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Published on March 5, 2021

How To Stop the Negative Thoughts From Spiraling In Your Mind

How To Stop the Negative Thoughts From Spiraling In Your Mind

You started your day well but suddenly, something unexpected or untoward happens, and you are entirely out of your funk. One bad thought leads to another like a domino effect, and before you know it, you feel terrible and have no idea why you think or feel the way you do. You have no clue how to stop the negative thoughts that echo in your mind.

The Negative Thought Spiral

Negative thoughts could stem from something as trivial as looking at something or someone on social media to a showdown between you and your manager on Teams, and these thoughts can start to spiral.

“I am not good enough.” “What was I thinking?” “Why didn’t I say no to the engagement right at the start?” “I am so stupid to trust him again.” “I don’t deserve happiness.”

Despite your best intentions to figure out how to stop the negative thoughts, you realize the loop is endless. Besides the time you spend ruminating on these thoughts, the real danger, though, is when you start believing them to be true.

Are Thoughts Accurate?

One negative thought does not do us much harm. However, these thoughts may begin to affect us when we start dwelling on them, create negative thinking patterns, and get trapped in those patterns.

Often, when we are in such a spiral, our fear kicks in, and we start hypothesizing worst-case scenarios. We generalize everything to its extremes and start believing every exaggeration in our minds.

Negative thoughts are not really isolated. Our brains make it a mission to remind us of all relevant and linked negative thoughts and before you know it, you are spiraling down the drain until you start to question the very basis of your existence.

But thoughts aren’t always facts. They are not always accurate and cannot all be taken at face value. Thoughts can be distorted and manipulated by our past experiences, conditioning, and deepest fears. The more we indulge in these negative thought patterns, the more they become reinforced and alter our beliefs.

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It’s not all psychological though, as some part of this negative thought spiral is chemical, too.

Our Intrinsic Negative Bias

Our brains are primitively primed to ensure one thing above all else—our survival. We are constantly scanning our environments, looking out for threats that could harm us. The brain keeps an eye out and is always ready for a fight. So, when a negative thought comes in, your brain thinks it’s helping you by reminding you of all the associated memories with that negative thought.

A boss yells at a colleague, saying she’s stupid not to have planned for this scenario. The colleague starts to hyperventilate, and the chemical secretions in the brain alert it to prepare for war. It starts to bring up all the references it has marked for stupid in the past and reminds her of every instance from the kindergarten teacher who used the same word. It is a reaction that happens on autopilot.

Several neuroscientific and psychology studies have proven that negative stimuli trigger more activity in the brain.[1] This bias is attributed to evolution. Brains had to continually monitor environmental threats to ensure survival.

Like how Rick Hanson wrote in his book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom,

“your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”

This negative bias is what makes us ignore five compliments but focus on that one criticism we hear from others. It makes us overlook the good and only obsess on the things that are not working for us.

The bias is ingrained and wired to ensure the survival of the physical body at all costs. So, no matter how much we try, negative thoughts will have the power to completely hijack our minds. While we cannot change our proclivity towards all things negative overnight, we can ensure that we dwell less on it, even when they happen.

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How to Stop the Negative Thoughts?

Here are some things that you can do to stop the negative thoughts and prevent them from spiraling in your mind.

1. Pull the Handbrake

When you catch yourself going down a negative thinking spiral, manually intervene and pull that handbrake to get to a screeching halt. You’ll have to forcibly pause your brain from going down that spiral the first few times because otherwise, the autopilot tendency towards negativity kicks in.

The next time you feel negative thoughts are taking over the reins, visualize that handbrake or a stop sign and hit pause to all the racing thoughts. Step back, take a couple of deep breaths, and re-evaluate the situation from a place of calmness rather than agitation and anxiety.

2. Redirect Your Attention

Once you pause the string of negative thoughts coming in, redirect your attention to something else. Consciously distract yourself from your current chain of thoughts and try to immerse yourself in something different. Maybe go for a run, listen to music, call up your best friend, or cook your favorite meal. It can be anything that can take your attention away from the thought or incident that triggered the spiral in the first place.

