Thoughts and emotions are not a choice – they automatically enter into our minds and bodies. That’s the science of human nature. None of them are “bad,” even if they are “negative.” It is how we choose to react to these thoughts and emotions that can be a game changer. No matter how or how many negative or “glass half empty” thoughts may enter our minds, we have the ability to shift them. First, we need to acknowledge them, give them the time they need, and then decide what we’re going to do about them.
While giving them the time they need, notice your body and how it reacts to them. Does your heart begin to race? Do you get angry? Does your stomach tense up and form a pit? Do your shoulders tense? Does your jaw clench or your forehead tighten? This is important to notice as we work through this. One, you see how your body tends to react to negative thoughts. Two, it helps identify which part of your body tends to absorb these thoughts the most. As you do this, I can work with you on how to work through this.
When it comes to negative thoughts, they aren’t something that we will be able to eliminate but there are healthier ways to work through them, which is also key – working through them and not around them.
I encourage you to give these 5 things a try:
- Recognize your thoughts. When they are healthy and good for you and/or your relationships, embrace them, expound upon them. When they are negative, recognize that about them. This is needed first and foremost. We often just allow them to carry on and not recognize if they are good for us or not and how much they are impacting our lives, bodies, and mental health. Accept any negative thought for what it is – a thought. Remind yourself you will have about 6,000 thoughts per day. Ask yourself if this thought will make a difference a year from now – an hour from now. Acknowledge the thought for what it is, but don’t believe everything you think. Don’t dwell on it. You can recognize it, accept it, and then move forward in a healthy manner.
- Acknowledge the persuasiveness of any negative thoughts. Thoughts enter our minds by nature. However, when we dwell on negative thoughts and let them fester and grow, we tend to start to create entirely untrue scenarios, lose logical processing, and even see our moods and the way we treat others shift. For instance, I truly believe, at any moment we can convince ourselves of just about anything. Let’s do an activity – think about a certain person you know and love. With that one person in mind, think about all the good in them, what you love about them, their greatest qualities, how you feel when things are good and you’re with them. Embrace and process this for a minute. Now, thinking about that same person, think about the last thing they did that annoyed you or when you were mad at them. Bring all those qualities back to the forefront that hurt you or pissed you off, how annoying they can be, the most negative things about who they are, how much it bothers you when they ___ (fill in the blank). Hold on tight to those thoughts for a minute. Now, I am certain, through this exercise, in the matter of about 60 seconds, you were able to shift your mindset about that person – from that person being amazing, to him/her being the most annoying, frustrating person on earth. Thoughts are persuasive. We must acknowledge this and that we don’t have to allow them to be.
- Put some space between you and your reactions to your negative thoughts. Pause when negative thoughts arise and ask yourself if they are absolutely true – as in fact. Ask yourself if you can see the thought in a different way. For example, if worried about a new adventure and you mentally prepare yourself for it to be awful. Are any of the thoughts you have that are shifting it toward “awful” actually fact – do you know them to be 100% true? I am going to go out on a limb and assure you they are not. In any situation, you can imagine them to be negative, because your mind is just that good. You can go into an “all or nothing” mentality about it – “I am 100% sure this is going to be terrible.” You can confuse possibility with probability – “If I get on this plane it will crash!” You can battle between the “shoulds and musts” – I must never let my emotions show.” Or “I should never say yes to that person.” You can lose all emotional reasoning (as mentioned above) and confuse thoughts with facts – “I feel like I am a bad mother, so I am a bad mother.”
- Identify the emotion behind the thoughts. Dig deeper on this one and ask yourself “what is the thought actually stemming from?” Maybe even write down the thought. Ponder it. Then think about the true emotion that is behind it – are you actually hurt, or scared? Are you worried? Have you been “burnt” by something like this before (and is this that EXACT same situation? Guessing no!)?
- Seek support. It is important that you don’t deal with your negative thoughts alone. If you’re struggling and can’t get past them with suggestions like 1-4, reach out to someone you trust. Someone who will listen- truly listen – and offer grace and unconditional love. (If you don’t have that person, it can be me!). If you are beyond the ability to adapt your negative thoughts, it may take a more tailored plan or lifestyle changes. It may take a reach out to your primary care provider and/or medication. Any of these are good. You are not your thoughts, they are thoughts. You deserve zero judgment from yourself or anyone else as you work through them. Seeking help does not make you weak! In fact, the opposite, it shows so much strength in knowing what may be beyond your control.
Although negative thoughts are inevitable, the way we choose to react to and handle them is not. Choose wisely … for you.
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