Negative thoughts are automatic thoughts. They can be triggered by the slightest experience, comment or memory. Often, we are not aware of our negative thoughts in terms of the powerful influence they have on our decisions, our motivation, and our lives.
Being able to manage negative thoughts is likely one of the most important ways to master your mind and thereby master your life.
Each day, we think between 70,000 and 80,000 thoughts. Many of these thoughts are ones we've had before. We spend a lot of our time in replay mode.
We get caught up in past experiences and relive memories that evoke various emotions. Some are cringe-worthy, painful or just plain sad. When we spend too much time looking back, it can trigger a bout of depression.
We also tend to spend time thinking about the future in two specific ways. We think about what we wish might happen or what we worry might come true.
Either scenario of this future-focused wishful or negative thinking may trigger increased levels of anxiety. Especially now at a time when we're facing uncertainly about a global pandemic, it is easy for our thoughts to wander and for levels of anxiety to spike as our mind searches for answers, security, and comfort.
When we think about the past, we limit our ability to effectively move forward. We can't confidently take action if we are too busy tripping over the negative messages that trap us in the rear-view mirror of our mind's eye.
Thinking about our past or worrying about the future limits our ability to live in the present.
In order to effectively manage negative emotions, we must first become aware of them.
In my e-course, Supercharge Your Motivation, I help subscribers build greater awareness about their negative thoughts. I want you to have access to the worksheet associated with this lesson in my e-course so you can practice becoming more aware of your negative thoughts and how to begin the work of positively pivoting them.
In this worksheet, I've listed several common negative thoughts. If these don't apply to you, there is space on the fillable PDF to capture your unique thoughts.
This is an exercise I invite you to do for 2 to 3 days. It is a private experience not to be shared with others. It is meant to create an opportunity for you to capture whatever negative thoughts you tell yourself.
This exercise is also known as "Name it to Tame It" where you label the story or the phase you tell yourself as well as the associated emotion. This was a phrase coined by Dr. Daniel Seigel.
An example is a story that I often hear, "Who am I to have this goal?''
Whatever your story is, just recognize it and name it by saying...
Ah, the "Who am I to have this goal" story. Take a moment to recognize that it is just a thought and that it is not your reality. You don't need to give it power or take it seriously.
It all starts with awareness. You build the skills from there. Take one negative thought and imagine how you might shift it into something that is positive and from that positive thought, ask yourself what you can do to empower yourself.
If you're struggling to do this exercise, just take a few moments to reflect on the reason why.
What is getting in your way?
What limiting belief are you holding onto?
What is preventing you from releasing the negative thought?
In Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning's book, The Science of Positivity: Stop Negative Thought Patterns by Changing Your Brain Chemistry, the concept of rewiring yourself to go beyond negative thoughts is explored.
In just minutes per day for six weeks, you can build new pathways to see the world in new ways. You'll learn simple, practical actions you can take to shift your thinking to a way that causes your brain to reward optimism with the release of happy chemicals. You can even permanently replace cynical thought patterns with realistic and optimistic thoughts.
It is a scary prospect to come to terms with the knowledge that what we think or tell ourselves may not accurately reflect reality.
We can have thought distortions. This is what happens when our mind tries to convince us of something that actually isn't true. The result -- our inaccurate thoughts reinforce our negative thinking.
1. Black and white thinking - where you see everything as one way or another and void of any grey areas;
2. Catastrophizing - where you imagine and believe the worst possible situation will happen;
3. Filtered thinking - where you become hard-wired to only seeing the negative side of a situation and where no alternatives exist;
4. Personalizing - where you believe you are to blame for anything that goes wrong or someone's bad behaviour is somehow your fault.
As bizarre as it may seem, these distorted thoughts demand that we evaluate their accuracy. This is a hard thing to do and more specifically, why would we NOT believe what we think?
We must first believe that not everything we think is true or helpful.
I invite you to ask yourself if you are making assumptions or getting caught up in one of the 4 thought distortions.
Imagine for a moment that your friend is sharing the thought with you. What would you tell them? Would you agree to their negative thoughts and let them blame themselves or assume the worst or would you ask them to consider some alternative and more positive outcomes?
---"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." Anais Nin---
Once you are emotionally triggered, you can easily get caught up in the negative thought loop that spirals you out of rational thought control.
If and when you find yourself thinking the same negative thoughts that just build on themselves and have you in a path that leads nowhere good, tell yourself, "STOP" aloud.
Do this so you consciously break the negative thought spiral. Next, allow yourself even 5 minutes to break from focusing on the negative thought so you can separate from it.
Step back from your thoughts.
This is a process known as cognitive defusion. These negative thoughts are just thoughts. Don't attach judgement to them. Recognize them and unattach yourself or allow yourself to not be "fused" to them.
Don't take them too seriously or immediately believe them to be your truth. Let them be part of your inner language that you allow to move through your mind.
Take 5 deep belly breaths (breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth) and ask yourself:
1. Should I take this thought seriously?
2. Am I getting hung up on a thought that might not be real or true?
3. Am I hungry, tired or angry?
4. Am I dwelling on the past or focusing too much on the future?
Nature has its own way of putting meteorologists in their place. No matter how experienced they are, meteorologists are never 100 percent accurate with predicting the weather.
You can control your weather. What do I mean by this? When you wake up in the morning, you can choose the weather you want to carry into your day. You can fuse to the thought that the day is going to be sunny and bright because you are giving yourself permission to make your own weather. Conversely, if you feel gloomy, you might allow yourself to carry around rainy weather all day.
You have a choice. You can decide on the weather you want to have. Whatever you decide will be your weather for the day. If you believe it is a sunny day, no matter what happens, you can untangle or de-fuse yourself from negative thoughts.
These techniques for managing negative inner thoughts require work and it will take time to make positive changes happen and to release more happy brain chemicals. There is no quick fix or silver bullet.
The upside is that you can shift negative thoughts so that even if it is a rainy day, you can decide to enjoy the sound of the rain and imagine the good that comes from it.
There is so much I would love to write on this topic. I've provided just a sampling of tips. There is so much more you can explore by subscribing to my e-course, Supercharge Your Motivation. I dive into this topic in detail particularly in Module 2. I'd love to share it with you.
To find out more, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get access to the first Module for a 14 free trial subscription. You can subscribe to the free monthly newsletter right from this blog page!