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How to Stop Negative Thinking (Part 2)

The second phase in overcoming negative emotions and behaviors using thought re-framing
How to stop negative thinking

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

This famous quote from Henry Ford sums up the foundation of therapeutic change. Everything we feel and everything we do begins with our thoughts. For better or worse, our thoughts become our reality. If you want to create positive change in your life, you need to start by making a positive change in your thinking.

My last article, titled, "Overcoming Negative Thoughts," was an introduction to the process of changing negative thinking patterns. If you've done the work to identify the negative thought patterns that you most commonly engage in, you can now begin working on changing your thoughts. If you haven't taken this crucial first step, I'd suggest you read that article first.

Awareness of negative thoughts is important, but it is not sufficient for change. Change comes from work, and what you will get from this article is a basic outline for doing this work. Though admittedly this is a simplified version of a much more complex system that works best with the aid of a therapist, I believe some progress can be made simply by following the steps below.

Step 1: Identify your automatic negative thought patterns (cognitive distortions)

  • See, "Overcoming Negative Thoughts," linked above.

  • Keep a thought journal where you write down negative thoughts so that you can look at common patterns.

  • After a while, you'll notice consistent patterns of negative thoughts that lead to negative core beliefs (i.e. "I'm a bad person," "No one likes me," "The world is a scary/dangerous place"). Write down these negative core beliefs to reference later in the process.

Step 2: Identify the ways in which your negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and negative behaviors.

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and how they make you feel. When you feel sad, depressed, angry, or anxious, try to focus on what thoughts lead you to those feelings.

  • Look at how your negative thoughts cause you to act, either toward yourself or toward others.

  • Write down any observations, and identify cognitive distortions when they precipitate a negative emotion.

Step 3: Look at the evidence against your negative thoughts.

  • When you notice yourself having a negative thought, look at the evidence for why it might not be true. Try writing down the thought and then writing down the evidence against it.

  • Example: You think, "I fail at everything." Write this thought down and then think about and write down all the times when you didn't fail.

Step 4: Use positive self-talk.

  • When you notice negative thoughts try to summarize the thoughts in a sentence, identify how they make you feel, and then use positive thoughts to change your thinking patterns and feelings.

  • Example: You think, "Nobody likes me because I'm a loser." This makes you feel sad and lonely. Take this sentence and change the language from negative to positive so the thought becomes, "People like me because I'm a good person." Repeat the positive thought as needed.

  • Make a list of positive affirmations to use when you're feeling down, anxious, or negative.

  • Don't expect your feelings to change right away. Positive affirmations work over time with diligent practice and repetition.

Step 5: Challenge your negative beliefs.

  • This is the time to reference those core beliefs that you wrote down in Step 1.

  • Act in opposition to your negative thoughts to show yourself that these thoughts are not always true.

  • After you have identified a negative thought, identified the way it makes you feel/act, looked at the evidence against it, and re-framed the thought into something positive, do something that challenges the overall belief behind the negative thought (i.e. go to a social gathering that makes you feel anxious, share something creative with someone even if you think it's not any good, etc.).

  • Do this only when you're ready. Sometimes, you may see evidence that supports your negative belief, but the important thing to remember is to focus on the evidence that shows that your negative belief is not ALWAYS true. You'll also benefit from proving to yourself that when something negative does happen, you'll be able to overcome it and it won't be as catastrophic as it once felt.

With practice, this method will lead to improvements in thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors. You may notice that the suggestion of writing things down comes up a lot in this process. Writing helps by not only tracking your progress but also by fortifying the work that you're doing as you're doing it. Journaling and thought-logging is an important part of making this technique work.

As I mentioned previously, this is an abridged version of a process that is usually done with the aid of a therapist. Though I believe anyone can benefit from taking a look at how their thoughts affect their emotions and behaviors, seek the help of a professional if you are struggling significantly with negative thoughts or psychiatric symptoms. Though this article is not intended to take the place of therapy, it can help those struggling with minimally intrusive negative thoughts and also serve as a supplement to the work being done with a competent therapist.

For more support, join our empathetic community, chat with a free, trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.

Posted: 19 June 2019
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Scott Fantucchio, LMHC

Scott is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field.

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How to Stop Negative Thinking (Part 2)

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Posted 19 June 2019

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