So there you are, frustrated and in agony, wondering how to forget your ex. You’re marinating in the “what if’s.” Your head is filled with “could’ve’s, would’ve’s, and should’ve’s.” And everything reminds you of them and the life you’ve lost.
You try going on vacations to forget your ex, you throw yourself into new hobbies, you remove any reminders of them, you meet up with friends… nothing helps. Hell, you can’t even get yourself to do half of those things because you’re too exhausted from heartbreak.
It truly feels like you’re losing your mind. So it’s no wonder you’re searching for a magic pill to erase all memories of your ex.
But here’s the thing a lot of people miss: their magic pill is nothing but a figment of their imagination.
There is no way you’ll ever be able to forget your ex, no matter what you do. Even when you’ve let them go and moved on to someone new, you’ll still occasionally think about them. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. It’s normal not to be able to forget about your ex, even healthy.
That being said, what you can do is stop perpetually thinking about your ex and forget some of the aspects of your breakup that are preventing you from moving on. And that’s what this article will focus on.
1. Think About The Consequences Of Being Unable To Forget Your Ex
While occasionally thinking about your ex is healthy, obsessing over them is not. To motivate you to take the tips and techniques below more seriously, here’s what you can expect when you’re unable to forget your ex and constantly feed your mind with more and more intense thoughts about them.
Specific forms of intrusive thoughts, like when you keep imagining that make-up sex with your ex, do feel good in the short term but still have disastrous consequences in the long. (1)
One of these is chronic stress — a.k.a., hypertension, which then further impacts all areas of your life. When you’re under heavy stress, your work performance, productivity, and focus drop, your well-being diminishes, you feel less inclined to care about personal hygiene, your diet gets fucked, and your sleep schedule gets muddled.
2. Mental Meltdowns And Panic
When you get locked in an unswerving stream of intrusive thoughts, you often begin to overestimate risk, indulge in black and white/all-or-nothing thinking, fall prey to regular mood alterations and lower self-esteem, form consistent doubts and pessimistic biases, and grow in anxiety.
Talking of anxiety…
3. Anxiety And Depression
Rumination and anxiety are really two sides of the same coin. While rumination is all about overthinking the past, anxiety is all about overthinking the future.
This means you can quickly move from obsessing about your old relationship to worrying about getting your ex back and, thus, becoming anxious. At worst, that anxiety then transpires into self-belittlement, self-criticism, and self-berating, which all eventually leads to depression. (4)
4. Sabotaging Behaviors
It’s no surprise that being unable to forget your ex leads to idiotic and needy behaviors like spamming their phone, professing your unyielding love ten too many times, or begging them to give you another shot while they want nothing to do with you. You can probably guess that those things don’t help you recover.
5. Staying Stuck
The trouble with not being able to forget about your ex is that you can go into such a level of thought that you end up with your feet metaphorically stuck in cement while life passes you by.
There’s no easier way to sit on the fence in your own life by overthinking and overanalyzing the fuck out of everything while saying it’s your ex, your breakup, or the pain that’s holding you back.
2. Identify Why You Can’t Forget Your Ex
Sure, the main reason why you can’t forget about your ex is because you at some point loved them, and they mean a lot to you. Perhaps, you still love them and even want another chance with them, or you at least miss them.
Nonetheless, those are only surface reasons for why you can’t forget about them. The underlying ones are that through your rumination, you’re meeting a specific set of emotional needs that make you feel better about yourself.
1. The Need For Control
When you break up with someone, you can’t do much. Especially if your ex doesn’t want you back. So, you start to feel helpless, perhaps even hopeless.
And because helplessness is such a discomforting feeling, you run into the hands of rumination to alleviate it and make you feel as if you’re in control again — while in reality, you’re not. You just feel that you are.
2. The Need For Closure And Certainty
It’s only natural to want closure and the ability to predict what will happen in the future after a breakup. And rumination helps you with that by making it easy to delude yourself.
But here’s the deal: Getting closure from someone else is impossible. The only way to get it is to find it within yourself. And predicting what the future will bring is… well, it’s equally impossible. The only thing you can know for sure is that you can never know what the future will bring.
