Have you ever wondered how to get rid of negative thoughts and anxiety?
According to two scientific studies, the average person thinks between 14,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day [The National Science Foundation, 2005, and Leahy, 2005, Study of Cornell University).
An estimated 85% of these thoughts are unhelpful and sometimes even outright painful. Some thoughts are obsessive, recurring thoughts that seem impossible to get rid of. And many of them cause anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health problems.
Naturally, you can start to replace these negative thoughts by using positive thinking techniques.
And you probably should, because negative thoughts are detrimental to mental health.
For instance, many people frequently have bad thoughts about death. The idea of dying painfully or dying alone, or merely dying at all, can cause significant distress and even depression. This is one of the most common types of negative thinking.
We experience are many types of bad thoughts:
- Dwelling on the past
- Worrying about relationships
- Negative thoughts about death
- Worrying about the future
- Worrying about what other people are thinking
- Anxiety over health
- Anxiousness about exams
- Concern over upcoming career events
- Pessimistic ideas about society/government
Over time, these thoughts will turn into negative self-beliefs, which can seriously affect your life. Calm Clinic says that recurring negative thoughts create stories in the mind that we then live out.
Many people wonder how to get rid of bad thoughts like these. And many people try to ignore them, which is a critical mistake according to VeryWell Mind. Your negativity will keep coming back until you learn to deal with it correctly.
Arguably the best way to remove negative thoughts is to use cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a form of psycho-social intervention created by Dr. Aaron T. Beck at the University of Pennsylvania. Scientific research shows that CBT is an effective treatment for negative thoughts. Read my complete guide to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Exercises.
How To Get Rid of Negative Thoughts
1: Understand that ideas in your head are not real
Before you start getting rid of negative thoughts, you need to understand the real problem with the mind.
The fact that we have negative thoughts is not the real problem. The real problem is that we believe that ideas in the mind are real. This is especially true for people who suffer from anxiety.
The best way to remove negative thoughts is to realise thoughts aren’t real. Bad ideas are just information flowing through the mind. And the only reason they harm you is that you place too much emphasis on them.
Always remind yourself that bad thoughts are just ideas. They are not real. This simple realisation will massively reduce the effects of negative thoughts and will lessen the symptoms of anxiety.
Also, remember that your positive thoughts are not real. They, too, are ideas. Try not to place too much importance on them.
2: Use Meditation To Remove Negative Thoughts
Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on one thing. Originally Buddhist and Hindu, meditation has become a popular form of there thanks to the likes of Jon Kabat Zinn and Jack Kornfield.
Meditation helps to quieten your mind, so you experience fewer thoughts in general, and especially less harmful ones.
There are many ways to use meditation to remove negative thoughts. The best way is to meditate on your breath. This will quieten your mind. Once your mind is quiet, you will then be able to observe your thoughts calmly and to create alternative, healthy ways of thinking.
Research from the Faculty of Social, Human & Mathematical Sciences, University of Southampton shows that mindfulness meditation reduces the effects of negative thinking.
3: Put them on paper
This is remarkably similar to the idea of writing harmful thoughts in a journal. This time, however, you are going to draw them out as images. Simply sketch whatever you think. This will make you laugh. When you see your bad thoughts drawn out in colour you will find them amusing. This will completely change your perspective of negative thoughts. And of course, humour itself is imperative to happiness. Indeed, Sense of Humour is one of the 24 character strengths of positive psychology, the branch of psychology created by Martin Seligman that studies happiness. c
4: Share your ideas with friends
If you’re an open person, this is one of the absolute best ways how to remove bad thoughts. Simply share them with your friends. . The average person will quickly tell you if your conceptions are total bullshit. So, tell them. They will gladly give you a dose of reality.
5: Play with it:
Whether your negative thought is self-talk or a mental image, play with it. For instance, if it’s a voice, imagine the sound changing, becoming higher-pitched, lower-pitched, louder, quieter, and so on. If it’s a picture, make it brighter, dimmer, more prominent, smaller, and so on. By playing with the thought, you teach yourself that you have ultimate control over your mind. Happify also recommends imagining throwing the thought away. This is a technique from Neuro-linguistic programming, a system created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder at the University of California, Santa Cruz
6: Think it backwards:
When you think the same thought backwards, you turn it into a little game. You make it something tangible that you can play with. This technique is definitely an alternative, but it has worked for me personally.
