Negative thoughts aren't just for certain people or situations, everyone suffers from them at some point in their life. In fact, negative thoughts are a normal occurrence and around 80% of thoughts can have a negative connotation. Although they can have different causes, you can learn to find them and question their existence.
Part 1 of 4: take note of your thoughts
Step 1. Keep a journal
A journal is important to write down negative thoughts that come to you, in what situations and your reactions at that time. Often times, you have become so used to these negative thoughts that they have become automatic, like reflexes. By taking a moment to jot them down in your journal, you can take the distance you need to change them.
- When you have a negative thought, write it down. Also write down what was happening when this thought occurred to you. What were you doing? Who were you with ? Where have you been ? Did something happen that could have caused it?
- Write down your reactions at this time. What did you do or say after having this negative thought?
- Take some time to think about it. Ask yourself how much you believe these negative thoughts about yourself and how you feel when they come to you.
Step 2. Notice the times when you are negative about yourself
Negative thoughts can be directed at others, but more often than not they are directed at you. They can then manifest themselves in the form of negative appreciations. They will often be formulated in sentences that start with "I should", for example: "I should do better". They can also be negative labels, for example "I am a loser" or "I am pathetic". Negative generalizations are also common, for example "I miss everything I do". These thoughts suggest to you that you have internalized negative thoughts about yourself and accepted them as fact.
- Write down in your journal the times when these kinds of thoughts occur to you.
- As you write them down, try to leave some space between yourself and the thought in question. Write "I thought I was a loser" instead of just saying "I am a loser". This will help you understand that these are not facts.
Step 3. Identify problematic behaviors
Negative thoughts, especially those about you, usually produce negative behaviors. As you write them down, you should pay attention to the behaviors that appear in response. Here are some examples of unnecessary behavior.
- You avoid your relatives, friends or social situations.
- You overdo the compensation mechanisms (for example, you overdo it to please someone to get you accepted).
- You overlook some things (for example, you don't study for an exam because you think you are stupid and are going to miss it anyway).
- You are passive rather than assertive (eg avoiding expressing your true thoughts and feelings in a clear way).
Step 4. Examine your journal
Find negative thought patterns that reveal your main beliefs. For example, if you see recurring thoughts like “I should do better on exams” or “everyone thinks I'm a loser,” you might have internalized a main belief about your skills, such as “I am stupid ". You let yourself think in rigid and unreasonable terms about yourself.
- These main negative beliefs can cause you a lot of damage. Since they are ingrained so deeply, it is important to understand them rather than just focusing on negative thoughts. If you just focused on the latter, it would be like putting a bandage on a gunshot wound, you are not going to get to the root of the problem.
- For example, if any of these main beliefs lead you to believe that you are worthless, you are likely going to have a lot of negative thoughts related to that belief, for example "I am pathetic", "I do not deserve to 'to be loved' or 'I should be a better person'.
- You might also see negative behaviors related to this belief, such as going out of your way to make a friend happy because deep down inside you believe that you don't deserve that friendship. You have to challenge this belief to change your thoughts and behaviors.
Step 5. Ask yourself tough questions
After you've been journaling your thoughts for a while, take some time to consider what rules, assumptions, and unnecessary patterns you can identify in your thoughts. Ask yourself questions like the following.
- What standards do I set for myself? What are the things that I find acceptable and unacceptable?
- Are the standards I set for myself different from those I set for others? To what extent?
- What are the things I would expect from myself in different situations? For example, what are the things I expect when I am at school, at work, in social situations, when having fun, etc. ?
- At what times do I feel the most anxious and doubting?
- In what situations do I treat myself the hardest?
- When do I expect negativity?
- What things have I learned from my family about my standards and things that I should and should not do?
- Do I feel anxiety in some situations more than others?
Part 2 of 4: Changing Harmful Negative Thoughts
Step 1. Make a conscious choice for your thoughts and beliefs
Make the decision to take an active role in choosing your thoughts. You can control what you think. This means that you have to make an effort on a daily basis to consciously program your thoughts or affirmations while learning to be aware of them and to be more present. Remember that you are a unique person who deserves to be loved and respected, whether by others or by yourself. The first step in getting rid of negative thoughts is to commit to doing so.
