Do you remember that time when you did something embarrassing or someone embarrassed you? Do you find yourself thinking about that moment over and over again and wondering why that happened to you? Do you sometimes feel like that moment defined you and will haunt you for the rest of your life?
Courtesy of negative thoughts, a perfectly good day can easily be ruined. Negative thinking is a burden that gets the best of us and hinders us from reaching our maximum potential. They stop us from enjoying life and even damage our mental health.
But luckily, those negative thoughts can be dealt with. Read on and find out how to stop negative thoughts step by step.
Notice Your Negative Thoughts
The first step in dealing with negative thoughts is noticing and identifying them. You need to be able to differentiate realistic thoughts from unhelpful ones as the two might get mixed up. You might start thinking that your negative thoughts are realistic, which they aren’t.
Negative thoughts are irrational distortions of reality. They can lead to false conclusions about social interactions and everyday life. It is important to understand and label thoughts as they are.
Negative thoughts can manifest in these and several other ways:
This happens when people imply what happened in one encounter to all future encounters. They do not take time to understand and treat every scenario separately.
For example: Someone assumes that whenever someone says their outfit looks good, they are being sarcastic, and they mean the opposite. These thoughts would be because when they were in middle school, a mean student said that to them and laughed the moment they walked away.
All-or-nothing way of thinking
This refers to seeing things as either wrong or right, black or white, and leaving no room for gray areas. People with this way of thinking believe that if something is not right, then it is wrong.
For example: You are writing an online exam, and you can’t seem to remember the answer to one question. Instead of just accepting that your chances of getting a 100% on the test have lowered and now the best you can get is 95%, you start thinking that you will fail because you didn’t know all the answers.
Jumping to conclusions
This encompasses making assumptions about what others are thinking or how events will turn out without any evidence to support these assumptions.
For example: A friend walks past you without saying “hello” and you assume that is because they hate you now. In reality, they might not have greeted you because they did not see you or they were in a rush.
This refers to making assumptions and judgments based on emotional responses rather than factual considerations.
For example: When you are convinced that your headache is a sign of serious illness because of the feelings of anxiety you are experiencing. Yet, in reality, the headache is because you are dehydrated, and your doctor has confirmed that if you drink enough water, you will be fine.
This is when you magnify an issue to make it bigger than it actually is. This is often done in situations that are negative. On the other hand, when situations are positive, they are minimized and undermined.
For example: When you fail one test, you start viewing yourself as a failure who will never get a college degree. If you pass one test, you tell yourself that it is just one pass, and it is not going to make you pass at the end of the year.
The more you know about the types of negative thoughts, the easier it is to recognize and notice them. But what if you find it hard to track your thoughts?
As these negative thoughts become our habit of thinking, they become difficult to recognize. It becomes difficult to separate constructive and realistic thoughts from negative thoughts. Thanks to mindfulness, you can get better at identifying and stopping these negative thoughts.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a famous author, defined mindfulness as the awareness that arises when we pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and in a non-judgemental manner. The three key features of mindfulness are intention, attention, and attitude.
- You need to have the intention to enter a state of mindfulness and awareness.
- You need to be able to pay attention to what is in the present. Not the past or the future.
- You need to have a non-judgmental, curious, and kind attitude.
Mindfulness can be done anywhere and anytime. You can practice it at night before bed while you are lying down or trying to sleep or when you are taking a walk in nature or during your yoga session. It is really up to you!
We often live our lives in auto-pilot mode, where we do not necessarily think deeply about how we react or think about situations. Mindfulness allows us to be present and have control over our reactions and thoughts. It takes us out of the autopilot mode and allows us to clearly engage with the situation before responding or reacting.
Being in a mindful state allows us to engage and interpret scenarios accurately, thereby eliminating unhelpful and negative thoughts. Katie Krimer, a psychotherapist and social worker, states that when we practice mindfulness, the intention is to become aware of things as they are.
This awareness helps us get rid of negative thoughts effectively. Once you start practicing mindfulness, it becomes easier as your brain adapts and gets used to this way of thinking.
Replace Your Negative Thoughts
Once you notice your negative thoughts and practice mindfulness, the next step is to replace those identified thoughts.
All thoughts that are not constructive and do not help you move towards your goals can be classified as negative thoughts.
To replace these thoughts, you can:
- Question yourself if the thought is realistic or if it is a product of your imagination.
- Look for alternative explanations for the thoughts you might be having.
- Think of what you would tell a friend if they were having similar thoughts.
- Think of the credible evidence that is against the thoughts you might be having.
- Replace “I should…” with “I will try to…” This reduces the feeling of guilt and gives you room to try to live up to the new standards.
Start a Thought Diary
We get thousands of thoughts every single day. An average human has 17,000–50,000 thoughts on a daily basis.
Some of these are uplifting and encouraging, some are demotivating, some are accurate, while some are untrue. Keeping track of all these thoughts can be a lot of work and almost impossible. Thought diaries are a great way to reflect on thoughts when used correctly.
Thought diaries or thought records are written records of your thoughts and feelings. It is ideal for journaling your thoughts every day, ideally at the end of the day or even throughout the day as you get the thoughts. Record your authentic thoughts, i.e., natural thoughts that you wouldn’t have manipulated.
When you notice a change in how you feel, try to jot the thoughts that you had down before you forget them.
A thought diary makes it easier to keep track of thoughts. It makes our thoughts more visible to us, thereby making it easier for us to identify any problems we might be experiencing concerning our thinking patterns.
Thought diaries help us answer an important question, “What was going on in my mind?”
Once we have identified the answer to this question, we can easily work towards changing our thinking. Keeping track of our thoughts makes it easier to replace them.
Don’t Stop Your Negative Thoughts
Often, we try to nitpick and eliminate all negative thoughts we might be having. Sadly, the more we try to eliminate these thoughts, the more they come to the surface. This is referred to as thought rebounding, and it is more damaging than we can imagine.
It is important for you to feel and have those negative thoughts then figure out how to deal with them rather than entirely eliminating them. Remember, having those thoughts does not make you a bad person at all!
Reach Out for Help
All the above-mentioned measures on how to stop negative thoughts are things you can do on your own. While you are the main person responsible for this part of your journey, reaching out for help from other people is never a bad idea, as changing your thinking may indeed be very hard.
Working with a thorough professional therapy will help you deal with these unconstructive thoughts as well as any other underlying conditions that could be involved. Negative thoughts are a common symptom of mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression.
If you think that therapy might be too much of a problem, online therapy is a great alternative. This way, you can connect with the therapist from any place when you have a free minute in between sessions. It’s a comfortable way to get help for negative thoughts as you can connect with your therapist on a daily basis instead of several sessions a month. Some online therapy apps even have tools built inside to make thought-changing processes more comfortable.
Remember, reaching out for help does not make you a weak person. If you feel the need to talk to someone about troubling thoughts you might be having, do not be scared to reach out to a mental health care worker.
You Can Overcome Your Negative Thoughts
You might think that everything mentioned in this article just sounds good on paper but not in practice, but once you start practicing, you will realize that it gets better with every trial. Over time, you will be able to identify your negative thoughts, be mindful and replace them.
You will be amazed by the power of journaling your thoughts, not eliminating thoughts, and seeking help. This will be a long journey, but you can always count on us to provide you with professional online counseling.
If you are willing to give online therapy a try, we are here for you, and we will help you understand how to stop thinking negative thoughts!