It is vital to know how to stop thinking negative thoughts. Getting rid of negative thoughts will totally change your life.
We human beings experience an average of 50,000 thoughts every day .
That’s one thought for every 1.6 seconds of the day.
Many of those thoughts are unhelpful and even painful. Some are obsessive, recurring thoughts that seem impossible to get rid of. [Read my guide to Thought Stopping Exercises]
For instance, you might find yourself obsessively thinking and worrying about the future. This is one of the most common types of negative thinking because there is always something in the future that could potentially go wrong.
Other common examples include:
- Dwelling on the past [READ: How To Stop Bad Memories Coming Back]
- Worrying about relationships
- Negative thoughts about the future
- Fear of death
- Worrying about what other people are thinking
- Anxiety over health
- Negative thoughts about exams
- Worrying about upcoming career events
- Negative thoughts about society / government
- Self criticism
Thankfully, there are ways how to get rid of negative thoughts. There are mental techniques and exercises that can calm the brain and stop the flow of ideas and ruminations in the mind.
You Need To Be Selective When Getting Rid Of Negative Thoughts
If you frequently think negative thoughts, it’s time for a change. One smart strategy is to use some simple exercises to stop thinking too much.
I said previously that we think on average 50,000 thoughts per day. What’s worse is the percentage of thoughts that are negative. Ruth Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap, says 80% of everyone’s thoughts are negative to some degree.
However, if that sounds bleak, bear in mind that there is a good reason for this negativity.
Imagine you wanted to buy a house but knew you couldn’t afford it. You might think negatively about money. You might tell yourself, “I can’t afford that house.” That’s a simple negative thought. Taken at face value you might think it would be more positive to to say to yourself, “I’m buying that house because I know I’ll make enough money to afford it.” But what if you don’t? What if you end up bankrupt because of it and spend your life paying off debt? In that instance your negative thought would have saved you from a lot of suffering.
Negative thoughts help us avoid potential pitfalls.
As Ryan Holiday [editor for the New York Observer] says: “Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish.”
Cognitive scientist Art Markman, Ph.D agrees. “Research actually suggests that focusing on a positive future lowers people’s motivational energy. If you want to do a better job of achieving difficult goals, then it is important to contrast the future and the present. In particular, it is important to know what the obstacles are that will get in the way of achieving the desired future.
So while it is important to know how to stop thinking negative thoughts when those thoughts are unhelpful, it’s always good to remember that some of your negativity may actually be valuable.
- This is why the best strategy is to balance negative thoughts with positive ones. You can do that with these CBT exercises.
Getting rid of negative thoughts will make you healthier
Did you know, one of the best things you can do for your health is to stop stress.
Stress, of course, is very closely related to negative thinking. Fears and obsessive painful ideas in your mind can cause serious mental and physical health complications. Take a look at the infographic below for more on this.
Infographic (click to view)
Different types of thoughts have been proven to produce different physical manifestations in the body.
The body releases different chemicals based on the environment. When we’re around things that make us happy the body will release serotonin, dopamine, or oxytocin, all of which produce positive emotions. Conversely, if we’re in a stressful environment the body will release cortisol as a stress response.
Interestingly, physical and mental pain produce virtually the same result in the body.
“When people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex,” says Alan Phogel, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah (2). This has even led a team of scientists to research the affects of acetaminophen for emotional pain. “ [Taking acetaminophen leads to] less activation in the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex,” says Phogel.
That’s why some people actually take pain killers for emotional pain, though this is probably not recommended. (Here are some smarter ways to control your emotions).
Think about the last time you felt stressed. You probably experienced strain around the neck and lower back. This is one of the most common manifestations of negative thinking, and one reason why we need to stop thinking negative thoughts. But there are many more.
Here’s how bad thoughts makes you sick
In ‘The Sacred Life,’ David Suzuki wrote that “condensed molecules from breath exhaled from verbal expressions of anger, hatred, and jealousy, contain toxins. Accumulated over 1 hr, these toxins are enough to kill 80 guinea pigs.”
According to an article in The Lancet, San Francisco based researchers examined the deaths of 30,000 Chinese-Americans and 400,000 white people and discovered that the Chinese who believed themselves to have been born on an ill-fated year (according to Chinese astrology) died young, which the scientists states was precisely due to their belief in their ill-fated birth.
In another study, 79% of medical students developed the illnesses they were studying due to paranoia.
The problem is that negative emotions trigger the amygdale in the limbic brain to produce a “Fight or flight” response in the body . In fight or flight mode, the immune system stops function properly, leading to illness.
How To Get Rid Of Negative Thoughts -- Exercises
The problem is not that we have negative thoughts. The problem is that we believe those thoughts are true. (This is especially true for people who suffer from anxiety. If that’s you, read my breakthrough guide to stopping anxiety today).
To remove negative thoughts from your mind forever, you have to learn to realise that the ideas the flow through your mind are not reality. This is true for both positive and negative conceptions. Being fixated an idea we deem “positive” can cause problems too.
Imagine believing that you’ll never die. Now how does jumping off a skyscraper sound? Okay, it’s an extreme example, but it certainly illustrates the point.
This is why, while you’re reducing negative thinking, you might want to reevaluate some of your “positive” ideas too.
10 Exercises To Try
1: Meditate for clarity of mind:
Meditation has been proven to empower individuals over their thoughts. And there is no better way to beat depression and sadness than with meditation. When you meditate you silence your mind and come to observe your thoughts calmly.
- For quick boost of happiness, use these meditations for positivity.
2: Write it out on paper
This is one of my personal favorite techniques to stop negative thoughts. It’s a lot easier to see your mental conceptions for what they are (often just words) when you write it out on paper. Write all your negative thoughts out and then look at them. You’ll very quickly realise how unreal they are.
3: Draw it out:
Some thoughts don’t comprise of words but rather images. For instance, perhaps you think you’ll become ill. In this case draw out precisely what your mind is telling you will happen.
4: Share your ideas with friends
If you’re an open person, this is one of the best techniques to stop negative thoughts. The average person will pretty 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 thought is a voice in your head or a picture, try playing with it. For instance, if it’s a voice then imagine the voice changing, becoming higher pitched, lower pitched, louder, quieter and so on. If it’s a picture make it brighter, dimmer, bigger, smaller, and so on. By playing with the thought you teach yourself that you have ultimate control over your mind.
6: Think it backwards:
When you think the same thought backwards you essentially make the thought a little game. You make it something tangible that you can play with. This technique is definitely alternative but it definitely works.
7: Rate it from 1 to 10:
Objectively appraise the thought. If it’s a negative thought that actually holds some important truth then 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 come up with better ones.
8. Give up TV:
Scientific research has confirmed that when we watch negative TV shows (the news, for instance), we develop a negative 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.
9: Mantras for positivity:
Mantras are word or phrases with psycho-spiritual powers (similar to spells and affirmations).
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 “hang over” 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 you 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 are able to 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 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 out the blue. You wont notice it slowly arising, but a moment will come when all of a sudden you are looking at that negative thought in a very different light. You will know when this moment comes because you will have a physiological reaction; your body will react somehow. You will likely 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.
All these techniques to stop negative thoughts revolve around the same idea. You are teaching your mind to recognise that thoughts aren’t real and that you are the master of your own mind.
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