According to two scientific studies, the average person thinks between 14,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day . An estimated 85% of these thoughts are unhelpful and often painful. Some thoughts are obsessive, recurring thoughts that seem impossible to stop. For instance, many people dwell on bad thoughts about death. And many thoughts 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 some types of negative thoughts are truly detrimental to our mental health.
11 Steps To Get Rid Of Bad Thoughts
1: Not real
You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are not real. Do not take them too seriously.
The fact that we have negativity 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 negativity from the mind is to realise that thoughts aren’t real. Bad thoughts 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. For instance, most people have anxious ideas about death, even though no one actually knows what death is or what happens after.
Also, remember that your positive thoughts are not real. They, too, are ideas. Try not to place too much importance on them.
Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on one thing. Originally Buddhist and Hindu, meditation has become a popular form of therapy 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. For instance, I used to have bad thoughts about life. I thought everything was terrible. But then I started meditating. With meditation, I realised my thoughts are just thoughts. And once I realised that, I was able to see the good in life instead of dwelling on the bad.
There are many ways to use meditation. For instance, focusing on the breath will quieten your mind. Once your mind is quiet, you will then be able to observe your thoughts calmly and 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: Write them down
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.
For instance, if you think negatively about love, draw a picture of the way your mind thinks about relationships. Then look at the picture and ask yourself: Is it realistic or is it utter rubbish?
This will make you realise just how erroneous your thoughts are. Plus, it will make you laugh. 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.
4: Share thoughts
Whenever I experience a terrible thought, I tell a friend, and they remind me that thoughts aren’t real
Simply share your thoughts with your friends. The average person will quickly tell you if your thoughts are total bullshit. So, tell them. They will gladly give you a dose of reality.
5: Play with it:
Whether your negativity 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 thoughts from 1 to 10:
If you had to rate your thought from 1 to 10, based on how realistic it is, what would you give it?
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 zero and tell your mind to produce better thoughts.
8: Stop watching TV
A lot of our problematic thought patterns come from 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 the negative. 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.”
Mantras are words 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 belief. 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).
The following is a classic NLP (neurolinguistic programming) technique. It is a powerful procedure for getting rid of negativity.
- 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 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 thought 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, you’ll know you have control over it.
- 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 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 thought, realise that life is always right, that a thought is only negative because you are not looking at it in the right light. This should help with any future thoughts.
One of my personal favourite tools for analysing and changing my 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.
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