Elena Volodchenko | May 7, 2018

If your mind was like clear sky and your thoughts were clouds, with positive thoughts being like fluffy little white clouds, and negative thoughts being really heavy dark slow moving clouds; which ones would you prefer?

In real life, many people hold onto negative thoughts, and they associate with them so that they forget what colour was the sky in the first place and become affected by their negative thinking both physically and psychologically. This may result in high stress, depression and anxiety.

Although one can take medication to control depression and anxiety, it is essential to learn how to recognize and challenge negative thinking so that the person can develop a benevolent way of processing past events and thinking about future.

There are multiple types of negative thinking, such as:

  • Overgeneralisation: “I missed the bus. I always miss my opportunity”
  • Filters: “When I presented to the audience, I got only bad looks.”
  • All-or-Nothing thinking: “I have to be perfect at all times.”
  • Catastrophising: “If this event happens, it will be a total disaster”
  • Personalising: “My neighbor does not say hello, it’s obvious that he hates me”
  • Emotional reasoning: “I feel ugly, therefore I must be ugly”
  • Fortune telling: “It won’t work out, it’s not worth to even try”
  • Negative self-labeling: “I’m an idiot, a failure, I’m worthless”
  • Focusing on the negatives: “Bad things happen to me all the time”. “Nothing good ever happens”
  • Worry about future: “Something bad will happen if I don’t prepare well”
  • Regret and guilt: “If only I made a different decision”
  • Not Enough: “I don’t deserve to be happy, or rich, or healthy”

Although many of the examples of negative thinking are conditioned (learnt) response, some of them can relate to the personality type, e.g. some people are more optimistic than others.

Yet when negative thinking starts to negatively affect person’s life, an intervention may be desirable. Quite often negative thinking is a result of cognitive distortions produced by a distress pattern formed in younger years, deeply engraved in personal history. In this case a professional consultation will be very beneficial. This will help uncover, understand and reframe the distortions by learning a new way to thinking about oneself and others. 

A number of therapeutic techniques help people change negative thinking. Examples are: mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, neuro-linguistic programming.

Below is a self-help approach to transform destructive negative thoughts into joyful healthy thoughts

Step 1: Label Your Thinking

You need to know your enemy. Negative thoughts produce negative emotions that produce negative feelings. So it is very easy to catch: whenever you notice yourself thinking negatively, or experiencing negative emotions, stop and ask yourself “What am I thinking right now?”

Take a mental note or, even better, right down the answers. Acknowledge those thoughts and give them names.

Step 2. Detach Yourself From Negative Thinking

Just like the sky in the example above, you can always take a step back and dis-identify from negative thoughts.

Let them come and pass, just like clouds, while you stay and watch them.

If you find yourself taken over by a negative emotion, such as anger, or sadness, or fear, you may want to shift your awareness in the present moment. Take a few deep breaths, scan your body to relax any tense muscles, notice the sensations of being in the present moment – smell, taste, tactile sensation, sounds, images. Focus on observing details, and become aware of your surroundings.

Step 3: Analyze your negative thoughts

Notice what triggered those negative thoughts, how is the trigger connected with your past, what do you believe to be true about yourself. Is your belief accurate and true or also distorted? What knowledge can you obtain from this analysis?

Like an advocate, collect all the evidence in favor and against negative thoughts and believes. Notice how you can easily find positive examples if only you change your focus.

Step 4: Replace

Think, if tomorrow was the first day of the rest of your life without those negative thoughts, what thoughts would you chose instead? Choose carefully and make an effort to memorise or write down those new thoughts.

Writing a short positively phrased affirmation on a flash card that you can carry around in your wallet or in your phone can be particularly helpful. This will allow you to stop your negative thinking as soon as you become aware of it.

Another powerful way to stop negative thought and replace with positive is to visualize STOP sign and imagine you put it up in front of negative thought every time you become aware of it appearance. Say mentally to yourself: “I demand you to Stop! Enough is enough. {and continue with inserting your positive suggestion}”

Step 5: Practice

Neuroplasticity studies show that stronger neural pathways can be formed any time the task is repeated. So practice thought changing is important. The more you practice, the more easy new way of thinking will become, leaving you with more energy, self-confidence and self-love.

When you practice it is also good to have a goal in mind – something that you can imagine yourself become in future. Imagine vividly yourself as a person who thinks positively and sees proof in his way of thinking. In your imagination, observe your positive self, as if you could meet your future positive self in person. Make notice of the posture, facial expression, voice tone and the words your positive self speaks. Enter the body and observe the chemistry, emotions and positive thoughts. Notice what you learnt to become such a person and notice how good you feel being positive. Now come back to your current self and integrate those leanings.

There is good news in any situation, and by starting practice today you will observe positive changes in your wellbeing, thoughts and emotions very soon.


Author:

Elena Volodchenko, Hypno- Psychotherapist practicing in South Fremantle. She is specialising in evidence-based therapy to release negative emotions and trauma, achieve behavioral change and improve self-esteem, resilience and confidence in adults.

Elena has contributed this article to Freo Pages on behalf of MyLocalMind Inc.

References:

Bec Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.

Burns, D. D. (2012). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: New American Library.


Originally published in FreoPages