7 Proven Tips to Work Through Negative Thinking
Updated: May 4, 2020
Do you ever stop and thank your brain for all the fantastic things it allows us to do - like from solving complex problems to creating beautiful art? It's quite amazing when you think about all we are capable of. On the flip-side, however, our minds - which are so complex - can get caught up in negative thinking that causes stress and anxiety and makes our lives more difficult.
While we can’t necessarily control the thoughts and emotions that come up for us, there are ways to work through our thoughts so that we can move through them without too much pain and stress.
Here are some proven tips for working through the thoughts that aren’t serving you and negative thinking patterns that come up from time to time.
1. Acknowledge your thought - don’t try to avoid it. When we do, many times it comes back even more potent because we have been attempting to sweep it under the rug or avoid it altogether. When you recognize your thought, acknowledge it’s existence and remember it’s just a thought, not necessarily real, and has a beginning, middle, and end.
2. Determine if you have a tendency with certain types of negative thinking. Do you tend to catastrophize, engage in black and white thinking, or try to mind-read what others are thinking or doing? There may be specific scenarios when you have these tendencies, like when you have a lot going on at work or are in situations that make you uncomfortable. Just noticing your tendencies can help you recognize they are habits of your mind and don’t need to be given so much attention.
3. Play detective with your thoughts and challenge them. If you find yourself ruminating or going down a rabbit hole of negative thinking, try to pause for a moment and be curious about your thoughts. Ask yourself why this thought is coming up. Is it a habit that you seem to catastrophize in certain situations? Do you have evidence to back up your thought?
4. Create distance between you and your thought. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine your thoughts passing by, recognizing they don’t have to sit with you too long. One way is to imagine them as clouds, passing over until they are entirely out of sight. Remember, they don’t need to stay with you long, just acknowledge their presence and that they are moving along.
5. Remember a simple fact - just because you’re thinking it doesn’t mean it’s true. A lot of times, we treat our thoughts as fact. They can quickly become a reality to us when they are far from it. They become so real to us that we base decisions around this new reality we have created, or let these thoughts ruin our day. When you catch yourself thinking something negative, simply remind yourself that it’s not necessarily true.
6. Identify the emotion that’s tagging along with your thought. Let’s say you’re watching the news, and your mind starts to dart off in a million directions about the future and how things are just going to be worse, based on this current news story. You recognize you start to feel scared and anxious. Sometimes just having an awareness of how your thoughts and emotions are working together, and don’t necessarily need to be this adverse or extreme, will help you create some space from them.
7. Come up with alternative thoughts. One of my favorite exercises is to jot down all the negative thoughts I am having about something and getting them out of my head and onto paper. Then, I go back next to each thought and write a new positive one. This is a way to show yourself that the positive thought is also a possibility, and where you can put your focus on instead.
Next time you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, identify what thoughts are coming up. From there, try one of these techniques to work through it. The goal is to move forward from the negative thinking that is getting in the way of your peace.
And if you have any other techniques that work for you, please share below!