The Art of Ignoring Things

A polar bear jumps into the water at Prague Zoo in July 2015. David W. Cerny / Reuters

Let’s begin with a little experiment: Whatever you do, as you’re reading this short article, don’t think about polar bears.

This is, you may have recognized, a classic thought exercise from the writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, in a passage that launched a thousand psychology theses, he wrote, “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and...

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