Challenging Negative Thoughts These 7 Ways
Negative thoughts are those thoughts that lead to uncomfortable feelings such as fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger. If you haven’t yet become proficient at challenging negative thoughts, you may also feel: insecure, rejected, unloved, unworthy, undeserving
Negative thoughts are expressions of self-criticism and excessive judgment toward others. But in some cases, negative thoughts serve you well.
For example, such thoughts can help you get away from people who harm you, increase your self-awareness when you’re doing something wrong, and expose your inner hidden patterns.
Hence, the goal is not to get rid of negative thoughts altogether. That could, at times, be a bad move.
Helen Sanders, the chief editor of Health Ambition explores in this post the impact of both positive and negative thinking.
The trick is to begin challenging negative thoughts by analyzing them as they arise. Follow through on the useful ones, and find alternatives for dealing with the ones that are harming you.
Here Are 7 Practical Steps To Challenge Negative Thoughts
The Four Questions method
This method, called an inquiry process, is taken from Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is.”
It’s all about challenging the negative thoughts we hang on to so badly. The reason these thoughts generate negative emotions such as pain and suffering is because we’re attached to the thoughts and believe them.
So the purpose of this process is to show you that you can question and challenge the thoughts that don’t serve you. You don’t have to believe them.
This process can tremendously ease your pain and suffering every time you experience the negative thoughts running through your head.
The four questions are:
- Is it true?
- Is it really true?
- How do you react when you believe this thought? What physical and emotional responses arise within? Do you feel calm and relaxed, or annoyed and troubled?
- How would you be without this disturbing thought? Would you be more forgiving, understanding, peaceful, loving, attentive …?
For more information on this groundbreaking process, you can check out ‘Work with Grace’ blog. She’s all about inquiring your thoughts by doing ‘the work’ of Byron Katie.
Challenge The Negative Thoughts And Create Alternatives
Train your brain in challenging the negative thoughts that rise up within. In time, this practice will become automatic.
Let’s take an example of a negative thought and turn it into other options:
Original thought: My boss is not a kind person.
Alternative thought #1: My boss is kind. He can be very nice and charming to his family, his neighbors, and the waiter at the local diner. At work, he might take an assertive stance because he fears his employees will take advantage of his kindness.
Alternative thought #2: I am not kind to my boss. Every time I think he isn’t nice, I radiate unpleasant energy. As I already know, people are like mirrors, and others react to them according to the image that reflects to them. Every time I think of him badly, I may be surly and impolite.
Alternative thought #3: I am not kind to myself. Whenever I think this negative thought, I create a hostile and unfriendly work environment. I worsen my status and make myself feel bad inside. I fill my system with negativity and ruin the work experience. I even limit my growth and career expansion options.
Get to Know Yourself On a Deeper Level
If the negative thoughts repeat themselves, they’re no longer random thoughts. They’re subconscious patterns that run your thought process and determine the way you perceive yourself, your value, and the world.
For example, you may often have a negative thought such as “I shouldn’t have done that. Does she still love me?” You can actually use this thought to get to know yourself and your automatic paradigms.
The following questions can help you start challenging negative thoughts and embark on a personal-growth journey:
• Why is it important for me to feel loved all the time?
• Am I willing to soften my opinions to preserve others’ love and approval?
• Have I suffered from lack of love from my parents?
• Is there any way I can evolve?
As you get to know yourself better, you’ll discover the buttons that operate you, your triggers, and the subconscious definitions that manage your whole inner world.
You’ll know the areas in which you should do some self-work, get into a growth journey, and by that, eliminate unnecessary negative thoughts.
Argue With Your Negative Thoughts
Notice that the tendency of most humans is to defend themselves against criticism.
For example, if someone tells you, “You never make it to work on time,” your automatic response might be something like “No way! Maybe I’ve been late before, but I usually make it on time and sometimes even arrive early.”
But when your brain criticizes you with negative thoughts, you just accept it as a fact.
What you can do in this case is prepare evidence to the contrary—such as a list of the things you’re good at, a record of positive feedback from others, and a gratitude list (all the great things in your life).
The next time your mind attacks you, show it that it’s not always right. This way, you create an inner discourse and begin challenging the thoughts that pop up on their own.
For example, when your mind is criticizing you, you can say, “True, this time I failed. But I have succeeded when …” The ability to refute self-criticism leaves you with a sense of peace, unlike the difficult feelings you experience when accepting self-blame as fact.
Remaining present is an excellent way to doubt negative thinking, which mostly revolves around regrets about the past and worries about the future.
Although it’s true that you can still think negatively about the present, cutting down on the amount of negative thinking you do at all will make a huge impact on your overall attitude.
Being mindful of the present will make it easier to focus on the now instead of dwelling in negativity.
At Mrs. Mindfulness, you’ll find a great post titled “The Four Keys to Overcoming Negative Thinking … For Good.” Take time to incorporate some of these ideas into your daily life as you work on challenging negative thoughts.
Challenge the expectation that everything should happen according to your views and on your terms
Many times, negative thoughts stem from expecting others to live by your values.
For example, you believe there shouldn’t be any dirty dishes in the sink when you get up in the morning.
So if you wake up and see that your spouse/child/roommate didn’t wash up the night before, you might burst into anger, be disappointed, act passive-aggressive, or shut down.
The thought “My spouse should wash the dishes before going to bed” can cause you a lot of suffering. But if you challenge the expectation that the other person must agree with your terms, you’ll experience immediate relief.
You have no control of what is outside of you—only of your thoughts and feelings.
So instead of reacting the same old way, which never leads you to any good state, you can ask yourself:
• What does this mean?
• Is he annoying me on purpose?
• Is it because she doesn’t care about me?
• If the presence of the dishes is my current reality, what can I do about it? I can ask him to wash the dishes now; I can do them myself; or I can just let them go and leave the mess there until one of us eventually cleans up.
If you feel that your expectations are a major source of your negative thoughts, check out the post “10 Things to Stop Expecting From Others” at Power of Positivity.
Challenging negative thoughts takes practice. The older you are, the more deeply ingrained these and other psychological habits are.
But that’s no excuse to avoid this process.
With dedication and determination, you can learn to analyze your patterns, question your automatic responses and see where they stem from, find alternative ways of thinking, so eventually, you will live a more joyful life.