7: Rate it from 1 to 10:
Objectively appraise the thought. If it’s a negative thought that actually holds some important truth, you might like to rate the thought highly and even thank your mind for the helpful information it provided. If it’s an utterly stupid and worthless thought, rate it a 0 and tell your mind to produce better ones.
8: Give up TV:
Scientific research has confirmed that when we watch pessimistic TV shows (the news, for instance), we develop a pessimistic view of the world. Longitudinal studies show that people who watch the news are statistically more likely to dwell on negative thoughts. Time to give up TV.
Graham C. L. Davey, PhD [professor of psychology at the University of Sussex] says, “[By] bombarding people with sensationalized negativity [TV] has genuine and real psychological effects.”
Yes, an easy way how to remove negative thoughts is just to stop watching TV.
9: Mantras for positivity:
Mantras are word or phrases with psycho-spiritual powers (similar to spells and affirmations). You can use positive mantras to build positive thoughts. The best idea is to use a mantra that is the opposite of your negative thought. For instance, if you often think, “I am a failure”, use the mantra “I am a success”. Repeating this mantra will remind you of all the ways you are successful in life.
Research by Christopher N. Cascio [University of Pennsylvania] shows that reciting mantras exercises parts of the brain related to positive feelings about ourselves (including the striatum and prefrontal cortex).
10: NLP for cognitive control
The following is a classic NLP (neurolinguistic programming) technique. It is a powerful procedure for getting rid of negative thoughts.
- Negative thinking depression occurs for a reason. Life teaches us what we need to know. Since the time when humans were in caves, we have been conditioned to use “Negative bias” to see potential dangers. Thousands of years ago this ability was important because we needed to be aware of dangers in the environment. But in today’s modern age, negative thought bias is something of a “hangover” of our evolution, leaving us with negative thoughts that cause depression.
- Bring your negative and depressing thought to mind. Let the thought enter your mind. Now, rather than immediately forcing this negative thought aside (which is likely what you usually try to do), allow it to settle in your mind. Remember, it is only a thought/image, it cannot truly harm you. So, allow it to stay in your mind for now.
- Imagine that the negative and depressing thought/image is actually a TV channel. See or hear the negative thought/image and realise that it has certain qualities. For instance, if a voice is saying something in your head, that voice has a tone, a volume, a pitch and so on, and a negative image has colour, zoom, etc. To make the negative thought more comfortable, lessen the quality of the TV. Perhaps make it black and white. Turn the sound down. Change the tone of voices. Just play with that negative thought or image and make the signal weaker. This will make it easier for you to hold the image in your mind comfortably. When you can hold the thought in your mind with relative comfort.
- Tell yourself that the negative thought is actually a lesson waiting to be learned and that the lesson will help you once you see it for what it truly is. Then continue to examine your negative thought, searching for this lesson. Just look at the image and know that somewhere in it is a truth that will turn negative to positive.
- Once you start to feel comfortable doing this, begin to improve the quality of the TV (the mental image, sound etc). Turn the sound up (if there is sound), make the image bigger, brighter, etc. Just make that TV more like HD and then more like cinema and eventually, when you get really comfortable, like real life.
- Now that you have played with the TV (the negative thought) you will realise that you have power over it. You are able to make the signal stronger or weaker as you choose. Know that you have power over the negative thought and let that be a comfort.
- Continue to investigate the thought for its positive lesson. Just play with the TV. Make it weaker and stronger and just continue to play with it and examine it. Eventually, you will hit a moment of realisation. This moment will come unexpectedly. You won’t notice it slowly arising, but a moment will come when suddenly you are looking at that negative thought in a vastly different light. You will know when this moment comes because you will have a physiological reaction; your body will react somehow. You will move spontaneously whilst feeling a moment of revelation. This is the lesson life is teaching you. Once you see the beauty in this once negative thought, realise that life is always right, that a negative thought is only negative because you are not looking at it in the right light. This should help with any future negative thoughts.
One of my personal favourite ways how to get rid of negative thoughts is by using a journal. This is precisely what it sounds like: a journal to write negative thoughts in. You might wonder how this helps.
When you write your thoughts down on paper, it makes it much easier to observe them and then objectively change them. When we think a bad thought, for instance, “I’m a failure”, it can be hard to challenge that thought when we first think it. It is much easier to write it down, return to it later when you are feeling more positive, and then change it.
A journal helps me realise just exactly how inaccurate and untruthful many of my thoughts are.
Another excellent way to get rid of negative thoughts is with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
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