How to Stop Negative Thoughts with Mindfulness

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Have you ever noticed your inner critic? I’m referring to that subtle voice in your head that never stops talking.

Not a day goes by without it attempting to criticize, blame, and judge both yourself and those around you. What’s peculiar is that you allow it to be there all the time, indulging in negativity.

I became aware of this unconscious tendency shortly after starting my meditation practice, and in this article, I’d like to share five steps on how to stop negative thoughts with mindfulness. (Related article: “The Voice in the Head: Becoming Aware of Your Inner Critic.”)

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1. Notice Your Negative Thoughts

The first step is noticing your negative thoughts. This is often easier said than done because they become so deeply ingrained and normalized over time.

For example, during one of the darker periods of my life, I would wake up with a heavy feeling every morning. All my daily activities seemed rather meaningless: getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, putting on clothes, eating breakfast, going to work.

Through meditation, I realized it wasn’t the activities that made me unhappy but the constant background noise of negative thoughts. Becoming aware of them lifted a heavy weight of discontent, allowing more joy to enter my life.

Related article: “How to Practice Breathing Meditation and Become Aware of Your Unconscious Thoughts

2. Avoid Suppressing Your Negative Thoughts

The second step is steering clear of two common mind traps when dealing with negative thoughts.

The first is trying to control or suppress them. I remember telling myself, “If you stop thinking about it, it will go away.” Of course, that approach didn’t work; the more I tried to stop my thoughts the more they proliferated in my mind.

The second is trying to think positively. For example, instead of dwelling on how much I hated my job, I would think about the money I earned and how it could help me buy more things. However, you can’t always maintain positive thoughts, no matter how hard you try. Instead, try to shift your attention into the body, getting out of your head and grounding yourself in physical sensations.

Related article “How to Practice Body Awareness Meditation to Counter Overthinking

3. Identify Activities and People Triggering Your Negative Thoughts

The third step is identifying what triggers your negative thoughts. The most effective way to do it is by noticing your feelings and observing your reactions to specific activities and people throughout the day.

Think of it as a chain consisting of thought, emotion, and reaction. Most of the time, you’re unaware of the thought, the first link in this chain. For example, reading the news always left me feeling agitated, sabotaging my focus and ability to write. The trigger, as I later discovered, was the thought that I was helpless to change or influence all the injustices brought to my attention.

By observing my reaction, feeling the emotion, and becoming aware of the triggering thought, I could take appropriate action to limit sources of negativity in my daily life.

Related article: “How to Practice Lovingkindness Meditation to Deal With Difficult People in Your Life

4. Accept Your Negative Thoughts

The fourth step is accepting your thoughts. Consider it being comfortable with every negative thought in your mind and letting go of the need to label it in any way.

When you consciously make an effort to be with your negative thoughts, you realize that they’re not as threatening as they seem.

Related article: “What’s Your First Thought in the Morning?

5. Disidentify from Your Negative Thoughts

The fifth step is disidentifying from negative thoughts. Picture it as creating distance between yourself and your thoughts.

Here’s a simple mental exercise I use to work with my own negative thoughts: whenever I notice criticism or self-judgment, I mentally repeat it to myself. For example, “I can’t do anything right.” Then I change it to, “I think I can’t do anything right.” Lastly, I rephrase it to “I’ve noticed I have a thought that I can’t do anything right.”

This allows me to see thoughts as thoughts, creating a “mental distance,” so to speak. Thanks to this simple method, thoughts lose their power to draw me in completely, and I become more aware of my thinking patterns. As a supplement, I created a free worksheet you can download below.