If you have negative thoughts you are normal. Research says 80 percent of our thoughts contain some sort of negative content. The difficulty isn’t that we have negative thoughts. The problem comes when we believe our thoughts are true.
Let’s cut to the chase about our internal chatter or inner critic because they can get in the way of the happiness we live in. Rumination is the act of rehashing negative thoughts over and over in your head. Doing this is harmful, unkind and counterproductive to yourself. It can even lead to chronic depression.
“It’s like a needle in a groove,” says Guy Winch, Ph.D., psychologist. “As the groove gets deeper and deeper, the needle has a harder time getting out of the groove.” What’s more, rumination can actually make you more angry or upset than you were originally, because the issue becomes magnified in your mind.”
The ability to turn the inner critic around or make it shut up almost automatically is a powerful weapon in our arsenal of life. Make certain you are being good to your brain (and mind) with good nutrition and water first. Then use some of these ideas and techniques to include in your emotional lunch box.
1. Have a stop word.
My stop word is “relax.” Yours can be anything you want: “Stop,” “No,” “Cowabunga,” whatever you want. But the tool is to simply create a stop word or stop-phrase that you say or shout in your mind
as soon as the internal chatter starts criticizing, distortion or self-esteem hurting thoughts.
- Thank your mind.
If you’re having anxious thoughts such as, “I hope this plane doesn’t crash…I hope the pilot knows what he’s doing…” say, “Thank you, mind. Thank you for trying to keep me safe. But there’s nothing that you really need to do right now. I’ve got it covered.”
- Quit being so realistic to justify being right
To proclaim to yourself “I’m just being ‘realistic’ is a favored self-scam of cynics everywhere. In some ways they are right, but the result can be that way of thinking negatively helps them justify why they are negative and creating obstacles that don’t exist. It causes them not to try. Or if they do try, they give up sooner. Their negativity influences results and self-fulfilling prophecies kick in. Research has even found that what we believe about our health can have more bearing on how long we live than our actual health.
- Stop thinking in extremes
Most of life isn’t black or white, completely this or that, all or nothing. But negative thinking tends to fall into a bad trap of the extreme. For example:
- Rather than not doing as well as I’d like on my test, I’m going to “fail completely!”
- Instead of my business venture taking a while to get going, it’s going to “crash and burn, leaving me ruined!”
- Rather than just feeling a few nerves during my speech, I’m going to “die out there; they’re all going to hate me!”
Most of life consists of shades of grey. Instead of “It’s going to be a disaster” or “It’s going to be perfect!” how about: “I expect there will be great bits, good bits, and not so good bits.”
Giving your brain more grey options will reduce emotionality and allow you to think more clearly.
- Stop over-generalizing the negative
Ask yourself: “If something bad happens, do I over-generalize it? Do I view it as applying to everything and being permanent rather than containing it to one place and time?”
For example, if someone turns you down for a date, do you spread the negativity beyond that person, time, and place by telling yourself: “Nothing ever works out for me!”? If you fail a test do you say to yourself, “I’m stupid and can’t learn anything!”?
- Never minimize the positive
Negative thinking stops people seeing the positive when it does happen. Setbacks are temporary and specific. They are just events. They are not people. They do not define who you are. EVERYBODY has them. Magnifying setbacks and minimizing successes leads to de-motivation and misery.
- Stop mindreading
Thinking negatively stops us relaxing with uncertainty. This can lead to ‘mindreading’. “She hasn’t texted me back; she doesn’t like me!” or “He only said that to make me feel better, he doesn’t really think that!”
Having to assign a meaning to something before you have real evidence makes you more likely to believe what you imagine without question. You could easily add to the following list or possibilities, if you allow yourself to think more rationally and positive:
- She’s forgotten her phone.
- The phone’s battery is dead.
- She’s run out of phone credits.
- She’s is working.
- She’s on a plane.
- She’s out of range.
- She is swimming and doesn’t have her phone with her.
None of these likely explanations are attributable to you and your likeability. All are just as plausible as any negative thoughts you dream up out of fear and desperation.
- Quit taking all the responsibility
If you put it down to ‘other people’ or ‘luck’ when something is good or successful and don’t take any credit yourself, you are externalizing the positive. Negative thinkers do the opposite. You will internalize. Blaming yourself? You are giving in to all kinds of negatives that have little or nothing at all to do with you.
- Stop forcing your own rules on life
- “If he loved me, he wouldn’t do that.”
- “If I was a good mother, I wouldn’t lose my temper.”
- “People shouldn’t act like that.”
- “If I can’t do this, then I must be really stupid!”
- “He was late – he must be seeing someone else!”
- “Saying that means he doesn’t respect me!”
- “My medical tests haven’t come back and that means it’s bad news!”
- Stop making stuff up and believing it
Imagination and creativity is an awesome thing, but not if you use it to scare yourself. Use your imagination as a tool to be used constructively. Practice it enough to make it your default. At the very least ‘dilute’ the negative thoughts by imagining some kind of positive outcome. Stopping negative thinking takes time and effort, and to an extent it’s a job that’s never done. Practice. Practice.