There are many different types of negative thoughts and negative self-talk. And some are truly brutal.
Indeed, Beverly D. Flaxington says that too much negative self talk “Gets you in its grip and does everything possible to keep you trapped.” And Margarita Tartovsky, M.S., says: “Negative thoughts can sink our mood and perpetunate a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. They can lead to everything from lost opportunities to depression.” 
Thankfully, there are ways to stop negative thoughts.
Take a look at the different types of negative thoughts below, and make a note of the types of thoughts you suffer from the most.
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Negative Thoughts List
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking.
Example: “If I don’t do this, I’ll be a complete failure.”
If you’re prone to this type of negative thinking, you exaggerate the importance of something.
Classic example: You say your life will be over if you fail an exam.
Other people can see how unrealistic this idea is. However, to the individual experiencing the thought, it can seem very real.
So here is what to do. Consider what actually would happen in the worst-case scenario: Yes, you fail the exam, but life continues anyway.
2. Disqualifying the Positives.
Example: “Life is always bad.”
This is a form of cognitive bias [2.]
Thoughts like “I’m a terrible person” are rarely realistic. They occur because we disqualify the positive.
Unfortunately, you might struggle to avoid these thoughts because of the negativity bias [a].
The solution is obvious. When you have a very negative thought, seek the positive. This is always possible. For instance, even if we are going through a bad time in life, such as a divorce, there will still be some positive elements. For example: “My relationship is over, but now I can find a more positive relationship”.
If you always ignore the positives, use positive-thinking meditations.
3. Negative Self-Labeling.
Example: “I am a complete failure, and I always will be.”
Do you think the worst about yourself? If so, you’re suffering from this kind of negativity.
Self-labelling means obsessively thinking negative things about yourself, and saying that you are those things.
- “I’m a total loser.”
- “My life sucks”
- “Why am I so stupid?”
- “I’m a bad person.”
- “I’m fat.”
- “I suck.”
- “My life is so bad”
- “I’m an idiot.”
Sometimes these thoughts contain some truth. For example, you think “I’m an alcoholic” and you truly are. But even in these cases you can still be positive. For instance, you can think, “I am fighting to overcome my addiction”.
Example: “This isn’t just going to be bad; it’s going to be the worst thing of all time.”
If you suffer from this one, you think that one bad thing will mean game over, man, game over.
To overcome this, consider what would happen if the unfortunate event occurred. For instance, if you think that you might lose your job, consider what would happen next—you will probably just get another job, it is not the end of the world.
5. Mind Reading.
Example: “I know people love me because I can read their minds.”
Here, we assume we know other people’s thoughts.
Self conscious people often experience this. They think they know that other people are judging them. But in truth, we have no clue what other people are thinking.
99% of the time this is you projecting your thoughts onto someone else.
To stop this, just remind yourself that you’re not psychic.
6. Should Statements.
Example: “I should do this, and they should do that.”.
Nobody should do anything. So-called Should-Thinking is massively unhelpful. Why? Because it takes a positive (I’d like to get in shape) and makes it seem obligatory (I should get in shape)
If you suffer from this kind of negativity, focus on the choice you are making. For instance, instead of thinking “I should lose weight” think “I am working on losing weight because I want to be healthier”.
7. Excessive Need for Approval.
Example: “I need you to need me.”
Here, you constantly think you need other people to like / love / approve of you.
Newsflash: The only person who needs to approve of you is you.
This is usually based on a lack of self-confidence. Truly confident people do not require the approval of others. Try to be king of yourself, rather than depending on the acknowledgement of others.
8. Disqualifying the Present.
Example: “Everything will be all right later.”
This one is a killer. In this one, we accept that life sucks right now but it will get better. The problem is, this prevents us from doing something about it right now.
If you experience this, focus on the present. What can you do right now to make things better?
Example: “I have to think about everything that’s wrong in my life.”
People who experience this type of negative inner dialogue think that they must constanly focus on the negative in their lives. It’s like they think that reminding themselves of what’s wrong with force them to make changes. But it does not work.
To overcome this, balance the negative with the positive. Try to be more mindful by living in the present moment instead of in ideas of what is wrong.
Example: “That glass is half empty.”
Pessimism is thinking the worst of a situation that is part good and part bad.
However, just because pessimism is bad doesn’t necessarily mean realism or optimism are better. What’s best is balance (acknowledge the bad, the okay, and the good at the same time).
To overcome this, look at the full picture. Yes, acknowledge what is bad. Also acknowledge what is right and what is okay. That will give you a more balanced mindset.
11. Automatic Negative Thoughts
Example: Actually, this could be any negative thought you experience over and over.
Have you ever noticed that you have automatic negative thoughts? These are things you think over and over again, and thoughts you cannot seem to stop.
Clinical Psychologist Tamar Chansky, Ph.D, says, “Negative thoughts are automatic thoughts in response to uncertainty, anxiety, disappointment or other challenges.”
Such thoughts are sometimes the result of a specific mental health problem.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder leads to irrational, obsessive thoughts.
- Generalised anxiety disorder creates irrational worries that are usually situational.