The more attention your distraction consumes, the faster you’ll gain control of your spiraling thoughts.

3. Observe Without Judgment

When we start going down the spiral of negative thoughts, we are often our harshest critics. “How dumb was I not to see this coming?” “How could I even think this was possible?” “What is wrong with me?” “I keep making the same mistakes.” “Won’t I ever learn my lesson?”

So on, go the thoughts. We judge, and we judge ourselves harshly.

The next time you find yourself swimming in the deep end with such negative thoughts, try and transition to the seat of the observer. See if you can rise above the thoughts and observe from a distance. Often, when we are too close to the situation, we fail to see how our thoughts are nonsensical or ridiculous.

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Becoming an observer is like holding up the mirror to reflect our own thought process. This honest and non-judgmental reflection helps us see the fallacies in our thought processes. We start seeing and perceiving the things we were blinded to when we were in the thick of things, and it helps us move forward.

4. Identify the Triggers

As you start to observe your thoughts without judgment, begin to look for patterns in these spirals from a distance. Is there a common trigger point that kickstarts this spiral? And once you identify that, don’t stop there.

Dig deeper to identify the triggers and the underlying emotions behind them. What about the trigger is actually affecting you so much? Are there unresolved issues lurking beneath there? Instead of solving the symptoms, see if you can address the root cause.

If it is too emotionally heavy, talk to a therapist to work them out together. Healing those open wounds or bruised scars underneath might help resolve these spirals in the long run.

5. Validate Before Accepting

We’ve already seen that thoughts can be deceiving. The next time you catch yourself going down the loop, pause to validate the thought before you accept them as facts.

Ask yourself, is this true always? Have there been instances when I’ve experienced the opposite of this thought? Is there a limiting belief underlying this thought? What are the resources or strengths that I can use to counter this limiting belief?

Make sure to work through these questions and validate the thoughts before you accept them as accurate.

6. Actively Reframe

The more you catch yourself going down these negative spirals, you’ll start to see reinforced negative thought patterns that pull you down. Identify these negative thoughts and actively reframe them to be more positive and empowering.

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Remember, the neurons you fire together wire together. Instead of firing the neural networks that disempower you and make you feel less confident, actively choose to create new neural pathways that encourage you to be more resourceful to keep going towards your goals.

7. Act, Don’t Ruminate

The secret of getting ahead is getting started—instead of repeatedly ruminating on what happened or what should have happened, or what will happen, start taking action.

Action dissipates misplaced thoughts and beliefs for two reasons. One, when you are acting, you have lesser time to think, evaluate, or judge. Two, when you act in alignment with what you’d want to be, your actions act as evidence and invalidate distorted negative thoughts. That is more powerful evidence than any other affirmation.

Final Thoughts

The tips shared above should have answered the ringing question of how to stop negative thoughts. Remember, the mind is an important and sacred place. Keep it clean and clear.

Whenever you catch yourself going down this rabbit hole of negative thoughts, anchor yourself consciously to the present moment. Bring your awareness to your present reality and observe the thoughts from a distance. Remind yourself that you are much more than your thoughts and feelings.

More Tips on Managing Your Negative Thoughts

Featured photo credit: arash payam via unsplash.com

Reference

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Shwetha Sivaraman

Entrepreneur, Podcaster, & Life Coach @BeingMeraklis

How To Brainstorm Ideas More Creatively And Effectively How To Stop the Negative Thoughts From Spiraling In Your Mind 4 Most Critical Motivation Theories to Boost Your Productivity

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Last Updated on April 8, 2021

What Is Positive Thinking and How to Always Think Positive

What Is Positive Thinking and How to Always Think Positive

In order for you to change your life, you must first change the way you think. If you are new to self-improvement, this is something that you must understand. Looking back at the various figures who have made dramatic changes in their life, there was a point where they had to shift toward positive thinking.

This concept isn’t as simple as it looks on the surface. Much like any habit, there are particular ways to go about tapping into the power of positive thinking and to be thinking positively on a daily basis.

