‘Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results’ – Willie Nelson
It’s so easy to think negative thoughts isn’t it? We all do it sometimes, but it’s important that we can acknowledge them for what they are and try to stop them from affecting us so much. Negative thoughts do nothing but make us feel worse. We know from various recent studies that thinking negatively contributes to feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and, of course, low self-esteem. So, if we know that, why do we still do it?
But thinking the worst stops me being disappointed!
Some people prefer to imagine the worst possible thing that could happen, expecting everything to go wrong, as a form of protection. This type of thinking is aimed at stopping disappointment or trauma because you’ve already imagined the worst possible outcome, so anything different to that is ‘good’. Maybe there are times when this is helpful, but generally all it does it make you more worried and upset and actually prevents you from experiencing new things. Imagine someone who is convinced that the roller coaster at the fairground is going to crash, they will never experience the thrill of the ride.
So how do I stop my negative thoughts?
Actually, we cannot stop negative thoughts. No matter what you do, they will come, unbidden and unwelcome, into your life. OK, so on that basis the title of this post isn’t quite accurate! We can’t stop them, but what we can do is change them and stop them having such a major impact on us.
Sounds good, what do I need to do?
The first thing to understand is that the negative thought is quite simply that, a thought. It hasn’t happened, it isn’t real, it is simply your brain telling you something negative. Your brain doesn’t know whether something is real or imaginary, it can’t tell the difference. All it knows is what you tell it. So if you tell your brain ‘nobody likes me’, it believes you. Maybe you tell yourself you are hopeless at something, or that you will never achieve anything, never find love, never lose weight, never get a decent job or maybe even that you’ll never get 100 subscribers of your blog. Your brain can’t distinguish that these are simply negative thoughts, so it says ‘OK I believe you’.
We talked in a previous post about a process call reframing which helps to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. It’s such a valuable skill so if you haven’t already read it or you’d like a reminder, the link is here: https://wordpress.com/post/happyhealthymeajourney.com/288
This technique encourages you to think about the negative thought and decide whether it actually has any merit. So let’s say your negative thought is ‘I will never lose weight’.
Put yourself in the position of a judge in a courtroom. The evidence supporting this statement is that you have tried to lose weight before and it didn’t work. Maybe you went on a diet but gave up after a short period, maybe the diet worked but as soon as you started eating normally again, you regained the weight. Now think about what the opposition case might be. When you tried to lose weight before, it was a very restrictive diet which you simply couldn’t maintain, but this time you are choosing to eat normally but healthily. You have decided to link up with a friend who also wants to lose weight so you will have support and you are planning to start an exercise class together. You know why it didn’t work before and you have learnt from this. What does the judge decide? Does he or she think you can lose weight and if the judge thinks that, based on the evidence presented, then so can you.
Visualisation is a really powerful tool. Once you have identified your negative thought, try visualising it being said by something or someone silly. Maybe a bright pink monster with floppy bunny ears and huge webbed feet, whatever you like! So your monster says something like, ‘you’ll never find someone to love you’ for example. Instead of believing that thought, you look them in the eye and tell them that it simply isn’t true. Your monster might be a bit horrified that you’re daring to argue, maybe they will argue back and try to convince you. But the important thing is, you can look your monster defiantly in the eye and say ‘I know this isn’t true’. Once you’ve done that, imagine the thought, and the monster, shrinking until they disappear completely. If you refuse to dwell on the negative thought, it will simply disappear as it can only be there whilst you are thinking about it, just like that bright pink monster!
Another visualisation idea, which a very good friend taught me, and which works particularly well when you are overwhelmed with different thoughts, is to imagine each thought as a car on a fast road heading out of town. Think of yourself standing at the side of the road. With each and every car, you can make a choice as to whether you simply watch it go by or you jump in and go for a ride. You can also do this with clouds if you prefer! Observe the thought, choose not to believe it, then let it pass by.
So I can control my thoughts?
Absolutely! You are not your thoughts. Remember that you are in control of them, not the other way around. You can choose at any time to stop thinking about the thought or to turn it into a positive. It takes time and practice, and sometimes it will be really hard, but it is definitely doable. Next time a negative thought enters your mind, remember that you do not have to accept it and either push it away or try some of the techniques I’ve outlined.
Of course, if you are really struggling with negative thoughts, please seek professional help. Therapy, particularly CBT, can be really helpful in this situation.
The Tiny Tweak
As you know, my blog is all about the tiny tweaks we can easily do that help move us in the direction we want to go. This week, it’s all about becoming a more positive person, so how about taking one of your recurring negative thoughts and thinking about what the judge would decide if that thought was to have it’s day in court? If you find that works for you, then try it with another thought too. Gradually you will begin to understand that these thoughts really are just that, thoughts, and you have the power to control them. Good luck!
I’m going to leave you with a final quote ‘If you realised how powerful your thoughts were, you would never think a negative thought again’ – unknown.
Until next time xx
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