- It is often helpful to choose a particular thought or unnecessary “rule” that you want to focus on and change instead of trying to eradicate all negative thoughts completely in one day.
- For example, you might choose negative thoughts that lead you to believe that you don't deserve the love or friendship of others.
Step 2. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts
These negative thoughts that come to you are not facts. They are the product of major negative beliefs that you have adopted over the course of your life. Remember that they are not facts and they do not define you to help you distance yourself from those unnecessary negative thoughts.
For example, instead of saying “I'm stupid”, say “I have a thought that makes me think I'm stupid”. Instead of saying “I am going to fail this exam”, say “I think I will fail this exam”. The difference is subtle, but important in retraining your awareness and eradicating negative thoughts
Step 3. Find the triggers for your negative thoughts
It is very difficult to understand why they come to you, but there are several hypotheses that can explain them. According to some researchers, negative thoughts are the result of evolution, as we constantly observe our surroundings for dangers or to find ways to improve ourselves. Sometimes these negative thoughts can be created by anxiety or worry, which causes us to evaluate anything that could go wrong or be dangerous, demeaning or cause anxiety. In addition, negative thoughts or pessimism can be learned by parents or family from an early age. They will then be associated with depression and it is believed that they can turn into depression which in turn will create negative thoughts in a vicious cycle. Finally, they can also come from past trauma or experiences that have caused you shame or doubts.
- Think about any unsettling conditions or situations that might relate to this negative feeling you have about yourself. For many people, typical triggers may include business meetings, school presentations, personal issues at work or school, or significant life changes, for example during a move, a job change or the end of a relationship.
- A journal will help you identify these triggers.
Step 4. Become aware of the different types of negative thoughts
For many people, negative thoughts can become so normal that they believe they are an accurate reflection of reality. Try to be aware of key patterns in your thoughts that can be harmful, this will help you understand your behavior better. Here are several of the more common types of negative thoughts that therapists refer to as "cognitive distortions":
- binary thoughts
- mental filters
- hasty negative conclusions
- changes from positive thoughts to negative thoughts
- emotional reasoning
- negative self-talk
- excessive generalization
Step 5. Try informal cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective way to change your thoughts. To start changing your negative thoughts, you need to notice them when they happen. Observe negative thoughts as they occur and take the time to consider what type they are. You can even write it down in a journal when you start to learn to modify your thoughts to get a better understanding of the process.
- Once you have identified the types of negative thoughts, you can question their reality. You can look for evidence to the contrary. For example, if you think that you always miss everything, you can try to find three situations where you have been successful. Also, be aware of the things you are doing with cognitive behavior therapy to deal with limiting thoughts. You can also experiment with the thought to see if it is true. For example, if you think you will pass out if you try to speak in public, test that thought by imitating a situation where you find yourself in front of an audience to prove to yourself that you are not going to pass out. You can also try a poll to test your thoughts. Discuss your thinking with others to see if their interpretation is the same as yours.
- You can also try replacing some words that make the thought negative. For example, if you say to yourself: "I shouldn't have done this to my friend", you can change it to "things would have been better if I hadn't done it to my friend" or "I am sad that I did it to my friend and I will try not to do it again in the future”.
- Over time, these exercises will help you adjust your thoughts to become more realistic, positive, and proactive instead of staying negative and out of date.
Step 6. Attack Binary Thoughts
They happen when you believe that there are only two ways of doing things or two possible outcomes. Things are either good or bad, or positive or negative, etc. You don't leave room for flexibility or reinterpretation.
- For example, if you do not receive a promotion, but are encouraged to apply the next time there is a vacancy, you might still continue to think that you failed and that you not worth anything because you didn't get the place. You see things as good or bad and you don't see what can be in the middle.
- To challenge these kinds of thoughts, you need to rate different situations on a scale of 1 to 10. Remember that things are very unlikely to end up at 0 or 10. For example, you might say to yourself, “My experience working with this promotion was about 6 out of 10. That means this place was not suitable for me. But that doesn't mean that all the other places will be too”.
Step 7. Fight the thought filters
When you filter thoughts, you will only see the negative side of things and ignore the rest. This usually produces distortions about individuals and situations. You could also exaggerate the negatives.
