Left unmanaged, negative thinking can develop into major problems like depression, stress, low self-esteem, and social anxiety.
If you are like most people, you are likely wondering, “Why is my mind always thinking negative?” Or “Why is my mind thinking negative thoughts?”
For others, their struggles might involve how to get rid of dark thoughts, how to stop thinking negatively, or what causes negative thoughts.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of ways you can banish negative thoughts for good.
The key to changing negative thoughts is to first have a thorough understanding of how you think (and the corresponding problems that arise) and use strategies to get rid of the negative thoughts or minimize their impact.
Rachel Goldman, a clinical assistant professor and psychologist at the NYU School of Medicine maintains that our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are all linked so thoughts have an impact on how we feel and act.
That said, it is important that you know how to recognize them so you will know how to handle them so they don’t end up dictating how your day (or your life) goes.
Therapy can be a great tool for eradicating negative thoughts.
However, learning how to change your thought patterns would be a good place to start.
If you want to know:
- How to stop negative thoughts
- How to avoid negative thoughts
- How to stop spiraling thoughts
- How to stop bad thoughts
- How to control negative thoughts
- How to stop dark thoughts
- How to overcome negative thoughts
- How to get rid of a bad thought
This article is for you.
To Ways to Banish Negative Thinking for Good
It is reassuring to know there is no shortage of ways you can eradicate negative thinking for good.
Below are some of the proven and tested techniques and tips you can explore:
Practice Self-Awareness and Mindfulness
The roots of mindfulness are in meditation.
At its core, meditation is the art of detaching yourself from your emotions and thoughts and starting to view them from the point of view of an outside observer.
When you practice mindfulness, you can build greater self-awareness and become more conscious of your thoughts.
Mindfulness can also be a powerful tool that can change your relationship with your thoughts.
When you meditate, you will be viewing your thoughts and feelings as objects that float past you that you can observe.
One of the primary objectives of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to certain situations by allowing your brain’s thinking part to take over.
There’s a theory that the practice of mindfulness can facilitate one’s ability to use thoughts more adaptively.
A study revealed that individuals that practiced mindfulness experienced lesser negative thoughts even if they have been exposed to negative imagery.
This suggests that mindfulness can minimize the impact of negative thinking.
Rachel Goldman advises that it is crucial that you become aware of how your thoughts are impacting your behaviors and emotions.
In line with this, you need to be observant with your thoughts.
When examining your thoughts, ask yourself the following important questions:
- Is this thought helpful?
- What purpose is the thought serving me?
- How does this thought make me feel?
Identify Your Negative Thoughts
As you work on observing your thoughts, it is imperative that you also work on labeling and identifying negativity and cognitive distortions.
For instance, if you have the tendency to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are adapting the “black-and-white” thinking.
Other negative patterns you should look out for include:
- Jumping to conclusions: This thought distortion involves creating assumptions about what others think or making negative assumptions about how a specific event will eventually turn out.
- Blame and personalization: This thought pattern is all about taking things personally even if they are not. This often leads to blaming yourself for things that you have no control over.
- Emotional reasoning: This thought pattern involves the assumption that something is true based on your emotional response to it alone. For instance, if you feel nervous, emotional reasoning will lead you to believe that you must be in danger. This in turn results in increased anxiety and the escalation of negative feelings.
- Should statements: Thinking that is marked by the word “should” contributes to negative thinking because you only get to think in terms of what you “ought” to be doing. These kinds of statements are often unrealistic and can cause people to feel pessimistic and defeated.
- Labeling: When you label yourself in a negative way, it can affect how you feel about yourself significantly in different contexts. For instance, if you label yourself as bad at Math, you will automatically feel negative about activities that involve that skill.
- Overgeneralization: This thought pattern is typically marked by the tendency to apply what happened in a single experience to all future experiences. This makes negative experiences seem inevitable and contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Catastrophizing: This negative thinking pattern is characterized by always assuming the worst possible outcome will happen without considering other realistic and likely possibilities.
This is not common knowledge but unhelpful thinking patterns can differ in various ways.
However, they all involve irrational ways of looking at people and situations and distortions of reality.
Once you know how to observe your thoughts, you can label them and from there identify if they are helpful or not.
Experts also suggest that you pause and accept the thought for what it is.
However, it is also important that you remind yourself that what you are thinking are just thoughts.
They are not facts.
Replace Your Negative Thoughts
One of the key parts of a treatment plan that involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring.
The process can help you identify and change your negative thoughts into more adaptive and beneficial responses.
Experts suggest looking for evidence that contradicts or supports the thought.
This technique can help you effectively challenge negative thinking and explore alternatives that are more realistic and helpful.
While it can be difficult to think using this new style, with practice, rational and positive thoughts will come more naturally.
Cognitive restructuring can also help you challenge your negative thoughts by taking you through different steps including the following:
- Asking yourself if what you are thinking is realistic.
- Thinking of what happened in the past in similar situations and evaluating if your thoughts are on course with what is taking place.
- Actively challenging your thoughts and looking for alternative explanations.
- Thinking of what you will gain versus what you will lose when you continue to believe a specific thought.
- Recognizing if your thought is a result of a cognitive distortion like catastrophizing.
- Consider what you will tell a friend who has the same thought.
John Hopkins Medicine suggests that you should focus on the positive to help you effectively combat any negative thought patterns.
Ask yourself if there is any good that will come out of your current situation.
It is also recommended that you do not replace negative thoughts with overly positive ones.
It is important to keep in mind that if the replacement thoughts are not realistic, they won’t be helpful.
