How to Handle Negative Thinking

We all have some inner party poopers. If our negative thought patterns were real people, they’d likely be kicked out of the function (or at least not invited to the next one)! But unfortunately, we can’t force those thoughts out of our heads as easily as that. In fact, it’s best to work with those thoughts rather than against them.

Here are some methods you can try:

First, the STOP skill: 

S – Stop what you’re doing

T – Take a breath

O – Observe your thought

P – Proceed mindfully

If you feel the urge to roll your eyes at the STOP skill, you’re not alone. I personally felt like I was 5 years old when I was originally taught this technique. Though, sometimes utilizing the most basic coping skills can make a notable impact. Taking a moment to stop, breathe, and view your situation from an observer’s perspective can give you some distance from your own thought patterns. By allowing in some space to take a second look at your thoughts, you can change the way you feel and act. 

Now let’s talk about how to challenge those pesky thoughts:

Thoughts are not necessarily facts. In fact, a great way to start challenging your own negative programming is to check yourself for cognitive distortions.

Positive Psychology also offers a great worksheet with prompts to guide you through challenging your thoughts. Here are the prompts:

1. What facts support this thought? What existing evidence contradicts it?

2. What would the worst possible outcome be, if this thought were true?

3. Am I using a past experience to overgeneralize?

4. Is there any way I might view this in a positive way?

5. Will this matter one day from now? What about in one week, or a month? How?

6. What are some ways I’ve dealt with this scenario before?

7. What advice would my counselor or therapist give about this situation?

8. What am I ready to accept about this event or person?

9. Are my thoughts helping me deal with this scenario? Or are they aggravating the situation?

10. Can I genuinely control this?

11. Besides myself, what else might be affecting this situation?

12. Am I using “I must,” “I have to,” or “I should” thinking here? Is it truly necessary?

13. What advice would I give a friend in this scenario?

Essentially, we get to choose how we interpret the events in our lives. By taking a step back to look at our thoughts, we can move forward in a way that is helpful, empowering, and aligned with our values.

… and I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, I’m not ready to challenge my thoughts. Sometimes I need to let myself feel upset for a little while, and that’s ok. The goal is not to “fix” our thoughts but to make choices that are most healthy for us. Always honor yourself and your needs.

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