- For example, if your boss pointed out to you that you typed a mistake in a report, you might focus on it and ignore the rest of the compliments he gave you about your work.
- Instead, focus on potentially negative situations, such as criticism, and see them as development opportunities rather than attacks. You might say to yourself, “My boss really liked my job and if he pointed out this mistake that I made, it's because he respects my ability to correct my mistakes. It is a force. I will also have to be more careful next time”.
- You can also try to find a positive thing for every negative thing you notice. This will require you to broaden your perspective.
- You could also try to downplay the positive things, for example by saying to yourself: “I was lucky” or “it only happened because my boss / teacher likes me”. It is also an inaccurate thought. When you are working really hard at something, you have to recognize your efforts.
Step 8. Try not to jump to conclusions
When you do, you are assuming the worst when there is almost no evidence to support it. You did not ask for more information or clarification from the other person. You just make a guess and that's it.
- For example: "my friend did not respond to my invitation that I sent him half an hour ago, he must hate me".
- Ask yourself what evidence you have to make this assumption. Force yourself to make a list of evidence as if you were a detective. What exactly do you know about the situation? What do you still need to judge her in an informed way?
Step 9. Observe the emotional reasoning
You believe that what you are feeling is a reflection of a bigger fact. You believe your thoughts are true and correct without questioning them.
- For example: "I have the feeling of missing everything, that probably means that I miss everything".
- Instead, ask yourself what other evidence you have for this feeling. What do others think of you? What does your performance at school or at work suggest? What evidence do you have to support or question this feeling? Remember that thoughts are not facts, even if you think they are true.
Step 10. Overcome excessive generalization
When you do this, you are assuming that one negative experience will automatically produce more negative experiences in the future. You base your guesses on limited evidence and use words like "always" and "never".
- For example, if your first date doesn't go as planned, you might be thinking, "I'm never going to find love."
- Eliminate the words "always" and "never" from your vocabulary. Use more limited language like “this particular date didn't go well”.
- Find evidence to challenge this thought.For example, will this particular date determine the rest of your love life? What is the probability?
Step 11. Acknowledge your thoughts, including negative thoughts
Negative thoughts are like any other thought. They come into your head. They exist. When you recognize these unnecessary thoughts, it does not mean that you accept that they are true or correct. This means that you notice when they come to you and acknowledge their existence without judging them.
- You might actually make things worse by trying to control or suppress them, such as saying to yourself, "I'm not going to have negative thoughts." It's like telling yourself not to think of pink elephants, now you can't think of anything else.
- Several studies have shown that by recognizing negative thoughts instead of fighting them, you will be able to overcome them.
- For example, if you start to think that you are not beautiful, acknowledge it by saying to yourself, "I am thinking that I am not beautiful". You are not going to accept it as true, you are only acknowledging that this thought exists.
Part 3 of 4: cultivating self-love
Step 1. Practice mindfulness
It is a technique that invites you to learn to observe your emotions without exaggerating them. This principle teaches you to recognize and experience your negative thoughts and emotions before letting them go. Mindfulness is not a simple practice, because you will have to become aware of your negative speeches which often accompany shame such as personal questioning, comparisons with others, etc. However, your task is to recognize the shame without getting carried away and without empowering the emotions that arise. Research has shown that mindfulness-based therapy and techniques can help you better accept yourself and reduce your negative thoughts and emotions.
- Try to find a quiet place to practice mindfulness. Sit in a relaxed position and focus on your breathing. Count your inhales and exhales. Inevitably, your mind will start to wander. When this happens, don't blame yourself, but notice how you feel. Don't judge it, just be aware of it. Try to bring your attention back to your breathing, because that is where mindfulness works.
- By acknowledging your thoughts, but decentering them without letting them take over, you learn to deal with negative emotions without trying to change them. In other words, you change your relationship with your thoughts and emotions. Some people have noticed that by doing this, the content of their thoughts and emotions can change (for the better).
Step 2. Watch for phrases with “I should”
Sentences that start with "I should" are often a sign of unnecessary rules or assumptions that you have internalized. For example, you might think, “I shouldn't ask for help because I don't want to show weakness” or “I should be more social”. When you notice this kind of language, you need to take the time to ask yourself questions about these thoughts.