You would be setting yourself up for failure if you replace negative thoughts with something that is not realistic.
One helpful technique would be to ask yourself what you would say to a good friend in the same situation.
Goldman also suggests that if you find yourself thinking of thoughts like “I am going to fail,” or “I am a failure,” you should not replace it with something like “I am sure I am going to succeed.”
Ideally, replacing your negative thoughts with something more neutral is ideal since it shows self-compassion.
That said, replace your negative thoughts with something like “I don’t know if I can do it but I am trying my best.”
One study also discovered that single cognitive restructuring intervention can also effectively reduce biases and negative thoughts that play a role in anxiety and stress.
Don’t Engage in Thought Stopping
The opposite of mindfulness is thought stopping.
It is the act of looking out for negative thoughts and insisting that they are eliminated.
The problem with thought stopping is the more you stop your negative thoughts, the more they will surface.
This is called thought rebounding.
Mindfulness is preferable because it will give less weight to thoughts and minimize their impact.
Experts believe that the thought rebounding that will take place after you try negative thoughts is way more damaging.
Rather, psychologists will recommend finding ways to deal with negative thoughts directly.
Practice Coping with Criticism
Aside from cognitive restructuring, another aspect of CBT that is considered beneficial for those suffering from social anxiety involves “assertive defense of the self.”
Since it is possible that at one point or another some people will be judgmental and critical toward you, it is crucial that you know how to effectively deal with criticism and rejection.
The process is typically carried out in therapy through a pretend conversation between you and your therapist.
The goal is to help you build up your assertiveness skills as well as your assertive response to criticism.
You can then transfer the skills you have learned to the real world through homework assignments.
For instance, if you experience criticism in real life, learning a set of assertive responses can help you deal with these stressful and anxiety-inducing situations.
What’s more, real life encounters will also give you an opportunity to practice and apply what you have learned.
Some research also suggests that facing likely “social mishaps” that can contribute to negative thinking and anxiety can also be beneficial.
One of the goals of improving your ability to face and handle rejection and criticism is to help increase your tolerance of the possible distress criticisms and rejections may cause.
Eventually, this technique can also help you effectively combat your negative thoughts.
Use a Thought Diary
Thought records or thought diaries are also considered effective tools that can help change negative thinking.
Thought diaries work by helping you identify negative thinking patterns and styles and help you develop a better understanding of how your thoughts and the situations you find yourself can trigger your emotional reactions.
For instance, a thought diary will break down your thought process and your physical and emotional reactions that result from negative thinking patterns.
At the end of the thought analysis, you can also replace irrational thoughts about criticism and rejection with more beneficial and positive ways of thinking.
Don’t Start Thoughts with “I Should”
Should statements can greatly contribute to anxious and negative thought patterns.
Often, you are putting a demand on yourself that is sometimes difficult to live up to.
Be gentle with yourself.
No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, including yourself.
When you use “I should” statements, you are putting yourself in a situation where you are forced to feel and act a certain way.
This adds unwanted pressure and might cause you to procrastinate and avoid activities and responsibilities completely.
For many others, this also results in more anxious thinking.
That said, listen to your thoughts.
Are you telling yourself “I should” do things?
It’s a kinder way of keeping yourself motivated to stay on track without getting distracted by negative thought patterns.
Recognize Patterns of Automatic Negative Thinking
Behind “should” statements, there is sometimes a form of cognitive distortion known as automatic negative thoughts or ANTs.
Automatic negative thoughts are the first thoughts that come to mind when you have a strong reaction or feeling about something.
It can be likened to a reflex rather than free thinking.
Automatic negative thoughts are persistent and learned and they often repeat themes such as fear or danger.
Those themes are quite common in depressive and anxiety thinking.
If you have anxiety, automatic negative thoughts will make themes the showrunner of your mind and can turn negative thoughts into paralyzing panic attacks.
To overcome automatic negative thoughts, breaking down a scenario into three parts is recommended:
- The situation
- Your moods
- The image or thought that springs to your mind automatically
Once you are able to identify the three parts accordingly, you can then actively change the negative thought into a wiser, productive, and more beneficial one.
What causes your anxiety?
Creating a thought record is basically all about putting your thoughts to the test. You can start by asking yourself when, what, where, and who you were with.
This can help you figure out what happened while at the same time helping you stick with facts rather than with your feelings.
What is your mood in the situation?
Figure out your mood and rate the intensity of the moods from 1 to 10.
For example, if you are currently working on a project, your moods can include:
The main idea of rating your mood is to determine how much of your thoughts are influenced by a certain type of mood.
What automatic thoughts are running through your mind?
This is the most crucial step in your thought record.
Take note of the images and thoughts that pop into your mind that relate to the situation.
Remember what you were thinking at the time.
Automatic negative thoughts can include:
- I’m going to end up alone
- Nobody likes me
- I can’t cope with this
- The world is an awful place
- Nobody likes me
- I’m going to mess this up
If you find yourself thinking of automatic negative thoughts, break down the situation into tasks that can help shift your mindset away from the predominant negative thoughts that are controlling your thoughts.
As you dig into the details, you will eventually discover the automatic negative thoughts that develop in your mind.
Making mental shifts is more than just turning “I feel sad and anxious” to “I feel happy and satisfied. Keep in mind that there will always be instances when no matter how hard you try to change your thought patterns, you won’t be able to do so instantly. In similar instances, find solace in knowing that recognizing and being able to identify your thoughts and acknowledging them would suffice. From there, it is easier to move forward and make changes so you can eliminate negative thoughts for good.