- Panic Disorder often creates negative thinking about health or the inability to escape a particular situation.
- Social anxiety creates irrational negative thoughts about other people.
Do you experience this? If so, remind yourself that it is just a thought, nothing more. Then, try to think more objectively and rationally.
12: “If only’s”
Example: “If only I were a milli
onaire, I’d be happy.”
This is the most common type.
“If only” thoughts can be used as excuses: “If only he/she would. . .”
Often, when we put a conditional on something, we are holding ourselves back.
For instance, “I’d be happy if only I had a better job”.
This statement logically prevents us from being happy now. Yes, it would be nice to have a good job, but we can be happy without one.
Rectify this with a “but even if”:
“I’d be happy with a better job, but even if I don’t get one I will still be okay”.
Example: I should lose weight
“Should” is such a horrible word, in self-talk or in conversation.
Should makes you feel obligated and powerless as it robs you of choice.
Use “Want” instead. “I should lose weight.” NOPE. “I want to lose weight” is better .
You can make “should” thoughts better by including a plan.
- If you think “I should lose weight”.
- Change it to, “I want to lose weight”.
- Then add a plan. “I want to lose weight, so I am going to get a gym membership”.
- And then actually do it.
I’ll be happy when I’m rich
When thoughts can become because they prevent us from doing something now . It’s a type of negativity that disqualifies the present moment.
Here’s how to correct a when thought:
- Take the When Thought, e.g. “I’ll get fit when I have more time.”
- Now tell yourself that you need to create the conditional to get the result: “I need to make more time to get in shape.”
- Then make a plan, “I need to make more time to get in share, therefore I am going to stop watching TV”.
15: “Have to”
Example: “I have to pass this test”
Here we incorrectly say that we must do something. For example, “I have to make dinner” implies that we absolutely must make dinner, and we do not want to.
This is inaccurate and unhelpful.
Change it like this:
- I have to make dinner
- I want to make dinner because I’m hungry
- Feel free to add an alternative: I want to make dinner because I’m hungry, or I could order in.
Example: “I will try to quit smoking”
“Do or do not, there is no try”, said Yoda, and he was right. If you say you will “try” to do something you are setting yourself up for failure. Use WILL.
The main problem with try thoughts is that they are defeatist. They already imply that we might fail. That’s not good for positivity.
Turn this negative inner dialogue into a positive one. Just change the word “Try” into “Will”.
- I will try to run a marathon
- I will run a marathon
Example: I can’t solve this problem.
Oh boy, this is one of the most common examples of negative self-talk. Can’t thoughts are almost always brutal.
For instance, “I can’t get a promotion”. That’s an example of negative inner talk that will totally stop you in your tracks.
The second you think you can’t, you’re done, because your mind will make the negative belief a reality. Just change it to can.
Deal with Can’t thoughts like this:
- I can’t have a cigarette
- [add a reason] I can’t have a cigarette because I worked so hard to quit
- [make it positive] I will stay off cigarettes because I worked so hard to quit
- [even more positive] I will stay off cigarettes because I worked so hard to quit and I deserve to be healthy
18: Just plain old lazy
Example: “One day something good will happen”
These are thoughts that lack specific details and plans.
I’m going to be a millionaire.
The math shows that with my current stock investments rising at the rate they are, I will make a million this year.
Now that’s optimistic and specific.
Example: “I wish things were better”
“Better” is such a throwaway word.
What is better?
According to whom?
What criteria determines whether something is better or worse?
Odds are if you’re saying you want something to be “better” you’re simply expressing that you feel inadequate in some way. For example, you want to be a better person because you think that you are currently not good enough.
If you catch yourself using “Better”, ask yourself precisely what it is you want. Then, make clear and specific aims.
“I’d be better if I were fit”? Nope. “I would feel better about myself if I lost 10 pounds over the next three months”.
20: “Some day I’ll…”:
Example: “Some day I’ll be rich”
Thoughts like “some day I’ll be rich” aren’t necessarily harmful, they’re simply ineffective. Remember to be specific. “By age 34 I’ll be a millionaire because I will have published a best-selling novel.”
Example: I want more money
This is near identical to the “better” thoughts that we looked at above. Ultimately, you’re just expressing that you don’t have enough of something.
Ask yourself exactly how much of something you want. For instance, don’t say “I want to weigh less” say “I want to weigh 10 pounds less OR I want to weigh 120 lbs.”
Example: “Eventually I will get married”
Possibly the worst word of them all. EVENTUALLY puts you at the mercy of time. Instead, focus on what you can do now, in the present moment.
“Eventually I will be someone.” Yuck. “By March the 18th of this year I will get promoted at work and will be feeling good about my career”.
These negative self talk examples change the way we think. They make us depressed, stressed, and anxious. And they create negative beliefs. You can change them by using the tutorials I shared at the top of this page.
Sources & Resources
The Power of Negative Thinking – Scientific American
Can Negative Thoughts Be Stopped? – Live Science
How to Harness the Positive Power of Negative Thinking – University of California: Berkley
1: Kanouse, D. E., & Hanson 1972, Negativity in Evaluation
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison