You may be surprised to hear that negative thoughts are normal. In fact, negative thoughts are part of the process of human evolution. Our minds have the ability to observe the environment and find problems that must be overcome by exerting enormous mental energy to consider “what ifs” or prepare for worst-case scenarios. Negative thoughts will become a problem when we believe that these thoughts are true. The good news is that there are several ways that can help you get rid of negative thoughts and think more positively.
Part 1 of 4: Recognizing and Challenging Negative Thoughts
Step 1. Know your negative thoughts
Test your negative thoughts and doubts by finding out what form of cognitive distortion you are experiencing. In other words, you have to determine how your mind is telling you things that are completely or at least not true. Cognitive distortions can appear in the form of thinking patterns:
- All or nothing. This mindset appears in the form of unfounded black and white statements. You always judge yourself as good or bad, right or wrong, and never find an alternative between the two.
- Overgeneralizing. You use certain negative experiences as a basis for jumping to inappropriate conclusions. These thoughts usually appear in phrases: “You always…”, “I never…”, or “Everyone…”
- Mentally filter. You get used to filtering out all the positive aspects of every situation and seeing only the negative aspects. For example, you just spent the weekend with a fun date, but you just kept thinking about the quiet moments at the start of the meeting that made things awkward.
- It's too soon to draw negative conclusions. You jump to negative conclusions without any reasonable supporting evidence, for example by assuming that you can read other people's minds or know what will happen next.
- Exaggerating the problem. You're used to thinking about worst-case scenarios and exaggerating minor issues out of place.
- Emotional justification. You believe that what you are feeling right now reflects the actual reality objectively. For example, because you feel sad, you think the current situation is very bad.
- Should and shouldn't. You impose strict (even arbitrary) rules on yourself and set unrealistic expectations about what you should and shouldn't do.
- Labeling. You label yourself and others based on what you perceive as flaws, despite the overwhelming evidence against this.
- Personalization. You feel responsible for things that you have no control over. For example, if it's raining heavily while you're having a party, and the weather forecast says it's sunny, you're still blaming yourself for the bad weather.
- Admiring others and underestimating yourself. You tend to underestimate your positive side and idolize others. You are also in the habit of refusing if other people compliment you.
Step 2. Record your negative thoughts
Keep a special diary to record your thoughts. Whenever negative thoughts arise, use a new page and perform the following steps:
- Take note of what triggers negative thoughts, such as certain thoughts, events, or situations. For example: “I had a big fight with my partner this morning before leaving for work”.
- Take note of any negative thoughts or beliefs that arise during and after the trigger. Ask yourself: “What was I thinking at that moment?”, “What did I say to myself?”, and “What was I worrying about at that time?” For example: “I made a big mistake and this relationship is over. He doesn't want to talk to me anymore, he must not love me anymore and will leave me."
- Write down the words that express your feelings and underline the words that are most closely related to the event that triggered the negative thought. For example: “fear, lonely, hurt” then underline the word “fear”.
- Read through your notes again and see if you have self-defeating thought patterns, such as “exaggerating problems, drawing negative conclusions too quickly, judging right or wrong easily.”
Step 3. Test the truth of your thoughts
Make two columns under “negative thoughts”, one column for “supporting evidence”, another for “evidence against”. After filling in these two fields, determine whether the negative thoughts can be verified.
- Still using the example of “fighting with a partner”, fill in the supporting evidence column with: “He was so angry that his face turned red and slammed the door. This afternoon, he didn't call me as usual."
- Fill in the “evidence against” column with: “We've had fights before and it's worse than this one, but we can always have a good talk. He'd said he needed to calm down after he got angry, but when he calmed down again, he could be rational and willing to compromise. He once told me that there would be a full day's meeting today and he didn't have time to call me during his lunch break. He often spoke of his commitment to maintaining our marriage, no matter what. Quarrels are not uncommon for us, etc.”
- Get to know your mindset objectively through this process. You need to analyze, test, and evaluate your thoughts to determine if they are true. Don't take it for granted without questioning its veracity.
Step 4. Challenge your negative thoughts
Ask yourself questions about negative thoughts that come up and record the answers in a journal:
- Can I see this situation in another way?
- If my feelings weren't like this, how would I see this situation?
- As a matter of fact, what is really going on?
- How do other people see this situation?
- Is it helpful for me to think like this?
- What statements are useful to me?
Part 2 of 4: Learning Positive Thinking Skills
Step 1. Make a list of thanksgiving each day
Think of five things big or small for which you are grateful, such as a comfortable place to live, a friendly smile from a neighbor you don't know, or a beautiful sunset yesterday afternoon. Giving thanks is a way to build positive feelings, optimism, and a sense of connectedness.
You can express your gratitude by sending someone a thank you card, letting your partner know that you appreciate their concern, or thanking someone in your heart
Step 2. Make a list of your positive qualities
Making this list may be a little difficult at first, but once you get used to it, you might be surprised how long the list turns out to be. Write down your physical condition ("I have strong legs to run"), aspects of your personality ("I'm loving and kind"), your abilities ("I'm very good at painting"), and so on.
- If you're having trouble making a list, ask close friends and family members what they like most about you.
- Keep this list in an easy-to-see place, such as in a bedside cupboard, taped to a mirror in your bedroom, or in a diary. Read it when you feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts.
Step 3. Change negative thoughts
When negative thoughts arise, don't immediately believe your inner voice which is pessimistic, critical, and unhelpful. Control negative thoughts (for example: "I will definitely not pass the exam") and turn them into positive, supportive, and constructive thoughts ("Even though the exam results haven't been announced yet, I feel like I can answer questions better than I thought.")
- Once you are able to consciously interrupt negative thoughts and turn them into positive thoughts, it will become easier for you to see things with a positive mindset.
- Remember that events are not emotional triggers. Events trigger thoughts that give rise to certain feelings. If you can train yourself to respond to every event with positive thoughts, you will experience positive or neutral emotions.
Step 4. Make friends with positive people
Research proves that humans are able to adapt to the nature of the people around them. While you can't always avoid negative people, do not interact with them in your daily life. Passionate optimists are role models you deserve to follow.
Part 3 of 4: Overcoming Negative Thoughts for the Next
Step 1. Take time to think about your problem
Give yourself a chance to think about the problem each day by setting a specific time and place, but not before going to bed at night.
- Postpone thinking about the problem until the time you have specified. If you have a negative thought, write it down immediately to think about it later.
- Take the time to think about the problems on the list. Cross it out if the problem you've been thinking about no longer worries you because negative thoughts can go away on their own.
- If a thought is bothering you, give yourself a chance to worry, but within the time limit you have set.
Step 2. Accept uncertainty
Life is full of uncertainty, but many people are trying to cope with conditions full of uncertainty. Remember that life cannot be predicted by thinking things will turn out badly. Plus, you're not getting any better by constantly worrying, unless you take action to deal with what's to come. Be patient and try to accept uncertainty, for example by doing the following:
- When you feel helpless because of uncertainty, admit that not knowing what is going to happen makes it difficult for you to accept uncertainty.
- Don't respond to worry by dwelling on it. Don't think about the future (which is uncertain), but think about things that are happening right now. Build awareness to focus on the present by paying attention to your breath and noticing the sensations in every part of your body.
Step 3. Find opportunities to develop yourself
Look for ways to develop interest and change negative thoughts about yourself. Learn new skills and do activities you enjoy. Give yourself a chance to realize that mistakes are natural when learning.
Step 4. Use problem-solving skills to determine the course of action that leads to the solution
Coping with negative thoughts using problem-solving skills is a way of reducing or eliminating the cause of stress. For example, if you haven't found a job and are thinking negatively, "I'll never get a new job," use problem-solving skills to determine the solution. To overcome negative thoughts about not being able to work, say to yourself: “I got a new job before I was laid off. The best way for me to be able to work again is to try to find a job.”
- Write down what you can do to solve the problem, such as looking for a job on the internet, going directly to the company, asking friends for information, or looking for job vacancies in the newspaper. After that, do it right away!
- When negative thoughts arise, remember that you have a work plan and are trying to solve the problem by executing the plan.
Part 4 of 4: Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Fear
Step 1. Do mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is one of the meditation techniques through focusing on the present moment by focusing on smells, sounds, bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions by experiencing them all without judging. Don't try to fight the negative thoughts that come up, but don't dwell on them. You just need to acknowledge that negative thoughts do exist (by naming them “angry” or “fear,” for example) and don't respond or judge them.
- Some of the benefits of mindfulness meditation, for example: reduce the habit of thinking about negative things, relieve stress, improve cognitive flexibility, and help change old thought patterns.
- Mindfulness meditation can reduce the habit of thinking "what if" something happened in the future and eliminate thoughts about "should" have happened in the past. In addition, mindfulness meditation helps you live in the present so that you can fully participate in everyday life.
Step 2. Perform a gradual muscle relaxation technique (Progressive Muscle Relaxation [PMR])
Negative thoughts will trigger anxiety so that you go about your daily life with a tense body without realizing it. Muscle-relaxing exercises help you distinguish between relaxed and tense muscles. Thus, you are able to recognize when anxiety and tension arise during daily activities.
PMR can relieve tension and stress, improve sleep quality, reduce stomach pain and headaches that arise due to anxiety
Step 3. Get into the habit of taking deep breaths to relieve stress
You can change your physical and emotional response to stress by practicing focused breathing techniques. This technique can be done by adults and children. This will help you delay your response to stress for at least six seconds.
- When you start to feel stressed, close your eyes and relax your shoulders.
- Imagine there is a hole in the sole of your foot. Take a deep breath while imagining warm air entering your body through this opening and flowing upwards to fill your lungs. Relax the muscles throughout your body as you imagine the air rushing up through your calves, thighs, stomach, and upwards.
- Exhale while imagining the opposite direction. Imagine air flowing out of your body through the holes in the soles of your feet.
Step 4. Drink a warm drink
This is a quick way to overcome negative thoughts when you are lonely. The researchers found that the warm sensation experienced physically can replace emotional warmth. Don't rely on a hot drink to replace human interaction, but if you need an instant fix, a hot cup of tea can really help.
Step 5. Take advantage of what you have learned
When you feel afraid, stressed, or have negative thoughts, do it again from step one and record your thoughts in a diary. Identify unwholesome thought patterns, test them for truth, and challenge your thoughts. Negative thoughts don't just go away and everyone experiences the same thing. You also can't control the thoughts that arise, but you can get rid of negative thoughts by realizing that these thoughts are just thoughts, not the truth. The trick, identify and challenge negative thoughts, do mindfulness meditation, and other ways to overcome negative thoughts that have been described above so that your daily life feels more enjoyable.