Negative thinking can contribute to problems such as social anxiety, depression, stress, and low self-esteem. The key to changing your negative thoughts is to understand how you think now (and the problems that result), then use strategies to change these thoughts or make them have less of an effect.
“Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all linked, so our thoughts impact how we feel and act. So, although we all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, it’s important to know what to do when they appear so we don’t let them change the course of our day,” explains Rachel Goldman, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
Therapy can often be helpful for changing negative thoughts, but you can also learn how to change your thought patterns. This article discusses some of the steps you can take to change your negative thoughts.
Practice Mindfulness and Self-Awareness
Mindfulness has its roots in meditation. It is the practice of detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer. Practicing mindfulness can help you become more conscious of your thoughts and build greater self-awareness.
Mindfulness sets out to change your relationship to your thoughts.1 Try viewing your thoughts and feelings as objects floating past you that you can stop and observe or let pass you by.
The objective of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by allowing the thinking part of your brain to take over. It’s been theorized that the practice of mindfulness may facilitate the ability to use thoughts more adaptively.
One study found that people who engaged in a mindfulness practice experienced fewer negative thoughts after exposure to negative imagery, suggesting that mindfulness may lessen the impact of negative thinking.2
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Identify Your Negative Thoughts
As you observe your thoughts, work on identifying and labeling cognitive distortions and negativity.
For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in “black-and-white” thinking. Other negative thinking patterns include:
- Jumping to conclusions: This distortion involves making assumptions about what others are thinking or making negative assumptions about how events will turn out.
- Catastrophizing: This pattern of negative thinking is characterized by always assuming that the worst possible outcome will happen without considering more likely and realistic possibilities.
- Overgeneralization: This pattern is marked by a tendency to apply what happened in one experience to all future experiences. This can make negative experiences seem unavoidable and contribute to feelings of anxiety.
- Labeling: When people label themselves in a negative way, it affects how they feel about themselves in different contexts. Someone who labels themselves as “bad at math,” for example, will often feel negative about activities that involve that skill.
- “Should” statements: Thinking marked by “should” statements contribute to a negative perspective by only thinking in terms of what you “ought” to be doing. Such statements are often unrealistic and cause people to feel defeated and pessimistic about their ability to succeed.
- Emotional reasoning: This involves assuming that something is true based on your emotional response to it. For example, if you are feeling nervous, emotional reasoning would lead you to conclude that you must be in danger. This can escalate negative feelings and increase anxiety.
- Personalization and blame: This thought pattern involves taking things personally, even when they are not personal. It often leads people to blame themselves for things they have no control over.
Unhelpful thinking patterns differ in subtle ways. But they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people.
Goldman suggests that this step is all about identifying and labeling negative thoughts. “Now that you have observed the thought, you can identify it as an unhelpful thought (perhaps we’ve even identified it as an all-or-nothing thought, or another type of cognitive distortion). Just observe it and label it,” she suggests.
She also suggests pausing to accept the thought for what it is. Remind yourself that it’s just a thought and not a fact.
There are many different types of cognitive distortions that contribute to negative thinking. Learning more about these distortions and remembering that thoughts are not facts may help lessen the power of these negative thinking patterns.
Replace Negative Thoughts
One of the basic parts of a treatment plan involving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring. This process helps you to identify and change negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses.
Goldman suggests examining the evidence that either supports or contradicts the thought. Doing this can help you challenge negative thinking and explore alternatives that are more helpful and realistic.
Although it is difficult to think with this new style at first, over time and with practice, positive and rational thoughts will come more naturally. Cognitive restructuring can help you challenge your thoughts by taking you through steps including:
- Asking yourself if the thought is realistic.
- Think of what happened in the past in similar situations and evaluate if your thoughts are on course with what took place.
- Actively challenge the thought and look for alternative explanations.
- Think of what you’d gain versus what you’d lose by continuing to believe the thought.
- Recognize if your thought is actually a result of a cognitive distortion, such as catastrophizing.
- Consider what you’d tell a friend having the same thought.3
Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests trying to focus on the positive to help combat the negative thought patterns associated with depression. Ask yourself, is there any good to come out of your current situation?4
However, Goldman recommends not replacing negative thoughts with overly positive ones. If the replacement thoughts are not realistic, they won’t be helpful.
