Wouldn’t it be great to quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around your brain. Humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation that helps us avoid danger and react quickly in a crisis. But chronic negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level, and ultimately damage our health. Some people are more prone to negative thinking than others. According to psychologists, thinking styles can be genetic or the result of childhood experiences. Children may develop negative thinking habits if they have been teased or bullied, experienced blatant trauma or abuse, or grew up in environments of emotional deprivation and lack of warmth.
With practice you can learn to disrupt and tame negative cycles.
- The first step to stopping negative thoughts is a surprising one. Don’t try to stop them. Instead, notice that you are in a negative cycle and own it. Tell yourself, “I’m obsessing about my bad review.” Or “I’m obsessing about the election.” By acknowledging your negative cycle and accepting it, you are on your way to taming your negative thoughts. Acceptance is the basic premise of mindfullness, a practice that helps reduce stress and reactivity. In mindfulness, you are simply reminding yourself to notice your thoughts in a nonjudgmental manner, without trying to change or alter them right away. This is a way of accepting where you are now.
- After you’ve accepted a negative thought, force yourself to challenge it. Here is an example: Perhaps not getting a promotion made you worry about your overall competence and you were berating yourself about your skills. Ask yourself, “Why would one setback mean that I am incompetent?” Or you might ask, “What have I done in the past that shows I am actually a very competent worker?”
- Another way of challenging your negative thoughts is to ask yourself what advice your would give to a friend in a similar circumstance, and then think of how that advice might apply to you as well.
- There will be times when your bleak thoughts are actually valid, but your projections about what’s next are not. Consider this scenario: Your partner has left you for someone else. “My partner doesn’t love me anymore,” might be accurate, but “No one else will ever love me,” is probably not.
- Now move from a place of inaction to action to counteract the negative thought. If you are worried about feeling unloved, check in with friends and family members. If you are feeling insecure at work, make a list of your accomplishments. Perhaps ask your best friend to write you a letter telling you all the ways in which you are a good, kind person. Reread the letter daily.
- You might also try to write down how you are helping yourself or accomplishing anything by dwelling on your negative thoughts.
- Another action you can take is controlled breathing.When your negative thoughts are making you feel agitated and overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and then another. Breathe in to the count of six, and out to the count of six. This calms your overactive central nervous system.
- Finally, remind yourself that the more you dwell on the negative, the more accustomed your brain becomes to dwelling on the negative. Better to ask yourself, “are my thoughts helping to build me up, or tear me down?”
Until next time, peace.