3. The Need For Connection
Sometimes, you want to feel connected, close, and valuable to your ex even though you aren’t together anymore, even though they may want nothing to do with you.
So you run to your thoughts and reminisce the golden years, the best times you had, and you actually can find solace in that thought space. However, as you probably guessed, the whole thing is just another delusion you’re making yourself go through to feel better.
3. Go No Contact On Your Ex’s Ass
“Out of sight; out of mind” is a peculiar saying floating around western culture, yet as cliche and overused as it is, it still packs a fundamental truth.
The more reminders of something you’re surrounded with, the higher the likelihood of getting reminded about that something.
In your case, the more reminders of your ex you’re surrounded with, the higher the likelihood you’ll have a hard time forgetting them.
So, one powerful way you can forget your ex — or at certain points and ONLY for a limited time even forget them entirely — is by cutting them and everything tied to them out of your life.
In other words, you deploy what’s called a no contact rule.
The no contact rule is a well-known breakup recovery technique, which commands that you end all communication with your ex, prevent any way for you to contact them, and remove anything that reminds you of them in order to heal faster.
This translates to deleting their phone number, blocking them on social media, and getting rid of their stuff as well as the gifts they gave you.
And if you’re feeling extra ballsy and want to forget about your ex even faster, consider adding a social media detox on top of no contact. Here’s how to do it.
- (in addition to your ex) Unfriend and unfollow (or block) everyone whose posts may remind you of your ex. (You don’t want to be seeing posts about how happy other people are in their relationship or cheesy quotes on love, after all.)
- If your life circumstances allow, delete all the social media apps from your phone and computer. If not, limit them with software like Cold Turkey or Screen Time.
- Set a goal for how long you’ll be doing the social media detox and stick to it. At best, make it your lifestyle since social media is inherently bad for your emotional health.
4. Distract Yourself From Your Thoughts
Another great way to forget about your ex is to distract yourself from any thoughts you’re having about them. The best way to do this is to follow the proven Three M’s Formula, coined by the blogger and psychologist Nick Wignall.
The thinking behind the Three M’s Formula goes that the best ways to forget about your ex in the short term are to move your body physically, make or fix something, and meet or interact with someone socially.
Move: Moving refers to hitting the gym, going for a walk, doing weight lifting exercises, dancing, indulging in yoga, etc. Just do something that involves movement. For movement will be the remedy to getting out of your head and into your body.
Make: Making refers to cooking, creating artwork, writing a blog post, fixing a leaking sink, taking up photography, etc. Just doing something — even if it’s a tiny activity — that’s either productive or creative is often a great way to free yourself of the thoughts of your ex.
Meet: Meeting refers to calling a friend, shooting a text to a family member, or meeting a cousin or acquaintance for coffee. Humans are social creatures. Even if you’re introverted, you’ll still benefit from the right kind of social interaction, especially when it comes to loneliness.
5. Set Scheduled Time To Feel Negative Emotions
This is a pretty simple way to forget your ex. Go somewhere you won’t be bothered, set a timer for between 10 minutes and one hour, and for that period, let yourself feel the depth of your thoughts and emotions relating to your ex. If you’re angry, scream. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re frustrated…er, masturbate.
When you’re done, you should feel much better and your ex-related thoughts probably won’t be as intense anymore. However, this effect will only last for a limited time. So I recommend you repeat this exercise multiple times.
Another variation of it is when you think about nothing involving your ex for a certain time as opposed to thinking about your ex exclusively.
For example, let’s say you’re out shopping, and while you’re picking between the clothes to buy, the thoughts of your ex keep popping up, and you can’t seem to forget about them.
At some point during your rumination, say to yourself something like, “I will not think about my ex for the next 5 minutes.” Then refrain from thinking about them.
When you get the hang of the 5-minute timeframe, feel free to increase it to 10, 15, or even 30 minutes.
A great way of cementing this habit even further is by rewarding yourself whenever you’re successful at the exercise. So if you say to yourself how you’re not going to think about your ex for 10 minutes, and you pull through, reward yourself.
