In the Vitakkasanthana Sutta, Buddha speaks of five ways to remove distracting thoughts. These are strategies that can be applied to remove any thoughts you feel are “unwholesome”, whether that means anxiety over an upcoming deadline, an intention to inflict harm, anger after an argument, or even something as innocuous as an urge to check Facebook while working.

  1. Replace the unwholesome thoughts with wholesome thoughts. Purposefully distract yourself from any unwholesome thoughts by focusing on wholesome thoughts instead.

    “Here, monks, when a monk is giving attention to some sign, and owing to that sign there arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion, then he should give attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome.”

  2. Examine the unwholesome thoughts. Think about why the thoughts are unwholesome, dangerous and undesirable. Think about the negative effects the thoughts will have.

    “If, while he is giving attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion, then he should examine the danger in those thoughts thus: ‘These thoughts are unwholesome, reprehensible, resulting in suffering.’”

  3. Forget the unwholesome thoughts. Expel the thoughts from your mind. Don’t give the thoughts attention.

    “If, while he is examining the danger in those thoughts, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion, then he should try to forget those thoughts and should not give attention to them.”

  4. Tame the source of the unwholesome thoughts. Understand the thought process that the unwholesome thoughts are arising from. Still the “thought-formation” of the unwholesome thoughts.

    “If, while he is trying to forget those thoughts and is not giving attention to them, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion, then he should give attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts”

    Buddha gives an analogy to slowing physical motion.

    “Just as a man walking fast might consider: ‘Why am I walking fast? What if I walk slowly?’ and he would walk slowly; then he might consider: ‘Why am I walking slowly? What if I stand?’ and he would stand; then he might consider: ‘Why am I standing? What if I sit?’ and he would sit; then he might consider: ‘Why am I sitting? What if I lie down?’ and he would lie down. By doing so he would substitute for each grosser posture one that was subtler. So too … when a monk gives attention to stilling the thought formation of those thoughts … his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.”

  5. Subdue the unwholesome thoughts. If all else fails, fight the unwholesome thoughts with your power of mind.

    “If, while he is giving attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion, then, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he should beat down, constrain, and crush mind with mind. When, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he beats down, constrains, and crushes mind with mind, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion are abandoned in him and subside.”

    Here Buddha again uses a physical analogy.

    “Just as a strong man might seize a weaker man by the head or shoulders and beat him down, constrain him, and crush him, so too … when, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, a monk beats down, constrains, and crushes mind with mind … his mind becomes steadied internally, composed, unified, and concentrated.”