One of the biggest mindset challenges many of us face is getting trapped in negative thought cycles. Whether it be ruminating on the past, getting swept up in negative self talk, or worrying about the future, it can feel all-consuming.
I sometimes wish I had an “Off” switch in my brain that could just quiet those thoughts to give me an hour of peace. Or that there were easier ways to work through them than time, venting, and trying to distract myself.
Recently, I recently came across a great article in the New York Times that speaks to this issue head-on. It’s all about how to conquer negative thinking, using tips from experts. And since my posts Stop Negative Self Talk With This One Powerful Question and How to Stop Being Hard on Yourself: 3 Powerful Ways are some of my most popular, I thought it would be helpful for many of you too.
Here are some of the best ways to conquer negative thinking, according to the article.
#1. Instead of trying to stop your thoughts, accept them.
What? Accept your thoughts?
This one confused me too, at first.
The article explains that when you try to control your thoughts, worry and obsession get worse. And telling yourself you have to stop thinking about it won’t make it go away. It’s similar to how someone telling you “Don’t think about elephants.” will make you immediately think of an elephant.
Instead, acknowledge and accept that you’re in a negative cycle, instead telling yourself “I’m obsessing about _______”. By stating what you’re focusing on, you can start to accept it and see it less emotionally and more clearly. This helps you to be mindful about your thoughts without judging them. The key is to then avoid trying to immediately change them.
Acceptance will also help reduce the weight of your thoughts. And I think that’s something we would all benefit from!
#2. Next, challenge your thoughts.
Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re obsessing about something and taken some of the wind out of its sails, it’s time to challenge it.
In other words, look for flaws in your negativity’s argument. Time to play devil’s advocate!
Let’s say, for example, that you’re in a negative thought cycle about your recent business results, and you’ve been telling yourself that this means you’re not good enough or cut out for being an entrepreneur.
Challenging these thoughts could be asking yourself questions like “Why would one month of poor results mean I’m a failure?” Or “When in the past have I shown that I AM cut out for being an entrepreneur?”
Like I mentioned in my post about beating negative self talk, it may help to imagine that you’re coaching a friend through a similar thought cycle. If your friend were to be sharing their negative thoughts with you, how would you challenge them? It can be easier to play devil’s advocate this way.
The key is to get a more realistic (and positive!) view of your situation.
#3. Take action.
Now that you’ve reduced the pull of your negative thoughts and have challenged them, it’s time to counteract the negativity further by reinforcing the positive.
The article gives a few helpful examples. If you’re worried about feeling unloved, they suggest checking in with friends and family. If instead you’re feeling insecure about something at work, make a list of your professional accomplishments. The key here is to underscore the more positive, productive side of the argument.
Another positive action you can take is to practice some deep breathing. I do this often, and I’m amazed at how quickly I feel calmer.
Lastly, the article suggests reaching out to a mental health professional, especially if you’re having trouble coping on your own. They can help you work through these thoughts in a session. By going through the exercise with a trained professional, it can be easier to recreate the process on your own.
The full New York Times article can be found here, but those tips sum up some of the key takeaways.
Do you struggle with negative thinking? Have you tried any of the suggestions above? Sound off in the Comments below!