- What is their impact on your life? For example, if you think, “I should be more social or I'm not going to have any friends,” you might feel embarrassed if you decline invitations to date. You might force yourself to go out with friends even if you feel tired or even if you could have used that time for yourself. It could cause you problems.
- Where does this thought come from? Thoughts often come from rules you have asked yourself. Your family may have been outgoing and encouraged you to be more social, even though you are more of an introvert. This might have made you think that your calmness is a problem, which is going to generate a major negative belief about yourself, for example "I am not good enough as I am".
- Is this thought reasonable? In many cases, your negative core beliefs are based on too rigid a way of thinking that sets unreasonable standards on you. For example, if you are an introvert, it may not be reasonable to be sociable all the time. You really need some time to be alone. You might not even be good company if you can't spend time alone when you need it.
- What does this thought bring me? Ask yourself what are the benefits you can derive from this thought. Is it useful?
Step 3. Find more flexible alternatives
Instead of keeping your old rules rigid, find more flexible ones. Often times, replacing words like "sometimes", "that would be nice if", "I wish", etc., you are off to a good start in making your expectations of yourself more reasonable.
For example, instead of saying to yourself, "I should be more social or I won't have friends", use more flexible terms like: "sometimes I will accept invitations from my friends, because friendship is something important to me. Other times, I'll take time for myself because I'm so important. I would like my friends to understand my preferences, but even if they don't, I will take care of myself”
Step 4. Seek a balanced opinion of yourself
Often times, negative thoughts about yourself can be extreme. You will tell yourself that you are a failure or a loser. These beliefs leave no room for "gray areas" or a certain balance. Try to find a more balanced opinion of these statements.
- For example, if you often think that you are a loser because you make mistakes, try making a more moderate statement about yourself: "I'm good at some things I do, worse at others, and I'm not very good at some, like everyone else”. You don't tell yourself you're perfect, which wouldn't be true either. You recognize that like any other human being on Earth, you have strengths and weaknesses.
- If you often come up with this kind of extreme thinking, like “I'm a loser” or “I'm pathetic”, rephrase it to recognize the gray areas: “I make mistakes sometimes”. Notice that this statement focuses on what you do, not what you are.
Step 5. Show yourself a little compassion
If you feel like you are going to ruminate on these thoughts in an unnecessary thought loop where you are stuck, show compassion and kindness to yourself. Instead of putting yourself down and talking to yourself in a negative way (like telling yourself you're stupid and worthless), treat yourself like you would treat a friend or loved one. This is going to require you to observe your behavior closely and your ability to take a step back to realize that you would not let a friend engage in these kinds of destructive thoughts. Research has suggested that self-compassion has many benefits, including mental well-being, improved personal satisfaction, and decreased personal criticism among others.
- Use positive affirmations every day. This will allow you to see your worth and enhance the compassion you show for yourself. Take time every day to say these affirmations out loud, to write down, or to think about them. Here are some examples: “I am a good person. I deserve the best even though I have done some rather questionable things in the past "," I make mistakes and learn from them "," I have a lot to offer the world. I can bring things to others and to myself”.
- You can practice this compassion when you keep your journal. When you follow your negative thoughts, you can show yourself a little kindness. For example, if you thought you were stupid and that you were going to fail the exam tomorrow, consider that thought kindly. Remember not to go to extremes. Remember that everyone makes mistakes. Plan what you can do to avoid similar mistakes in the future. You could write, “I felt stupid because I didn't study enough for this exam. Everybody makes mistakes. I wish I had studied better, but I can't change it. Next time, I will study several days in advance, I will ask my teacher for help and I will use this experience to learn and to move forward”.
Step 6. Focus on the positive things
Think about what is going well. Chances are, you aren't congratulating yourself enough for everything you've done in your life. You have to impress yourself, not others. Take some time to think about it and to notice your past successes, big and small. It will help you become more aware of it while also helping you validate your place in the world and what you can bring to the people around you. Consider finding a notebook or journal and setting aside 10 to 20 minutes. In the meantime, make a list of all of your successes and add new ones as you go!