What Is Positive Thinking?

Positive thinking is precisely what it says. It’s a series of habits and thought patterns that make you see things in a more positive light. One common example is seeing the failures you experience as lessons and opportunities to grow.

Positive thinking encompasses a number of things and impacts our lives in big ways. Positive thinking can create changes such as:

  • The way you talk to people both online and in person.
  • The people you attract.
  • How you inspire and encourage other people both directly and indirectly.
  • Your productivity methods and overall working capabilities.
  • Your stress level and how you manage it.

From this description, you can say that thinking positive is much like a lifestyle. The more positive you are, the more good things will appear around you, even in situations where you experience setbacks or challenges.

Another way to look at positive thinking is the addition of good thinking habits replacing bad ones. For example, how many times have you said “I can’t do that task” or “I’ll never achieve this goal of mine”? By definition, thinking this way will guarantee that you’ll avoid that task and put less effort toward that goal. On the other hand, by thinking “I can do that task” or “Someday, I’ll achieve that goal,” you’ll be motivated to work towards those objectives.

How Does Positive Thinking Change Your Life?

For those who have been in the self-improvement world, you can tell from the points above how your life can be impacted. Things like improved productivity, being more approachable, and more can create ripple effects throughout your life.

Getting into more details, these things can translate to larger things in your life. Some changes that positive thinking will do to your life are things like:

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  • Being able to achieve goals consistently when you set them.
  • A dramatic change in your attitude.
  • Using money in a more intelligent manner to the point you’ll be earning more.
  • Having more like-minded friends.
  • Being more generous and kind to others.
  • Living a longer life.[1]

Positive thinking from this viewpoint can sound like it’s too good to be true, though this is no simple task. It’s not a matter of flipping a switch, and suddenly you’ve learned how to think positive. That said, these are good incentives to be working towards, and there is research behind these things being true.

How to Tackle Negative Thoughts

Another key aspect to positive thinking is that positive thinking isn’t about eliminating all negativity from your life[2]. Our lives do have negative events; you’ll make mistakes, fail, and have setbacks. However, it’s important that you strike a balance between being aware of reality and accepting your surroundings and thinking optimistically.

There is no right or wrong method to pick from, but being able to limit negative self-talk in various areas of your life comes down to a few simple techniques. Here are some examples.

Follow a Precise Guide to Cultivating a Positive Mindset

The guide involves looking for feedback, paying attention to your thought patterns, and rearranging them to accept negative emotions. Other guides will bring you through the process by getting you to believe you can change your attitude all the way to avoiding toxic positivity.

Learn About Your Thinking Style

Are you a logical thinker or an emotional one? Do you focus on the short-term or the long-term? Do you naturally sway toward the positive or the negative? Identifying all of these things can help you get a handle on how your mind naturally works before you go about changing it.

One way to tap into your thinking style is to learn about how you are motivated. Check out Lifehack’s Free Assessment: What’s Your Motivation Style? One you know your motivation style, you’ll begin to understand yourself and how you think on a daily basis.

Create a Curiosity Around Negative Thoughts

Looking at negative thoughts as something interesting instead of as something damaging is a good step toward giving them less power. When a negative thought comes around, try writing it down and contemplating it for a few moments.

Why did that thought come about, and why are you looking at that particular thing in a negative way? How can you change that thought into something positive?

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10 Simple Habits to Practice Positive Thinking

The methods mentioned above are ways to nullify the impact of negative thoughts. There will be times where you will still think negatively, but the impact will lessen. This is especially true when you incorporate various habits into your life to improve your positive thinking.

Here are some things to consider to help you cultivate a positive mindset.

1. Do One Act of Kindness Daily

Making someone smile has as much of an impact on them as it does for you. Doing good things feels good, which is why many of us feel compelled to make donations to non-profit organizations. The act of charity warms our hearts.

But you can make more of an impact by doing something nice for someone else. Smile and say hello to someone, give someone a compliment, or help them out in a small way if you see them having issues.

