Everybody wants to get rid of negative thoughts.
But not everybody agrees on how to do it – or on the role thoughts have in our lives.
While listening to a podcast this week, I got a little refresher on my Psych 101 class. The topic was thoughts, and how psychology and the therapy world handle them. They glossed over some details, but overall, it was rather accurate.
Essentially, some psychologists, like say, Freud, believe that thoughts have underlying meaning and that everything is connected in some way. Thoughts about abandonment could stem from childhood, thoughts about sexuality probably have to do with the relationship we have with our parents, and negative thoughts are probably linked to some traumatic event in our lives.
Others believe that thoughts don’t matter at all. Yep. The new trend in therapy – mindfulness– is all about disregarding thoughts and being present. Our stream of consciousness is just a bunch of random hiccups coming to the surface throughout our day. And, somewhere in the middle, is a psychologist named Beck, who coined the term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He decided that thoughts are important, but not always true, and that our logical brain can refute or deny the legitimacy of any thought that passes by.
So…which is it?
At Blush, we believe it’s probably a combination of all three. Not all thoughts are equal. But we have some tips and tricks to create healthy and beneficial thoughts, so you can get rid of negative thoughts.
Decide on the Level of Impact
So you’re walking down the street, and BOOM, a thought crosses your mind. Is it hurtful? Silly? Random? Disturbing? How much does it affect you? Here’s some examples…
“I wish I had fins”
“I am a loser”
“Being in crowds make me feel lost and scared.”
It’s easy to tell that these thoughts have different scales of importance. The first seems to be a pretty harmless thought. I mean, it would be cool to have fins. So let’s just eliminate that one. We don’t need to spend effort banning completely harmless (and sometimes interesting) thoughts.
The second one seems to be a bit more intense. Telling yourself you’re a loser on a constant basis can have real damage on our self esteem. So we can definitely pool some of our effort into throwing that one away.
The last one is pretty intense too – and there’s even a trigger. Crowds = lost and scared. You gave yourself a clue! Definitely worthy of investigation.
Examine the Root
What caused this mean thought to pop up in your head? Were you perfectly happy and then BAM – a nasty gram flooded your mind? Or did something happen to trigger this mean-spirited thinking? Retrace your steps and really think about why this thought made an appearance on your typical Tuesday afternoon.
Per our examples, we’ve already decided to ignore the first thought. We don’t need to pay too close attention to thoughts that really don’t impact our days. Some thoughts are just meant to distract or entertain us, and that’s it. But those other two need to be analyzed. So let’s see, how did either of those two thoughts come to be?
It’s probably obvious that the third thought – the one about crowds – was triggered because of an actual crowd. Maybe you were stuck in an elevator or walking through a busy neighborhood. It might have not happened simultaneously, but more likely than not you walked through a crowd sometime during that day, and the result was a thought that linked a feeling with an action. Crowds = scared. So we have that one figured out.
But what about the second thought? The thought with little to no provoking? Perhaps something super embarrassing happened or you got frustrated at work. But maybe nothing happened. Maybe this thought just popped into your head while you were driving to school or putting your makeup on the mirror. Then what?
Try your best to link some sort of action to the thought. Think about the last time you felt inferior, upset, or discouraged. Don’t dwell on it – we don’t want that memory to spawn more negative thoughts, but at least get a clear idea as to why this thought came to be.
Go Down Memory Lane
Once we have figured out a solid lead to these thoughts, it’s time to dive in and see if this is a pattern in your life. The problem might not be the thoughts themselves – the problem might be a deeply embedded pattern in your life to associate negative thoughts with certain actions. And that kind of relationship must be dissolved in order to ban those nagging thoughts.
This scenario works best for the “crowd” thought. Crowds + You = Fear. You already have the trigger, but now you need to find the source and the frequency of this combination.
More times than not, just talking about the instances is going to help untangle this web. Rehashing stories, experiencing a little exposure therapy, and focusing on creating new associations with the trigger can help disband negative thoughts. However most of the time this is going to take a third party to help. Counselors and coaches are great for guiding you through the work, and an objective support system can allow you to go all in. This takes a lot of tailored work – and it’s not one size fits all.
If you had a terrible experience as a child getting lost in a crowd and separated from a group, that incident could define the way you interact with crowds to this day. But, after putting in some hard work, it is possible to realign your relationship with crowds and to eliminate most of your anxiety surrounding them. Again, this doesn’t happen overnight, but you can only start to tease out the problem when you have figured out where the original source is in the first place.
Build the Evidence
After you have found the root and maybe even recognized the crux of the entire pattern, it’s time to debunk the premise.
For instance, when you tell yourself “I am a loser” – you aren’t giving yourself ANY evidence. None. There is nothing there to the support the premise that you are indeed a loser. I guarantee you that you can find evidence in your life to support this theory – just as anyone out there can find evidence to support their own negative theories about themselves. But, the silver lining to negative thoughts, is that they tend to be automated. They aren’t well thought out, and they just arrive all of a sudden. Which means you have time to gather evidence against it.
The next time you catch yourself saying something horribly awful, come up with every fact and shred of evidence possible to debunk that statement. Every piece helps.
So, if you were to tell yourself, “I am a loser,” you would automatically start listing positive things in your life that contradict that statement. Things like…
I am a loyal friend
I show up to work on time
I pay my bills
I read a lot
I love others, and they love me.
This list can go on for as long as you need it to. ANYTHING that you love about yourself, that you have accomplished, that you can use as a weapon against this thought-bully is welcome. And the more you start showering yourself with reasons as to why you are not a loser, the more your thoughts will surrender to the optimism you have inundated your body with.
You can also do this with anything attached to a memory as well. If you were concentrating on your “crowd” thought, you could simply talk yourself through all of the times you have been in crowds, and been fine. Build up your evidence for why you will be ok, and that feeling scared is actually the exception – not the rule.
Want to get rid of negative thoughts?
Good! Nobody wants to be bogged down by negative thoughts all day – and we all deserve to have a cheerleader within our own minds encouraging us to seize the day. But building that voice takes time, especially if its competing with a Negative Nancy. So in the meantime, grab a life coach to be your cheerleader. We can help you debunk negative thoughts, fill in the positive thoughts, and break down those pesky taunting thoughts that won’t seem to go away no matter what you do. We are here to talk it out, and we can’t wait for you to join us!
Sign up today and we’ll get started tomorrow. Blush you!
Comment below – how do you get rid of negative thoughts?
photo by Eneas
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