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So there you are, frustrated and in agony, wondering how to forget about 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 — the life that went down the drain as easily as a solid turd in a toilet bowl after flushing.
You try going on vacations to forget about your ex, you throw yourself into new hobbies, remove reminders of them, meet up with friends, yet nothing helps. Hell, you can’t even get yourself to do half of these things because you’re too preoccupied with thoughts of your ex. It truly feels like you’re losing your mind.
But here’s the thing. Despite what you’ve been reading online, you can’t just forget about your ex. That’s insane! Even if you move on to someone new, you’ll still occasionally think about them. There’s no way around it. Being unable to forget about your ex is also not necessarily bad. It’s just how we’re wired. It’s normal and, I’d bet, even healthy.
That said, what you can do is stop thinking about your ex and forget some of the aspects of your breakup that are preventing you from feeling like yourself. And that’s what this article will focus on. In it, I’ll go over ten methods based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that will help you forget your ex to a realistic degree so you can function normally again. I suggest you do them one by one for the best results.
Let’s jump in.
1. Ponder The Consequences Of Being Unable To Forget About Your Ex
Sometimes considering the consequences of being unable to forget an ex scares and encourages us enough to stop doing it so much, or to at least approach mitigating our obsession more seriously. So here are three of the biggest ones.
This is the most common consequence of being unable to forget about your ex. Certain forms of ex-related obsessive thoughts do feel good in the short term but have disastrous mental health consequences in the long. (1)
One of these is chronic stress — a.k.a., hypertension. Now, the scary thing is not hypertension itself, but its consequences on one’s life.
It stymies productivity, focus, emotional well-being, sleep, and diet. And having those essential areas impaired leads to even darker consequences, two of the major ones being diminished self-esteem and self-worth.
2. Temper Tantrums
- Risk overestimation.
- Lashing out.
- Black and white thinking.
- Consistent doubts and sulkiness.
- Pessimistic biases.
- Pessimism and a negative disposition.
- Anxiety and depression.
Let’s unpack this last point. Being unable to forget about your ex and feeling anxious really are two sides of the same coin. They feed on one another. You can get anxious and start obsessing about your ex. Or you can start obsessing about your ex and start feeling anxious.
And sometimes, that anxiety can grow so large and menacing that it leads to self-belittlement, self-criticism, self-berating, and other forms of negative self-talk, which further leads to depression. (4)
3. Sabotaging Behaviors
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Being unable to forget about your ex always leads to needy behaviors:
- Spamming your ex’s phone.
- Professing your undying love.
- Bribing them to come back with gifts and affections.
- Seeking their validation.
- Begging them to give your relationship another shot.
You can probably guess these behaviors don’t help you feel better or forget about your ex, nor do they help get them back if that’s your goal.
2. Identify Why You Can’t Forget About Your Ex
Sure, the reason you can’t forget about your ex is because you still foster feelings for them. That’s obvious. But interestingly, things go much deeper.
You’re not unable to forget about your ex because you simply feel something for them, you can’t forget them because through not forgetting you’re meeting a set of indispensable emotional needs that you haven’t yet learned (or realized you can learn) to meet yourself.
The Need For Control
When you break up with someone, you can’t do much. You can’t really control your situation. Your feelings are all over the place no matter what you do. And you can’t convince your ex to come back if they don’t want to. So, you start to feel helpless, perhaps even hopeless.
And because helplessness is such an uncomfortable feeling, you run into challenges with forgetting about your ex — you keep obsessing about them because through your obsession you feel as though you’ve reclaimed control.
The Need For Closure And Certainty
It’s natural to want closure and the ability to predict what will happen in the future after a breakup. And obsessing over your ex helps you with that by making it easy to delude yourself.
But here’s the deal: getting closure from your ex 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.
The Need For Connection
Sometimes, you want to feel connected, close, and valued by your ex even though you aren’t together anymore, and they want nothing to do with you.
So you run to your thoughts again; you purposefully prevent yourself from forgetting your ex, so you can find solace in dead memories. But, as with the previous emotional needs, the whole fear is just another delusion you’re making yourself go through to feel better.
3. Go No Contact To Forget About Your Ex
“Out of sight; out of mind” is a peculiar saying floating around western culture, yet as cliche 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 be unable to forget about them. Therefore, cutting them out of your life (going no contact) is a powerful way to forget about them.
So delete their number, block them on social media if you must, get rid of their stuff. Re-assemble your life ex-free. Act like you never knew them.
And if you’re one of the people hoping to get them back, act like they’re never coming back. Destroy any expectations that you foster. Let them go and, I guarantee, you’ll have an easier time forgetting about them.
4. Distract Yourself From Your Thoughts To Forget About Your Ex
Another 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 an 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 that’s either productive or creative is a great way to forget about your ex.
Meet: Meeting refers to calling a friend, shooting a text to a family member, or meeting a cousin or acquaintance for coffee. If you’re feeling ballsy, meet someone new for a change. Humans are social creatures. Even if you’re introverted, you’ll still benefit from frequent social interaction (especially if you’re lonely).
