This post is a follow up to an earlier post that I recommend you read first: How To Stop Negative Thinking.
Negative thinking hits us all. I know that, for me, it is incredibly difficult to stop myself from going around and around the whirlpool of spiraling thoughts, eventually sucking me into anger, depression and frustration. Once we hit the rim of a negative thought, how do we stop the inevitable spiral down? It’s incredibly discouraging to try and try again only to find yourself in that place, yet again: angry because of nothing or only because of what happens in your own head. I’m here to tell you that there are ways to stop this process, that these strategies work, but they take a lot of time and practice. Here are some ways that I have used and helped me stop my happiness from getting flushed down the toilet when a negative thought pops into my head:
- Write down your negative thought. Identifying the “cognitive distortion” can help you learn where your thought is wrong and identify the truth that can counteract the thought. For instance, I may think to myself, “I’ll never be able to do this.” The cognitive distortion is catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is when you take something, and blow it up out of proportion. So instead I can say, “I’m having a hard time with this now, but with enough practice, I will get it.” Check this out for a list of other distortions and what they mean.
- Examine the evidence. After writing down your negative thought, examine the evidence, again, searching for what is true. If you say, “I will never be able to do this,” you need to counter act that by looking for evidence from the past showing that you were able to overcome some pretty tough situations before. Do this successfully and you can begin to see that there is no reason you cannot overcome this obstacle now, no matter how tough the situation is.
- Double-Standard. Avoid holding someone else accountable when you make similar mistakes. Also, avoid judging yourself more harshly than you would others. Once this principle is understood, I have had several clients say, “I would never let someone talk to me the way I talk to me!” What gives you the right to say, “I’ll never be able to do this,” to yourself when you would be quick to say, “You can do it, I believe in you!” to someone going through a similar situation?
- The Experimental Technique. This idea is about proving yourself wrong. Experiment about your future telling. “I’ll never be able to do this” can turn into, “Oh yeah? I’ve overcome so much in my life, I’m going to do this just to prove myself wrong!” Here is where that “rebel within” gets to come out and do some good.
- Thinking on a Scale. When we have a negative thought, we are usually in the “all-or-nothing” process. When I say, “I’ll NEVER be able to do this,” I am saying it wont happen…100%. Situations are rarely only “0” or “100”, meaning I can take away the black and white scale and go with a grey scale (a 1-99 if you will). So, instead of saying NEVER, I now have the freedom to say, “This is going to take me a long time.” It may sound less than ideal, but when you are learning these tough steps, this may be the best you can do some days, and that’s okay.
- Survey! This one can help you realize how unrealistic your negative thought is or help you feel less alone (depending on the thought). Ask the people around you if your thought is accurate. If I said to my coworker, “Hey, I’m thinking that I won’t ever be able to do this task”, they will likely tell me how that thought is not true and, sometimes, even offer to help. If it is a friend I ask, they may empathize with me and say, “Oh yes, I know that feeling too! Here is how I overcame that.”
- “NO Shoulding On Yourself!” I use this phrase a lot. The world “should” is very often shaming to who ever receives it. Many times we think stuff like, “I should have been better” which is an extremely shameful thought. This is not a good neighborhood for your brain to be in alone. Replace the “should” with something like, “It would have been better had I ___.” If you can stop “shoulding” on yourself and others, you will be on your way to avoid the circling of the whirlpool!
- Correct Attribution of Responsibility. Like it or not, we all take on too much or too little responsibility for things sometimes. With this skill, you are teaching yourself balance. If you made a mistake, own up to it, correct your mistake, then think of all of the other factors that went into the situation. Nobody benefits from you blaming yourself too much. Instead, think of the problem as a whole, with both good and bad, both mistakes and challenges.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis. Think about what you are costing yourself when you get angry about someone cutting you off in traffic or when you loose a job. Yes, there is a time for mourning and sadness when you loose something important, but what is the benefit of thinking to yourself, “I’m no good, that’s why they let me go.” Think about what you are benefiting from by thinking those thoughts. I would bet that you are not helping yourself, your family, or anyone else. Now think about what it is costing you. Time? Health? Happiness? Relationships?
Studies show that if you live next to bad neighbors, it is just as unhealthy for your heart as smoking a pack a day. When you are constantly telling yourself you are a bad person, you don’t measure up, and whatever your brand of negative thought is, you are also negatively affecting your health. Get healthy! Stop thinking negatively!
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