2. Laugh More

Along a similar vein, positive emotions cause us to shift our attitude, and laughter is another big one to consider. Laughter shouldn’t be forced though, so make a point of being around people who can make you genuinely laugh. This can be a comedian, a friend or family member, or anyone who can get you to chuckle.

3. Read More Positive Material

Our social media diet is one of the largest influencers of our mood. That, along with television or other video content. If you’re watching or reading content that makes you angry, negative, or hateful, that behavior is going to project onto everything else you do and get in the way of positive thinking.

To change that, you must change how you are consuming content and what you gravitate toward. Make a point of reading some positive news and developments. Another option is to read or watch videos that focus on things that you’re passionate about.

4. Set Goals

Another solid method is to set goals and work to achieve them. This can tackle a lot of negative thoughts as people often set goals and give up due to negative thoughts most of the time.

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Setting goals and striving to achieve them on a regular basis allows you to build the framework to overcome those negative thought hurdles. You’ll eventually stop making excuses and focus on the task at hand.

5. Have a Strong Morning Ritual

In general, what you do first thing in the morning determines the energy you put toward the rest of your day. We all have our usual routine in the morning, and many times that routine doesn’t put people in a space that’s conducive to positive thinking.

My recommendation is to mix up your morning ritual to include some positive things. Examples are doing some exercises, showing yourself some self-love through gratitude and positive affirmations, or maybe doing something you enjoy, such as completing a puzzle or writing a poem.

6. Ask the Proper Questions

Negativity is something that we have to accept, but how we change the impact of it can be through questions. The catch is that you need to be asking the right kind of questions first.

For example, if you’re a pessimist, the questions you’ll be asking yourself are negative. “Why did this happen to me?” “Why do bad things happen to me whenever I try something?” These are negative because you’re painting yourself as a victim, and it does nothing for your mindset but slow you down.

Instead, start asking questions like:

  • What’s one good thing about this situation?
  • What is it that I can learn from these events and circumstances?
  • What is one small thing I can do right now to start fixing this?

By asking these questions, you’ll start to give your brain some tasks to ponder over to solve this situation and gain something from these experiences.

7. Create a Positive Environment

Consuming positive content is one way of creating a positive environment, but there are other things that can influence it. In general, creating an environment where you can be positive is key to development. This means:

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  • Do the things that bring joy and energy into your life.
  • Be around positive people who lift you up.
  • Continue to strengthen that environment by reinforcing standards for what’s acceptable for you and what isn’t.

8. Meditate

Meditation is another morning activity to consider and one to do overall if you want to practice positive thinking. Meditation provides a number of benefits when done on a regular basis.

Meditation provides you with an opportunity to look inside yourself and see what makes you tick. It helps you to look at thought patterns and to begin rearranging them. It’s a powerful method because it adds perspective to who you really are and what you truly think[3].

From there you can make drastic changes by simply meditating.

9. Write Down Your Thoughts and Tackle the Issues

Similar to meditating, consider jotting down the thoughts that come to mind whenever you feel stressed. During these periods, you’ll see that when you’re stressed, you’ll be writing down things that cause you to feel stressed. It could be something extreme, or it could be a series of small things you need to do that have piled up.

The idea is to write out those thoughts and the next day begin working on fixing those problems to make room for a more positive outlook.

10. Read Positive Thinking Books

The last method to boosting positive thinking is to be reading more books on the subject. Positive thinking is a subject that has been researched heavily, and there is a lot of information on it. You’ll find a lot of it overlapping or having similar elements, but it doesn’t hurt to pick up a few books and read what the author has to say on the subject.

While reading articles is great, a book has more room to add more details and perspectives that aren’t otherwise there when reading an article.

Final Thoughts

Positive thinking is not something that can be done overnight. It’s something that takes time as it involves rewiring your very way of thinking and reinforcing habits. It’s not an easy path, but it can lead to many avenues opening up to you in various ways. The road to success and to great change is through a positive and developing mindset for better physical and mental health.

More Tips on Positive Thinking

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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