5. Set Time To Feel Negative Emotions To Forget About Your Ex
This is one of the simplest ways you can forget about your ex. First, 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.
You should feel much better when you’re done, and have an easier time forgetting about your ex. However, this effect will only last for a limited time. So I recommend you repeat this exercise more than once.
Another variation of this exercise is when you think about nothing involving your ex for a certain time.
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. Humour Yourself To Forget About Your Ex
This is a pretty fun way to forget about your ex. Basically, whenever you have thought about them, bring it to awareness but in a slightly humorous way. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but this shit actually works. Here are some ways you can do it:
- 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.
Whenever you’re giving your thoughts a humorous twist, be sure to also stay connected to those thoughts while accepting and allowing the feelings around them to remain. Think of it as coupling mindfulness with humor.
Talking of mindfulness…
7. Practice Mindfulness To Forget About Your Ex
Mindfulness is going to be your best friend when you’re trying to forget about your ex. At its most basic, mindfulness is nothing more than being aware of the present moment in a calm, non-judgmental state.
In addition to keeping your obsessive ex-related thoughts in check, mindfulness is also proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and increase positive moods, self-awareness, productivity, and focus. (5) (6) (7)
Now, mindfulness has many forms, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll only unpack three of the most beneficial and widely adopted ones below:
Here’s how to forget about your ex through it: sit comfortably in a chair or lie down. Make yourself relaxed yet alert. 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.
Focus 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 forgetting your ex, yet it takes some getting used to. And while I did write an in-depth article on the topic previously, here’s a quick run-down.
- 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, non-judgmentally focus your attention on your thoughts. Watch them float through your mind as you would watch clouds in the sky.
- 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 not only helps you forget about your ex but also benefits plenty of aspects of your emotional and mental health. (8)
8. Leverage The RJAFTP Method To Forget About Your Ex
The RJAFTP method was coined by Sally Winston and Martin Seif, the authors of the popular book, A CBT-Based Guide to Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts.
According to the RJAFTP method, there are six steps for coping and managing each unwanted intrusive and obsessive thought so you can forget about your ex faster.
When you think about your ex, pause and name the thought. Then, tell yourself something akin to, “I am having a thought that intrudes into my awareness.”
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, and thus, forget your ex faster. Remember: your current thoughts and feelings are not you.
3. Accept and allow
This means you actively allow your thoughts to be where they are. You don’t wish to not have them, you don’t try to rid of them, you don’t try to suppress them or get emotional because of them. You simply let your thoughts float around your mind as they please.
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, after all. They will, like every thought, dissipate in time. There is no hurry. Thoughts are fleeting.
Proceeding refers to continuing with whatever you are doing despite the intrusive thoughts that keep blasting your brain. This is the most effective way to rob them of power.
9. Forgive Your Ex To Forget About Them
Plenty of people cannot 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 still hold grudges, fester resentment, and cling to the past.
This is a big problem. Because as long as they’re stuck in the past, they won’t be able to forget about their ex to an optimal degree. Therefore forgiveness is a must.
Yet, 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.
For 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.
- 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, just decide to forgive. Take your time with this. It can take months or even years to forgive your ex fully. And even once you do, you’ll have to remind yourself to keep them forgiven until you’ve become indifferent to the occasional thought or two about them.
10. Find Something More Important Than Your Ex To Forget About Them
The problem with many people who can’t forget about their ex is that they have nothing going for them. They put all of their fucks into their relationship. They’ve failed to adequately diversify them across other important domains: family, friends, health, fitness, work/career, hobbies, and so on.
And so, they’re cursed. They have nothing but their relationship to give their life meaning. And now that their relationship is gone, of course they can’t forget about their ex. The relationship they had with them meant everything to them.
If you’re in the same boat, listen up: you need to find something more important and meaningful than a dead relationship — something more important and meaningful than your ex. This can be anything — a goal, a cause, something that you can call a purpose. It can also be many things, big or small.
Find this special something and focus on it wholeheartedly. It will help you not only forget about your ex but imbue your life with a sense of direction.
Don’t Force Yourself To Forget About Your Ex
You have undoubtedly noticed something strange and frustrating: the harder you try to forget about your ex, the more ex-related thoughts your brain feeds you. This is called “paradoxical effort.” (9)
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.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself when you’re trying to manage your obsessive thoughts. Take it bit by bit. Don’t over-indulge on self-help material. Don’t start feverishly doing the above exercises. Don’t wear yourself out. Relax and cultivate patience instead. In fact, patience is the underlying force behind the exercises we covered till now. Without it, none of them work. With it, magic happens.
If you need more help healing from your breakup, check out my Radical Recovery Course. With over 5h of video, 200 pages of writing, and personalized 1-on-1 coaching, I'll walk you through every step of the recovery process from start to finish.
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