Goldman suggests that if you find yourself thinking thoughts like “I am a failure”/”I am going to fail,” you shouldn’t replace it with something like “I know I am going to succeed.“
“You instead would want to replace it with something more neutral, which is also showing some self-compassion, like ‘I don’t know if I am going to be able to do it, but I am trying my best,'” she suggests.
One study found that a single cognitive restructuring intervention helped people reduce negative thoughts and biases that play a role in contributing to anxiety.5
Get Advice From The Very well Mind Podcast – Negative Thoughts
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Very well Mind Podcast shares an effective way to help you curb negative thinking.
Avoid Thought Stopping – Negative Thoughts
Thought stopping is the opposite of mindfulness. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting that they be eliminated.
The problem with thought stopping is that the more you try to stop your negative thoughts, the more they will surface. This is known as thought rebounding. Mindfulness is preferable because it gives less weight to your thoughts and reduces the impact they have on you.
Experts believe that the thought rebounding that takes place after trying to stop negative thoughts is much more damaging.6 Instead, psychologists generally recommend finding ways to deal with the negative thoughts more directly.
Practice Coping With Criticism – Negative Thoughts
In addition to cognitive restructuring, another aspect of CBT that is sometimes helpful for those with social anxiety involves something known as the “assertive defense of the self.”7
Since it is possible that some of the time, people will actually be critical and judgmental toward you, it is important that you are able to cope with rejection and criticism.
This process is usually conducted in therapy with a pretend conversation between you and your therapist to build up your assertiveness skills and assertive responses to criticism. These skills are then transferred to the real world through homework assignments.
For example, if faced with criticism in real life, having a set of assertive responses prepared will help you deal with these potentially anxiety-provoking situations. What’s more, real-life encounters are welcome as a chance to put into practice this exercise, according to this method.
Some research suggests that facing potential “social mishaps” that contribute to anxiety and negative thinking can also be helpful.8 The goal of improving your ability to handle criticism and rejection is to help increase your tolerance of the distress these things may cause, which may combat your automatic negative thoughts.
Use a Thought Diary – Negative Thoughts
Thought diaries, also called thought records, can be used as part of any process to change negative thinking. Thought diaries help you identify negative thinking styles and gain a better understanding of how your thoughts (and not the situations you are in) cause your emotional reactions.
Most CBT treatment plans will involve the use of a thought diary as part of regular homework assignments.
For example, a thought diary entry might break down the thought process of a person on a date, and the emotional and physical reactions that result from negative thinking patterns. By the end of the thought analysis, you can replace irrational thoughts about rejection with more helpful and positive ways of thinking.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Negative Thoughts?
Negative thought includes negative beliefs you might have about yourself, situations, or others. They can affect your mood and can be present in certain mental health conditions.9 Examples are, “I’ll never be good enough,” “They must think I’m stupid for saying that,” “That situation is destined to turn out badly.”
Why do I have Negative Thoughts?
Negative thoughts are quite common. You might have negative thoughts because we’re more influenced by negative than positive, or have a negativity bias. It’s also possible that evolutionarily speaking, negative thinking was more conducive to survival.10 Negative thoughts could occur as a result of cognitive distortions. They can be symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.11
A Word From Very well
If you struggle with negative thought patterns and it’s impacting your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. While it can be tough to share the thoughts you have with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialogue.
Goldman likes to remind her clients that the process of changing negative thoughts isn’t a quick fix. “This isn’t easy and it takes time, but with practice, it gets easier and you can create new automatic thoughts that work for you,” she explains.
Do you Negative Thoughts? How and why does it happen
Do you think negatively –In present times, the thinking of most people has turned negative. This can also be due to many political, social, and living changes. It may also be that a person has been with the wrong people since childhood or later he has been associated with the wrong people. Sometimes movies, web series, or books of literature also corrupt our thinking. Thinking this way, there can be many reasons for thinking to be negative. Let’s know what is the psychological reason for this.
Inner and Outer:
Scientists say that in the human brain, thousands of thoughts come in 24 hours. Most of them are negative. Negative thoughts are more because when we see a negative event which has fear, raga, duality, sex, etc. then that event or thought goes directly into the inner memory of our mind whereas many good things are only in the outer memory of our mind. It turns around and dies.