In the same vein, you can become your number one fan. Encourage yourself in a positive way and praise yourself for what you accomplish. For example, you might notice that while you aren't exercising as much as you would like, you hit the gym one more day this week
Step 7. Use positive and helpful language
Be optimistic and avoid the self-fulfilling prophecies of your pessimism. If you expect bad things to happen, they will often happen. For example, if you expect your presentation to go wrong, it will most likely happen. Instead, try to be positive. Tell yourself, "Even though it's going to be difficult, I can handle the presentation."
Part 4 of 4: Finding Support
Step 1. Let go of the influence of others
If you have negative thoughts in your head, it is possible that you have people around you who harbor that negativity, maybe even friends or family members. To get rid of the shame and move forward, you need to reduce the presence of these toxic individuals who are pulling down instead of pulling you up.
- See negative comments from others as a burden. They're pulling you down and it's going to be hard to get back up. Let go of that weight and remember that other people don't define you as a person. You are the one or the only one to define yourself.
- You might also want to think about people who make you look bad. You can't control the behavior of others, but you can control how you respond to it and the impact it has on you. If someone else is rude, mean, dismissive or disrespectful to you, understand that they probably have their own issues that cause them to behave in this way with you. However, if that person lowers your self-esteem, it might be better if you walk away or leave when they are present, especially if they respond negatively when you talk to them about their inappropriate behavior.
Step 2. Surround yourself with positive people
Almost anyone can benefit from social or emotional support, whether it comes from family, friends, office mates, or other social networks. It helps to talk and find strategies with others to solve problems. Interestingly, social support helps you deal with your problems better because it increases your self-esteem.
- Research has consistently shown a link between perceived social support and self-esteem, so much so that if you believe you have the support of other people, you will improve your self-esteem and self-worth. you give. So if you can feel the support of those around you, you will feel better and you will be able to deal with negative feelings and stress better.
- Be aware that social support can take many forms. Some people prefer to have a few close friends to turn to while others prefer a larger network and find support from their neighbors or members of their religious community.
- Social support can also take new forms these days. If you are nervous about chatting with people face to face, you can also keep in touch with family and friends or meet new people through social media, video calls and emails.
Step 3. Help others too
Research has shown that people who volunteer have higher self-esteem than those who don't. You might find it counterproductive to help others feel better about yourself, but science suggests that the sense of social connection that comes with volunteering or when you help others can make you look more positive. of yourself.
- In addition, it will make you happier! Plus, you are going to make a real difference in someone else's life. You are going to be happier and you are going to make someone else happy.
- There are many opportunities to help others and make a difference in their lives. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Offer to train a children's sports team during the summer. Help your friends when they need it and make food to freeze. Volunteer at an abandoned animal shelter.
Step 4. See a mental health professional
If you find it difficult to change or suppress your negative thoughts, or if you feel that they are having a negative effect on your day-to-day mental and physical functioning, you should make an appointment with a counselor, psychologist or mental health professional. Know that cognitive behavioral therapy is very helpful in changing the way you think about it and that it is one of the most researched and probably the most effective forms of therapy.
- In many cases, a therapist can help you put in place strategies to improve your self-image. Remember that sometimes people cannot solve their problems on their own. In addition, therapy has been shown to have a significant effect on improving self-esteem and quality of life.
- A therapist can also help you deal with any mental health problems that could be a cause or consequence of your shame or low self-esteem, including depression and anxiety.
- Know that when you ask for help you are showing strength, not a sign of weakness or failure.
- Since you are a human being, negative thoughts cannot be totally eradicated. However, it will become easier and easier for you to change them over time, and you should have fewer and fewer of them.
- Ultimately, no one else can make negative thoughts go away. You need to make a conscious effort to change your thought patterns and embrace a positive, proactive way of thinking.
- It is important to remember that while some thoughts are harmful and can be classified as cognitive distortions, not all negative thoughts are. There is a theory, especially in planning, that allows you to use negative thoughts or anticipation of everything that might go wrong to find options in case things don't go as planned. In addition, it is normal to have negative thoughts in certain situations such as loss, bereavement, change or other emotional situations where these feelings and thoughts arise naturally.