This reward can be anything: a tasty meal, a fun youtube video, or a time exclusively reserved for crying out your worries. Be creative. Find something that resonates with you.
6. Think About Your Ex But Add A Humorous Twist To Your Thoughts
Invite a painful thought of your ex to your awareness in a slightly altered, humorous way. When you do this, stay connected to that thought (or thoughts) while accepting and allowing the feelings around it to remain.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it actually does help you forget about your ex. Here are some ways that you can practice this little “mind hack.”
- Think about your ex while drawing or painting your thoughts.
- Sing about your ex in the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
- Write your thoughts on sticky notes and paste them all over the rooms of your home.
- Think about your ex out loud and record your thoughts. Then play them back at yourself.
- Write down the thoughts of your ex over and over until you can’t write anymore.
- Songify your thoughts.
- Translate your thoughts into another language.
- Stand in front of a mirror and speak your thoughts thought out loud over and over.
7. Practice Mindfulness
At its most basic, mindfulness is nothing more than being aware of the present moment in a calm, non-judgmental state. Research shows that mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and increases positive moods, self-awareness, productivity, and focus. (5)(6)
But perhaps most importantly, mindfulness keeps intrusive and obsessive thoughts at bay — a.k.a., it helps you forget about your ex.
The practice can take many forms. You can practice mindfulness via meditation, journaling, qi-gong, breathing exercises, long evening and morning walks, and even therapy. Below I’ll unpack three of the most beneficial and widely adopted forms of mindfulness:
Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down. Make yourself feel relaxed, yet still alert — a.k.a., relaxed but not so relaxed that you’ll fall asleep. Place one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest. Breathe normally. Notice how your tummy expands at the inhale and contracts at the exhale.
Now, as you inhale, try to fill your tummy with as much air as possible. As you exhale, feel it go up your chest and out through your mouth. If done correctly, the hand on your tummy should expand on the inhale while the hand on your chest falls or stays the same.
Keep inhaling and exhaling for about 10 minutes. If you still find yourself unable to forget your ex, consider extending the time frame of the practice to whatever feels reasonable. Or change the practice altogether.
Focusing On The Present Moment
Focusing on the present moment is way less technical than the previous exercises but no less effective in helping you forget your ex.
One of the best ways I personally found to do it is to go on a walk, preferably somewhere in nature and with no electronics with you. Then, while you’re on this walk, put your five senses to the test. Try to notice and feel everything around you.
What can you see? What do you smell? Can you taste anything? What do you hear? And of course, what do you feel?
Observe everything without judgment, without thinking about what will happen, how stupid it feels or what has happened. Simply let yourself go and get lost in your senses.
Meditation is the equivalent of an atomic bomb for rumination. And while I did write a more in-depth article on the topic previously, here’s how I would start with it.
- Set your timer, either a phone or a clock, for 10 minutes.
- Sit in a comfortable position. You may want to sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a comfortable chair.
- Cup your hands in your lap or put them gently on your knees.
- Close your eyes.
- Take three initial deep breaths: in through the nose until your chest is full, then slowly exhale out through your mouth. Then breath normally.
- Keep your focus on your breath. Think of nothing but your breath and how it feels when it goes in and out of your body.
- As you breathe, focus your attention on your thoughts. Watch them float through your mind as you would cloud in the sky. Again, don’t judge. Then focus on the breath again.
- Keep doing this over and over again until your timer rings.
If you get stuck on a thought along the way, don’t fret. Simply notice it and let it go. The point isn’t to “try not to think.” The point is to bring your awareness back to the present moment whenever it gets focused on a thought.
While all of this may sound like new-age fluff, believe me, it’s not. Mindfulness has a ton of empirical data behind it proving it actually does help most aspects of your emotional and mental health.
8. Leverage The RJAFTP Method
The RJAFTP method was coined by Sally Winston and Martin Seif, the authors of the global bestseller, A CBT-Based Guide to Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts.
According to the RJAFTP method, there are six essential steps for coping and managing each unwanted intrusive thought so you can forget your ex faster.