There are two types of memory – inner and outer. That data gets saved in the inner memory, which has a profound effect on your brain and then that data never gets erased. Inner memory remains active while sleeping at night and the inner memory is awakened even after waking up in the morning. Remove waste and negative data from your inner memory ie mind and take one step towards health, success, happiness and peace.
You will remember that you will remember only those things of your childhood in which you must have been killed fiercely or some sad incident has happened. It is possible that you would have won a lot more than your mother’s father for something, only then she would have got it, then such things are remembered. Actually, our mind does not delay in accepting sad things, but most of the pleasant things we forget.
That’s why everyone talks about the war in the world and history is also full of stories of war. But very few people know or are told that in history there is much more than war, love. How a person became happy or how positive he or she has become is rarely read.
Scientists say that our mind has the ability to receive more than other times in particular times of day and night. Apart from this, our mind is also more active at that time when there is a disaster or there is great happiness. When the lockdown was set up, the consciousness of the entire country was awakened as to what would happen now. The coronary is a period of crisis, so its memory will remain for a long time. In the same way, when there are wars between two countries, everyone’s consciousness is awakened. That is, it affects the big events in our lives.
How a person becomes unhappy and patient:
Whatever thoughts are constantly coming, they take the form of perception. That is, it goes into our inner memory. Bad events have happened around you and if you remember it again and again, then it will become perception and take permanent form in the mind. Do not miss bad thoughts or events again and again.
Thoughts become objects. This simply means that we create the future the way we think. If you are afraid of your health, doubt about success and you have lost faith, then understand that the mind has become sick. If bad incidents in a person’s life are repeatedly exposed, then the simple reason for this is that he is thinking too much about his past. Many people are afraid of the fact that I may not get the disease or if it happens to me…. Think just about improving the present.
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How it will be possible: It will be possible through the three parts of yoga, God Pranidhan, Swadhyaya, and Dharna. As we mentioned above there is inner and outer memory. Inner memory has been active while sleeping at night and when waking up in the morning, at that time it saves important Dada from all day’s events, thoughts, etc. That is why all religions have appointed that time to pray to God so that you can sleep thinking that and wake up thinking what is auspicious. That is why the importance of ‘Ishwar Pranidhan’ in yoga.
Samadhikaal means when the sun is about to rise and when the sun sets, the above two times are called Samhidhals – there are a total of eight Samhitas in such day and night. At that time, the importance of prayer or sandhya a has been mentioned in Hinduism and Yoga. Yet morning and evening pact is important for everyone while our inner memory remains active. At a time when the birds are returning to their home… one should think of good ideas while making arrangements. Like I want to be healthy. (Do you think negatively)
Because There is only one God called Brahm or Parmeshwar. There is no other God apart from this. God is formless, this is the only true truth. Ishwar Pranidhan means complete devotion to God. Full faith in God. Neither Goddess, nor God, nor Pir nor Guru Ghantal.
So Perseverance towards one God comes into the mind. Because This persistence is the reason for his victory. Whether it is happiness or extreme sorrow, do not lose your faith in him. This will bring solidarity in all the five senses within you and increase the power to penetrate the target. People who keep changing their faith, become weak from within.
Believe only in ‘God’, this scattered thinking will give a new direction. And when your thinking starts flowing in only one direction, then it will take the form of perception and then you think about yourself as only good and only good. God will surely fulfill your wish.
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Swadhyaya: Swadhyaya means to study oneself. Studying good ideas and practicing this study. You read while reviewing your knowledge, deeds and behavior, everything that brings positive energy in your life as well as you get happiness from it. So make better books your friend. You can start giving new directions to life with a little resolve.So Take a pledge that from today onwards I will change everything that I have been thinking about to change. Thinking and feeling good is the first condition of self-education.
Get the desired health, happiness and success by perception: so The thoughts which gradually start becoming known and unknowingly take the form of perception. It is also that when the breathing is slow and calm when the mind becomes stable in a particular place within the body, when the mind is removed from the subjects of the senses, then the flow of energy also takes place in the same direction. In such a way the power of the mind increases, then whatever he thinks starts happening. Those who are determined, inadvertently, their beliefs also begin to be confirmed. (Do you think negatively)
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