Negative thinking

What is negative thinking?

Many of us struggle with negative thoughts that seem to endlessly occupy our minds.

These thoughts sometimes focus on past experiences (e.g. “I didn’t get the job because they didn’t like me”) or they can be projections of disasters that haven’t happened (and probably won’t): “I will never get married and will end up alone”. In both cases, they carry some sort of judgment – usually that we’re not “good enough”.

Most of us fall into the trap of engaging with these thoughts, which can lead to even more stress and worrying and create a vicious cycle which we feel that we are powerless to stop.

But here’s the trick: you don’t need to stop the thoughts, you just need to stop listening to them

What can you do about it?

It’s easy to feel powerless when negative thoughts start streaming in, but there is actually a way to train your mind to conquer negative thinking. Why not try these tips?

Understand how negative thinking works

Do this when negative thoughts start to crop up

It often feels like negative thoughts come from the outside and that you have no control over them. However, the reality is that negative may be triggered by external factors, but the more you engage with them, the more they hang around and multiply.

Understanding that your mind is creating thoughts and scenarios and sending you into a negative thinking spiral is key to putting things into perspective.

Don’t try to stop your thoughts

Do this when negative thoughts start to crop up

Most of us fall into the trap of believing that we should be able to eliminate negative thoughts. This however is far from the truth, and trying to stop unpleasant thoughts and feelings just creates an inner struggle which keeps the thoughts and feelings coming back again and again.

Learning to accept your thoughts without judging them and letting them go without engaging with them is key to conquering your negative thinking.

Let your negative thoughts float away

Do this when negative thoughts start to crop up

This requires a little imagination but trust us, it really works! When a negative thought comes up, picture placing it on a little boat and letting it float away on the water.

This trains your mind to let negative thoughts go rather than trying to stop them – which only makes matters worse.

Make a list of negative thoughts

Do this when you are feeling overwhelmed

List each of your negative thoughts and consider whether you can do something about them. If the answer is yes, write down actions that you will take to address it. If the answer is no, let it go and agree to come back to it at a designated time-slot, and only for a limited amount of time

Writing your thoughts on paper will not only help to let them go, but will also give you some perspective on them.


Focus on gratitude

Do this every day

This sounds hippy but it works. Every night before you go to sleep, write down at least five good things that happened that day. It can be anything, as long as it made you feel good even if just for a second.

Doing this daily will not only create good energy in the moment (which will counter-balance your negative thoughts) but it will also train your mind to focus on the positive thoughts rather than the negative ones.

Recognise thought distortions

Do this when you are feeling overwhelmed

Just because you believe something, it doesn’t mean it’s true! When a negative thought comes up, ask yourself whether you are distorting it in any of the following ways:

  • Black and white thinking (i.e. believing there is no in-between way of seeing things)
  • Personalising (i.e. believing you are to blame for something)
  • Filter thinking (i.e. only seeing the negative side of a story)
  • Catastrophic thinking (i.e. assuming the worst possible outcome)

Doing this will give you perspective and train your mind to re-frame your thinking.


Dig a little deeper

Do this when you are feeling overwhelmed

Have you noticed that your negative thoughts come and go? You are more likely to have negative thoughts if you are not feeling good about yourself or are discouraged by something. This demonstrates that feeling negative about your body is something more connected to your emotional state than to reality.

As yourself the question: How am I feeling? Do you feel like you’re not good enough? Has someone made you feel inadequate? The moment you understand what the issue is, you can start doing something about it.

Tell a friend

Do this when you are feeling overwhelmed

Sharing your worries with someone who cares about you has been demonstrated to reduce stress and anxiety

Not only that, but sharing your negative thoughts and feelings with a friend will help you gain perspective. Also, by telling people how you feel, you might learn that others feel the same, which will demonstrate that it’s a feeling fuelled by you rather than a reality.

Speak to a therapist

Do this when you are feeling overwhelmed

Speaking to friends is great, and can really help to make you feel better. However, negative thinking is sometimes deep-rooted in your feelings of self-confidence and self-worth, and speaking to a therapist is a highly effective way to learn to deal with those feelings in a more constructive way.

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