The technique of thought stopping, also called thought blocking or thought stopping , was invented by Bain in the 1920s, and adapted and developed by Wolpe in the late 1950s. It is an effective self-control technique for reducing or avoiding ruminative thinking.

In this article we will know exactly how it is applied, its characteristics and the objectives pursued by the technique.

Thought-stopping technique: what is it?

The thought-stopping technique consists of interrupting ruminative thoughts through an associated word. In other words, and according to Wolpe, the person is trained to end up excluding any ruminative thought (undesirable or unproductive) even before it is formulated.

All this leads to reducing the chain of thoughts that are accompanied by negative emotions; thus, negative emotions are “cut off” before they can arise.

Ruminant thinking

The technique of stopping thinking is a type of exercise that is applied when we have ruminative thoughts (rumination), that is, when we go around things without reaching conclusions, only going over in detail what concerns us in a totally dysfunctional way (since we do not obtain solutions, we only “think” in a kind of vicious circle.

In other words, ruminative thoughts are unwanted thoughts that are continuously repeated in our head and lead to unpleasant sensations ; they even affect our state of mind. The ruminative thinking style is common in some disorders such as depression.

How is it applied in therapy?

The technique for stopping thought consists of the following: first, when we are at the beginning of rumination, we should go to a quiet space where we cannot be disturbed (for example, a room). This is advisable the first times, but that when we have already acquired the practice, it will not be necessary to “isolate” , and we will be able to put into practice the technique of thought stopping in almost all environments or contexts.

Once we are alone and calm, we will devote ourselves to thinking intentionally (or unintentionally, letting it “flow”) in that thought that disturbs us so much. We will try to focus on it, instead of trying to avoid it , ignore it or run away from it.


We will focus our attention on him (even if our anxiety rises), and stay that way for at least a minute. Just when the thought is at its “peak” and/or the anxiety or fear is intense or even unbearable, we will shout out loudly the word “Stop!

Other words can also be used to serve us; the important thing is that in saying them we realize that all those thoughts in our mind stop. The final objective is to associate the action of shouting “X” word, with the stopping of the thought .


Once we perform the procedure, we will leave the room or the place where we are. If the technique of stopping the thought is applied correctly and systematically, we will gradually realise that after shouting the word, we feel slightly more relaxed , and that the thoughts have really stopped.

It is also a matter of being constant and acquiring a certain amount of practice; the mind must get used to it and associate these two actions.

After all this, we will have to go back into the room or place we have chosen, and repeat the process. This time, we will say the word in a slightly lower tone. We will repeat the process, going in and out of the room, and reducing each time.

If the technique of stopping the thought goes well, in the end we won’t even need to pronounce the word aloud , we will even be able to think it, having the same effect of stopping the thought.


The more we practice the technique, the more likely it is that the association between the thought and its arrest will be made when we shout, pronounce or think the key word.

The time will come when we will be able to carry out the technique of stopping thought without anyone in our environment noticing , in situations such as in public spaces, in meetings, in dinners with friends, driving, etc. We can even do it unconsciously. In the end it will be our mind that will react in this way without the need to “order” it, when it understands that it has initiated a thought loop.


Through the technique of thought stopping, we can either reduce the frequency and/or duration of our ruminative or obsessive thoughts, or eliminate them completely or make them less intrusive .

If we achieve any of these three things, it is likely that our quality of life and psychological well-being will increase, allowing us to enjoy our day-to-day lives more and even to focus on work or other things that interest us.

Bibliographic references:

  • Caballo, V. (2010). Behavior modification manual. Guayaquil: University of Guayaquil.
  • González, I. (2009). Cognitive-behavioral strategies for the management of craving. RET, Revista de Toxicomanías, 57,12-17.