Negative thoughts can crop up at the worst possible times. And to make things worse, challenging negative thoughts can seem impossible. You may be having a great time and then your mood suddenly changes.
Those around you get confused as to the reason why.
No, you don’t wanna talk about it. Yes, you will be fine. Will everyone just please leave you alone?!
Negative thoughts can go beyond being an occasional nuisance to the point where they dominate your life and ruin your relationships; they can leave you feeling insecure, anxious, sad, angry, feeling unworthy, unloved, and rejected.
If you are reading this post perhaps you have tried your best to get rid of them to no avail. You may have even reached the point where you consider negative thoughts a part of “normal life”.
And they are! Negative thoughts can be good; they protect you from situations and people that would harm you; they raise self-awareness when you do something wrong; and they can reveal negative thought patterns buried in your subconscious.
You’ll be shocked to see how your negative patterns control almost any result you get and will ever get in life. If you’re curious to reveal how your mind works, then check out this post.
But a problem arises when they lead to a consistent inner critic and excessive judgment towards others.
So the issue at stake is not getting rid of unpleasant thoughts altogether, but learning to challenge negative thoughts when they serve no positive purpose.
Helen Sanders, the chief editor of Health Ambition explorers 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 5 proven methods by which you can do that:
The Four Questions method
This method, called an inquiry process, is taken from Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is.”
The thing about negative thoughts is that they are very easy to believe because you are convinced this is the truth. But here’s the thing: they’re just thoughts, and don’t represent any truth. Therefore, it’s unnecessary to believe them.
Next time you find those destructive thoughts cropping up, instead of lying down passively, you can rise to the occasion and challenge them.
That’s what the 4 questions method entails: you QUESTION and CHALLENGE these negative thoughts to test their validity and know whether they serve a good purpose or not.
With the 4 questions method, you can greatly reduce the power of your negative thoughts to deceive and oppress.
The four questions behind this method 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 angry and anxious?
● How would you be without the disturbing thought? Would you be more forgiving, understanding, peaceful, loving, attentive … ?
So instead of rolling over when you get a thought like “I am not a good person, I don’t deserve anything good in life” you can ask yourself:
1. Is it true that I am not a good person? (Yes or No. If No, move to 3)
2. Am I absolutely sure that I am not a good person? (Yes or No.)
3. How do I react when I believe that I am not a good person? Do I get angry and lash out? Do I break down and cry? Do I get overwhelmed with guilt? Do I let people walk all over me? Do I get insecure so much that my relationships suffer?
4. Who sort of person would I become if I never believed that I was not a good person? Would I become more confident? Would I be free from the burden of guilt? Will I be more assertive in the workplace and at home?
You can learn more about this process by checking out ‘Work with Grace’ blog. She’s all about inquiring your thoughts by doing ‘the work’ of Byron Katie.
Turn the thoughts around and create alternatives
Challenging negative thoughts when they turn up sometimes consists in reimagining those thoughts so that the messages they carry are clear.
Consider the scenario below:
Original negative thought: My boss is not a nice person!
Alternative thought #1: My boss is kind. He is nice to his family, his neighbors and even the waiter at the local diner. He is nice to animals and donates money to animal’s organizations.
Alternative thought #2: I am not kind to my boss. Every time I think he isn’t nice, I radiate an 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 work environment, I worsen y status, and make myself feel bad inside. When I think this negative thought I fill myself with negativity, and even ruin my growth and career expansion options.
You see, by creating alternatives and challenging your negative thoughts in this manner, you may realize that sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
Get to know yourself on a deeper level
If negative thoughts keep creeping into your mind, then you can no longer call them “random”.
It is likely you suffer from negative unconscious patterns that affect the way you perceive yourself and the world around you. Here’s what I’ve discovered about our destructing conditioning and how it dominates every area in our lives.
Imagine this situation:
You have just come back from a night out with someone but you feel like something is “wrong”; the date was not “perfect”.
You convince yourself that it must be your fault, so you rack your brain for what you did wrong and then it hits you: something you said during a lively debate over the dinner table.
You cringe inwardly and then you think, “I wish I had not said that, does he still love me?”
At that point, you should take a pause and ask yourself a few follow-up questions like:
● Why is it important for me to feel loved all the time?
● Am I willing to sacrifice my personal values in order to gain approval?
● Can I learn to feel safe standing behind my opinions and the things I say?
● Have I suffered from a lack of love from my parents and now I’m afraid to make others be angry with me?
● Is there any way I can evolve past this neediness?
Persistent negative thoughts are more often than not a symptom of deeper underlying issues in your unconscious, and asking follow up questions like these can reveal negative paradigms that influence your life, and which you can eliminate through self-development.
Argue with your brain
You never show up at the office on time!
No, that’s not true. Most times I come on time and sometimes I even come early!
That’s how you would respond to criticism from a friend. Why don’t you challenge negative thoughts from your brain the same way?
Take note of your most notorious negative thoughts and keep a list of positive things (compliments from friends, things you are good at for example) that challenge these negative thoughts.
That way when next time your brain thinks: Nothing good ever happens to me, You can reply: That’s not true, I am grateful for…
When you mind attacks you with inner critic, 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.
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.
You may have noticed that most of your negative thoughts stem from regrets about the past or worries about the future.
A simple remedy for challenging negative thoughts is, therefore, being mindful about the present. Stay in the moment! Claim it!
Sure, you can still be negative about the now, but you can greatly reduce the number of negative thoughts you have by staying in the present.
You will find a great blog post on this topic over at Mrs Mindfulness titled “The Four Keys to Overcome Negative Thoughts…For Good”.
Look for the opportunity
If you’re irritated or upset about something you’re dealing with currently, try to find a positive in it. We’ve all heard the story about the little boy who received a pile of manure for his birthday and decided there must be a pony nearby!
A post at Happify, “5 Ways to Stop Dwelling on Negative Thoughts,” suggests that you re-frame a situation you don’t like.
For example, if you get the flu and have to stay home for a few days, don’t try to fight it. Worry won’t help you get well.
Instead, enjoy giving your body and mind the rest they need by challenging the negative thoughts that come up so easily in this situation. Sleep, watch movies, read, and anything else you’re up for while you’re sick.
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.
Let’s Sum It Up
Each of these points is practical and can be useful in challenging negative thoughts. Negative thoughts may be part and parcel of everyday life, but you must see them for what they are: messengers pointing to aspects of your life which are not aligned with your good.
You no longer have to allow them to overwhelm you anymore. Challenge them!
I can’t do anything right! (Challenge: Is that absolutely true?)
John never listens to me! (Try to re-frame and see if you are merely projecting your own disposition.)
I talk too much, my friend hates me because of that. (Challenge: Am I too needy and ready to sacrifice my needs for the approval of others?)
Imagine how your life would be if you challenged every negative thought so that only the ones that were true and necessary for self-growth remained. How would that make you feel? Awesome? Confident? Happy?
Great! Start reflecting upon negative thoughts now with these techniques, one day at a time, until your brain gets so used to it, so it becomes a host of mainly positively charged thoughts.