Most of us spend a lot of time inside our minds worrying about the future, replaying events in the past, and generally focusing on the parts of life that leave us dissatisfied. While common, negative or unwanted thoughts can prevent you from enjoying experiences, distract you from focusing on what's essential, and drain your energy. They can also make you feel anxious and depressed.
The good news is that you can replace negative thinking patterns with thoughts that help with dedicated practice. This can make a huge difference in your day-to-day happiness and comfort.
Try these ways to discuss in this video to manage (and decrease) your negative thoughts:
One of the first steps toward changing your negative thinking patterns is understanding exactly how you think right now. For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in "black-and-white" thinking. Other negative thinking patterns include jumping to conclusions, catastrophic, and over generalization.
Unhelpful thinking patterns differ in subtle ways. But they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people.
Humans are meaning-making machines, so it’s useful to question your interpretation of events and see if you’re creating stories that may not necessarily be true.
Next time something happens, and you start jumping to conclusions, pause, and ask yourself: Is this true? Can I know for sure? Could I be reading meaning into the situation, which isn’t there? Could I see things differently?
Another powerful question to ask yourself when you’re caught in a state of anger or anxiety over a situation is: How long will this last?
You may suddenly realize that in the scheme of life, what’s making you feel bad right now is something you may hardly remember in five years, or you may even be able to look back on it and laugh.
Putting things into perspective in this way can immediately shift your thinking towards more hopeful, positive thoughts.
Our minds have creative and persistent ways of convincing us of something that isn't true. These inaccurate thoughts reinforce negative thinking. If you can recognize them, you can learn to challenge them. Here are four common thought distortions:
Whenever you have a distorted view, stop, and evaluate whether it is accurate. Think about how you would respond if a friend spoke about herself that way. You would probably offer a good rebuttal to his or her negative view. Apply the same logic to your thoughts. Ask yourself if you are assuming the worst will happen or blaming yourself for something that has not gone the way you wanted. And then think about other possible outcomes or reasons that something turned out differently than you hoped.
It is possible to learn how to separate from negative thoughts. One way to do this is to allow yourself a certain amount of time (maybe five minutes) with the idea. Then take a break from focusing on it and move on with your day.
We all judge ourselves and others, usually unconsciously. Constantly comparing ourselves to other people or comparing our lives to some ideal breeds dissatisfaction. When you can let go of judgment (not easy, but possible), you will likely feel more at ease. Some ways to break from judgmental thoughts include recognizing your reaction, observing it, and then letting it go. Another helpful technique is to "positive judge." When you notice you are negatively judging a person, yourself, or a situation, look for a positive quality.
Research shows that feeling grateful has a significant impact on your levels of positivity and happiness. Even when you are experiencing a challenging time in your life, you can usually find things (even small things) to be grateful for. Noticing the things that are going well and making you feel happy will keep you in touch with them. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing a few things every day is one easy and effective way to do this.
It's human nature to dwell on the negative and overlook the positive. The more you can practice focusing on your strengths and not dwelling on mistakes you've made, the easier it will be to feel optimistic about yourself and your life's direction. If you find yourself thinking harsh thoughts about your personality or actions, take a moment to stop and think about something you like about yourself.
Seek out professional support if you cannot manage your thoughts or find they are interfering with your ability to meet your daily responsibilities or enjoy life. Counseling and therapy can help you weather life changes, reduce emotional suffering, and experience self-growth.
If you struggle with negative thought patterns and it's impacting your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. While it can be tough to share your thoughts with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialogue.