Have you been considering using thought stopping exercises to quieten your mind?
It might seem like a good idea to stop negative thoughts, especially if you’ve been suffering from stress and anxiety. Thought stopping seems like a good choice because you no longer want to experience thoughts that cause you pain.
Yes, there are some powerful techniques for stopping negative thoughts.
But what is better than stopping negative thoughts is simply changing negative thoughts to more positive thoughts.
Let me show you why thought stopping exercises are a bad idea. And I will show you what to do instead.
And you might also like to read my guide to:
Thought Stopping Exercises Will Actually Hurt You More Than Help You
Yes, it is true that some thoughts can cause you immense pain [just take a look at these 11 brutal types of negative thoughts].
However, thought stopping exercises will actually just make your situation that much worse.
Scientific research shows that when we try to stop negative thoughts, we actually just make the thought come up later, and often worse than it was to begin with.
Research by Wegner, D. M. at Harvard University  shows that when we try to stop thinking negative thoughts we actually cause the thought to crop up again later. Not only this, but thought stopping exercises (techniques that stop negative thoughts) actually lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety and depression.
Thought-stopping-exercises have been undermined as a psychological exercise. It is generally agreed that attempting to stop your negative thoughts is a universally bad idea.
To see why thought stopping exercises will actually hurt you, try this:
Imagine a big pink elephant in your mind. Visualize it clearly.
Force yourself to stop thinking about the elephant for ten minutes
After ten minutes of suppressing the thought, notice how you cannot help but think about the elephant
Thought suppression actually causes you to think the thought more, not less. And that is why thought-stopping-exercises simply do not work.
And that means that when you do experience a negative thoughts, stop trying to prevent the thought and actually pay attention to it.
Let’s look at what to do instead of using thought stopping exercises.
Thought Stopping Exercises Do Not Work, So What Should You Do Instead?
While positive thinking exercises like THESE ones do work, thought stopping exercises do not.
In fact, rather than helping us, thought stopping exercises will actually harm us. Attempting to stop painful thoughts will actually just cause the thought to rise up again and again.
So, if you can’t use thought stopping exercises, what can you do?
You will never stop negative thoughts by simply holding up a big red “STOP” sign to them. Instead, you need to listen to your negative thoughts, acknowledge them, change your perspective on them, and change the negative thought itself.
Here’s how to handle negative thoughts without stopping them.
Instead Of Using Thought-Stopping-Exercises, Do These 4 Things Instead
*All these exercises are based on my [free] guide to mindful cognitive behavioural therapy.
1. See negative thoughts for what thy truly are
Instead of using thought-stopping exercises, learn to see your negative thoughts for what they truly are. The best way to do this is to practice Buddhist vipassana meditation.
Vipassana meditation technique is an exercise in which we label our different thoughts as they run through our minds. For instance, if we see a visual thought of something bad happening, we simply label it “visual thought”.
This simple exercise stops thoughts from having such a big impact on us. It does this by simply reminding us that our thoughts are only thoughts.
Too often we see thoughts as absolutes. We get lost in our thoughts and forget that they are not real. By simply saying to ourselves, “This is a thought”, we remind ourselves that our thoughts are not real. Then they have less of an emotional impact on us.
2. Imagine the negative thought happening and ask “What then”
One of the biggest problems with so called “Thought stopping exercises” is that they train the mind to think of a negative thought as an absolute “No.”
If you stop negative thoughts, you prevent your mind from seeing past those thoughts This creates almost a void, because your mind does not know where to go after it encounters that negative thought.
Rather than using thought stopping exercises, ask “If the worst thing happens, what happens next?”
For instance, let’s say you’re terrified your marriage is heading to the divorce court. You try using thought stopping exercises to prevent yourself from thinking about it. But the thought keeps coming up. Ask yourself, “What then?” What if you do break up? You will go through pain, recover, and move on, and before long the time will come when you are okay again.
By continuing the thought in this way, you teach your mind that the negative thought is not an absolute, and that even if the worst happens life will still go on.
3. Remind yourself of all the things that are preventing the negative thought from happening
When we focus on simply stopping thoughts, we prevent ourselves from reasoning around those thoughts.
Instead of using thought stopping exercises, challenge painful thoughts in a rational fashion.
Ask yourself both why the negative thought could happen and why it won’t happen.
For instance, let’s say you’re worried about losing your job because you’ve been performing badly recently.
Ask yourself why you could lose your job, and list the reasons (I’m performing badly / my results are declining / I don’t know how to fix the problem). This gives you valuable information that you can use to solve the problem.
Now ask yourself why it wont happen (because I’m working on improving my performance / because I have great ideas / because I’m going to put in overtime to make sure I hit my targets).
By acknowledging both sides of a thought, you give yourself valuable insights that can help you to work around a possible negative event, and you also exercise your mind in thinking rationally about stressful events.
4. Acknowledge what the negative thought is teaching you
Too often a negative thought simply needs to be acknowledged.
Ironically, this is precisely what thought stopping exercises prevent you from doing. When you try to stop a thought, you prevent yourself from acknowledging it.
Instead of blocking the thought, ask yourself, “What is the lesson in this thought, and how do I act on it?”
For instance, let’s say you are experiencing painful thoughts about money. You’re worried you’re going to go broke and fail to pay the rent. You could block this thought, in which case you will learn nothing from it. Or you could ask yourself, “What is this thought teaching me? And how do I act on it?” Then you can see that the thought is teaching you to be more careful with money, and you can act on it by not going to the casino.
It’s time to stop using thought-stopping exercises for good
Thought Stopping Exercises will do you more harm than good. Because ultimately, painful thoughts exist for a reason, and they demand to be acknowledged.
Instead of stopping thoughts, exercise your rational mind. Learn to see those thoughts for what they are and what they represent.
What can you learn from your negative thoughts? How are those negative thoughts helping you. And how can you use see them for the better?
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Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book: Your Best Meditation