1. Recognize: When you think about your ex, pause and name the thought. Then, tell yourself, “I am having a thought that intrudes into my awareness — an intrusive thought. Now ask yourself, “What emotions does the thought make me feel? What sensations make up the feeling that supplements the intrusion?” Attempt to remain as mindful and non-judgemental as possible.
2. Just thoughts: Grow aware of the information you already know — that your thoughts are automatic, and you can safely leave them alone. Tell yourself, “These thoughts are automatic and are best left alone.” Simply stating these facts gently to yourself helps to disentangle yourself from your thoughts. Remember: your current thoughts and feelings are not you.
3. Accept and allow: This means that you actively allow your thoughts to be where they are. You don’t wish you didn’t have them, you don’t try to rid yourself of them, you don’t try to suppress them or deem them wrong; you simply let them float inside your mind. They are unimportant. You are bigger than your thoughts.
4. Float and feel: These two terms refer to allowing the feelings tied to your thoughts — good or bad — stay where they are. This heavily ties with our previous point on mindfulness. Whenever you notice you’re out of the present and in the future or past somewhere, try to feel into that, and bring yourself back to the present. Surrender the struggle.
5. Let time pass: Give yourself time to forget your ex. Don’t urge it on. Observe the anxiety, worry, or grief that your thoughts are making you feel from a curious standpoint. Do not keep checking to see if this method is working; just let your thoughts be there. They are thoughts. There is no hurry.
6. Proceed: Proceeding refers to continuing with whatever you were doing despite the intrusive thoughts that keep blasting in your skull. This is the most effective way to rob them of power.
9. Forget Your Ex By Forgiving Them
A lot of people are unable to forget about their ex because they can’t forgive them. Years or even decades go by, and some still can seem to let them go or move on from whatever has happened between them.
They keep festering their resentment and hate, and this is a huge problem. Because as long as they keep festering it, the chances that they’ll forget about their ex and recover are pretty damn low.
Therefore forgiveness is a must.
However, here’s where a lot of people get stuck. They either think forgiveness is a decision, or they think it’s a process that unravels by itself. In reality, forgiveness is both.
Forgiveness is something that starts with a decision and is followed by a long and grueling process of not changing your mind about that decision.
And for all the skeptics out there, forgiveness does not mean forgetting or endorsing.
- You’ll never forget what your ex has done and what you created and had with them at some point. Even when you forgive them, those thoughts will not change or hide in your subconscious. As I’ve said in the beginning, this is normal.
- You’ll never be okay with the fact that your ex wronged you in a way, whether you forgive them or not. In fact, forgiveness is not about your ex or what they did; forgiveness is about you and how you want to spend your time and energy going forward.
So how do you forgive?
Well, it’s simple. Just decide to forgive.
Take your time with this. It can take months or even years to be ready to forgive your ex. But once you do, you’ll have to purposefully remind yourself to keep them forgiven over and over again, until you’ve become indifferent to the occasional thought or two about them.
Don’t Force Yourself To Forget Your Ex
You have undoubtedly noticed something very strange and frustrating: the harder you try to forget your ex, the more ex-related thoughts your brain feeds you. This is called “paradoxical effort.” (7)
A great way to illustrate it is with a Chinese finger trap. You’ve probably played with it as a kid. It’s a woven bamboo-shaped tube with two holes on each side. You stick your finger in those two holes or ends, and then it happens: the harder you pull, the more stuck you get. The “not-so-secret secret” of how to get your finger unstuck is to push it farther in the tube as opposed to pulling it out with full force.
Or think of quicksand. The way you get out of it is by laying still, head and torso turned upwards towards the sky, instead of flailing around and trying to claw, punch and force your way out. The former saves your life; the latter makes you only sink faster.
The same philosophy applies to forgetting about your ex.
Therefore, don’t be too harsh on yourself when you’re trying to manage and deal with your intrusive and obsessive thoughts. Take it bit by bit. Don’t over-indulge on self-help material. Don’t start feverishly doing all the above exercises. Don’t wear yourself out.
Rather relax and cultivate patience. In fact, patience would be the underlying force behind all the exercises we covered till now. Without it, none of them work. With it, magic can happen.
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