my mind without my willing it to. I also count stairs as I climb them, pretty much always, so maybe there is something to that obsessive thing.
posted by jessamyn at 2:51 PM on December 15, 2003

The trick is using this to improve your memory - this location idea association is how the best memorisers in the world work ^_^

I would provide links, but I'm sleepy.. A quick google search should turn it up - helps you to remember a massive amount.
posted by Mossy at 3:02 PM on December 15, 2003

One way of looking at it might be as an instance of anchoring. An anchor is basically a unique stimulus (such as walking past a certain location), which is linked to a particular state of mind...and that can very much include state-dependent memories such as replaying entire conversations, etc.
posted by Tholian at 4:27 PM on December 15, 2003

I don't have much to add, except that this happens to me too. But I'd be very interested in knowing more about this:

"Every time I make toast, I use a special buttering method (!) taught to me by my Grandad..."
posted by grumblebee at 5:23 PM on December 15, 2003

I have taken three exams so far this semester, and I have felt far more comfortable in the two that were in the same room as the lecture was, and even more comfortable today when I sat in roughly the same seat as I always have. I take the "Where were you when xxx happened" to a pretty intense degree - like where was I when we talked about accomplice liability, or where was I when I got called on in contracts.

You probably have a visual memory - if so, congratulations. It comes in extremely handy.
posted by PrinceValium at 6:52 PM on December 15, 2003

I get this, plus I get deja vu pretty regularly, plus I have been diagnosed with ocd. To me, they are all related, almost like the mind is stuttering--spitting out the same thoughts over and over again.

At this point in my life, it's just amusing. I haven't found a way to retrain myself, really, so I just learned to see the humor in it. As long as I don't cross over into tourette's territory, it's all good.
posted by whatnot at 8:59 PM on December 15, 2003

See also Eliot's concept of the objective correlative, a common -- and also commonly deprecated -- narrative technique. An obvious example is the necklace in Titanic. (See also ticketstubs, actually.)

A woman with whom I was ever so briefly, unrequitedly smitten years ago lived on a certain east-west street in Chicago. Very often, driving north-south in completely unrelated neighborhoods, without any conscious attention paid to the street signs, I would find myself looking directly at the overhead sign for her street -- again.
posted by dhartung at 1:19 AM on December 16, 2003

On the historical uses of this technique to improve memory, read Dame Frances Yates' The Art of Memory. A Google search on "art of memory" should also yield some interesting results.
posted by rjs at 2:39 PM on December 16, 2003

Response by poster: Cheers everyone. Every time I see green from now on, I'll no doubt remember your advice and information.

For grumblebee: Slide knife into first slice of toast, from the bottom edge, so as to warm it for easier buttering. Butter first slice. Slide knife into second slice of toast, so as to clean away crumbs that might end up in butter, and to re-warm it for easier buttering. Butter second slice. Eat toast. Best piece of advice I've ever had, come to think of it.

Also: You probably have a visual memory - the exact opposite, funnily enough. I'm not convinced by people who 'see' images when remembering things.
posted by jack_mo at 6:46 PM on December 16, 2003

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