In today’s video, I’m going to share a very unusual technique for dealing with any kind of unwanted intrusive thoughts.

So how to escape intrusive thoughts?

Zachary Stockill: I remember reading about a surgeon who was talking about the incredible power of keeping a to-do list when you’re in the middle of something like neurosurgery, or open-heart surgery. Obviously, the stakes are pretty high in a situation like that.

The essence of this article is how incredibly useful it can be to have a list on hand anytime you really need to get something is done that’s important.

I want to talk about the importance and the value of keeping to-do lists in a personal context. How incredibly valuable it can be to keep lists in different contexts outside of work.

I’ve instructed other coaching clients who want to escape intrusive thoughts and are struggling with unwanted intrusive thoughts relating to obsessive and retroactive jealousy, I’ve advised them on the power of keeping lists. And without fail, they’ve all found this very helpful.

Escape Intrusive Thoughts

So first off, I do keep lists in my professional life, trying to get things done and it’s making an enormous difference.

What I do is, I’ll create a copy of my weekly To-Do List template. And there’ll be a number of tasks involved in that To-Do List template. During my designated work hours, anytime I feel like I’m losing focus or drifting, I simply pull up my to-do list, reflect on everything I’ve still got to get done. And it’s very clarifying. It’s great for focus and for productivity.

I have a to-do list because you’ll realize how easy it is to forget about things.

Now, why am I bringing up this technique on a video addressed specifically to people dealing with unwanted intrusive thoughts? Because, if you’ve ever struggled with unwanted intrusive thoughts, whether it’s related to your partner’s past, retroactive jealousy, obsessive jealousy, you probably know what I’m talking about.

There’s a famous expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings”. I would tweak that a bit and say, “An idle mind is the devil’s plaything”.

When you have downtime, chances are, those are the moments in which some unwanted intrusive thoughts is going to take hold.

In general, that’s usually when those thoughts are going to come up. When you have these gaps in your schedule, unfortunately, this can act as a breeding ground for unwanted intrusive thoughts.

So in these moments, it can be useful to have a series of lists filled with things that you really want to do, things that will occupy you, and things that are a far better use of your time than simply feeling mopey and sad about your partner’s past.

You can expand this idea of keeping lists into multiple areas of your life. For example, most of my friends are not in the city where I’m living now. But since the lockdowns began, since the pandemic began, I tried to keep up with a select group of my friends. Having one-hour phone calls now and then, texting once in a while, and just trying to maintain those connections.

So guess what? I have a list of friends who I want to keep up with, who I want to send the odd email back and forth, who I want to schedule a video call with.

You can take this idea of keeping lists on hand and expand it to multiple areas of your life. Again, you can keep a list of family or friends that you want to reach out to or that you want to connect with.

Escape Intrusive Thoughts

Write down books you want to read, albums you want to listen to, tasks around the house that you should be doing.

How to escape intrusive thoughts?

If you’re struggling with unwanted intrusive thoughts, one of my main pieces of advice is to make sure you have a relatively full schedule. You don’t have to be productive 24 hours a day, just go through your schedule, go through your life and prioritize things that are actually going to get you where you want to go.

Prioritize spending your time wisely, spending your time doing things that are engaging, stimulating, interesting, and rewarding.

Don’t give retroactive jealousy and unwanted intrusive thoughts, the time of day in which they can really take hold. So experiment with the power of lists.

And it’s been a great way for me to fill up the day, during these bizarre pandemic times that we’re all living through. It’s a great way to ward off unwanted intrusive thoughts, to be more productive, maintain friendships, invest in entertainment, viewing and reading what you want.

And by the way, in terms of practical recommendations, I use Evernote, it’s kind of like a list of to-do note-taking app which is on your PC, your laptop, as well as your phone. It’s great.

But if you’re old school, and you want to write down the physical paper and pen lists, that’s great, too. I don’t think the system is necessarily what’s important. I think the main important thing is simply to try it and see how it works for you.

Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.