Do you feel your negative thoughts are spinning out of control?
You are not alone. Everyone has a personal tormentor living inside their head.
And the strangest thing we let him be there all the time. Criticizing, blaming, judging — this is what you do to yourself and others.
What if I told there is a way out? What if I told you that a mindful approach handles negative thoughts so that you’ll be able to deal with them anywhere and anytime beautifully?
Let’s dive in.
Notice Your Thoughts
If you want to learn how to stop negative thoughts, the first step is to notice them.
But when we live on autopilot, immersed in our daily activities, we hardly ever have time just to stop and be aware of what’s going on in our heads.
For example, I used to wake up with a heavy feeling every morning. Everything seemed meaningless: getting off the bed, brushing my teeth, putting on the clothes, eating breakfast, going to work.
Looking back, I now see how negative thoughts about going to work were making me unhappy. It might sound strange, but I wasn’t really aware of these thoughts because my subconscious mind masked them as normal.
Now I can recognize them easily. How? Through daily meditation practice. So if you want to deal with negative thoughts, the first step is meditation.
Before moving to the second step, let’s talk about 2 common mind traps that many people fall into.
Avoid Two Common Mind Traps
In the very beginning being aware of your thoughts may lead you into a trap.
1. Trying to control your thoughts.
How many times have you caught yourself trying to control or suppress your negative thoughts?
Well, I’m raising my hand about a thousand times right now.
One of the things I used to tell myself, “Better stop thinking about this, or you’ll go crazy.”
That tactic doesn’t work because when you try to stop a negative thought, you’re not stopping it but giving it more power over you.
If you can’t stop your thoughts, you might try to substitute them, which leads to the second trap.
2. Trying to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Instead of thinking about how I hated my job, I would try to think about the money I was making and how it would help me stay independent.
When I finally quit my 9 to 5 and started this “new chapter,” it didn’t turn out to be all that great. I’ve encountered plenty of new challenges and problems.
You can’t always think positive thoughts no matter how hard you try. And when it seems that bad stuff is finally over, something else comes up and makes you unhappy.
So what to do then?
If you want to catch your negative thoughts, you need to be proactive and find what triggers them.
But how do you do that? Observe your negative emotions and reactions around specific activities, places, and people.
You can think about it as a chain that looks like this: thought -> emotion -> reaction. Most of the time, we’re not aware of the first link in this chain (of the thought). (Explain) So the unconscious thought produces an emotion immediately followed by a reaction.
For example, how does it feel when you’re stuck in a traffic jam? Are you frustrated, angry, impatient? Can you recognize the thoughts behind these emotions?
What about your place of work? Do any of your coworkers make you behave or react in some way or another?
By pinpointing triggers, you can train your mind to be more conscious of negative thoughts.
Accept Your Thoughts
You might ask, “What exactly does it mean to accept your thoughts?” Even though it sounds simple, the act itself is not.
I would explain it as being comfortable with every negative thought that pops up in your head and letting go of the need to label it in any way.
Put a conscious effort to be with your negative thought and realize that it’s not that threatening. It’s just a thought.
If you can’t accept it, then accept the fact that you can’t accept. Once you’ve done that, you’ve won half the battle. It’s all that needed.
Just practice acceptance whenever possible. It will eventually help you change your perspective on the true nature of negative thoughts.
Disidentify from Your Thoughts
The next step is to create a distance between you and your thoughts. At first, you might find it difficult, so I suggest trying this little mental exercise that I used at the beginning of my practice:
1. Whenever I noticed a negative thought, I would first mentally repeat it to myself, for example, “I can’t do anything right.”
2. Then I would change that to, “I think I can’t do anything right.”
3. And finally, I would change it to “I’ve noticed I have a thought that I can’t do anything right.”
By doing this, you can see that it’s only a thought, it’s not you. The thought loses its power to draw you in, and you become more aware of your thinking patterns.
Try this exercise with your own negative thoughts. You can also download this free worksheet to implement the process described in this article.