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Published on March 5, 2021

How To Stop the Negative Thoughts From Spiraling In Your Mind

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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

More by this author

Shwetha Sivaraman

Entrepreneur, Self-Awareness Coach, and a Podcaster at Being Meraklis

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

How to Get “I Can’t Do It” Out of Your Vocabulary

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How to Get “I Can’t Do It” Out of Your Vocabulary

When someone says, “I can’t do it” . . . I say to myself, “What do you mean you can’t do it?” Maybe you don’t want to do it, but saying you “can’t” do it is a completely different story.

With the right mindset, positive attitude, and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, the only thing that is holding you back is yourself.

Can’t is a terrible word and it has to be taken out of your vocabulary.

By saying you can’t do something, you’re already doubting yourself, submitting to defeat, and you’re making that barrier around your life tighter.

So today, right now, we are going to remove this word for good.

From now on there is nothing we can’t do.

“Attitude is Tattoo”

Your attitude is everything; it’s your reason, your why and how, your facial expression, emotions, body language, and potentially the end result. How you approach an opportunity, and the result of it, is solely based on you — not your boss or your co-worker or friend.

If you enter a business meeting with a sour attitude, that negative energy can spread like wildfire. People can also feel it — maybe even taste it. This is not an impression you want to leave.

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Now imagine you enter a business meeting with a positive attitude, that whatever happens in here is going to be your result, in your control, not someone else’s. Of course, we can’t always win, but even if the outcome is negative, your attitude and perception can turn it into a positive. The question is: can you do it?

Of course you can, because there is nothing in this world you can’t do.

It’s much better to be known for your positive attitude — your poise, your energy, the reason why things go so well because you are able to maintain such character. A negative attitude is easy. It’s easy to complain, it’s easy to be mad, and it’s even easier to do nothing to change it.

When I say your “attitude is tattoo”, it sounds permanent. Tattoos can be removed, but that’s not the point. Your attitude is like a tattoo because you wear it. People can see it and sometimes, they will judge you on it. If you maintain a negative attitude, then it is permanent until you change it.

Change your attitude and I guarantee the results change as well.

Believe You Can Do It

Do you know why most people say “can’t” and doubt themselves before trying anything?

It’s our lack of self-confidence and fear on many different levels. The one thing we have to purge from ourselves is fear — fear of bad results, fear of change, fear of denial, fear of loss, the fear that makes us worry and lose sleep. Worrying is the same as going outside with an umbrella, waiting for rain to hit it. Stop worrying and move on.

Confidence is fragile: It builds up slowly, but can shatter like glass. Project your confidence and energy into believing in yourself. This is a very important and groundbreaking step — one that is usually the hardest to take. Start telling yourself you can do something, anything, and you will do it the best to your ability. Remove doubt, remove fear, and stick with positive energy.

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Learn how to boost your confidence: How to Be Confident: 62 Proven Ways to Build Self-Confidence

Embrace Failure

Do not fear failure. Do not run away from it. Face it, learn from it, grow, and take action. Just remember: You will never know success if you have never failed.

Your confidence will bolster after embracing these facts. You will be immune to demoralizing results, and instead you will find ways to fix it, improve upon it, and make it better than before. You will learn to never say “can’t,” and will realize how many more opportunities you can create by removing that one word.

Don’t let one simple and ugly word plague your confidence. You’re better and stronger than that.

Start Making the Change

But to actually start the process of change is very challenging.

Why is that?

Fear? Time? Don’t know how — or where — to start?

It’s hard because what we’re doing is unlearning what we know. We are used to doing things a certain way, and chances are we’ve been doing them for years.

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So here are some ways that I avoid using the word “can’t”, and actually take the steps to put forth the change that I wish to see. I hope you can incorporate these methods into your life.

Write down What You Want to Change

Write it on post-its, notecards, whatever makes you comfortable — something you will always see. I usually write mine on post-its and put them all over the wall behind my monitor so I always see them.

Tell a Friend and Talk About It

Discussing your goals, what you want to change, is very effective when you say it out loud and tell another person other than yourself. It’s almost like saying, hey, I bet I can do it — watch me.

When you fulfill that goal and tell your friend, it feels rewarding and will motivate you to do it again in a different aspect. Who knows? Maybe your friend adopts the same mindset as you.

Stop Yourself from Saying the Forbidden Word

Sometimes,I can’t control myself in public when I’m with friends, so I have to be careful with the words I use so I don’t embarrass or insult anyone.

Treat the word “can’t” as the worst word you can possibly use. Stop yourself from saying it, mid-sentence if you must, and turn your whole perspective around — you can do it, you will do it, and nothing is impossible!

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

You think this change will be overnight? No way. This is a practice. Something you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life from now until forever.

As I said earlier, you are unlearning what you know. You know how easy it is to say you can’t do something, so by unlearning this easy practice, you’re self-disciplining yourself to live without boundaries.

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Practice this everyday, a little at a time, and before you know it, the word can’t will not be part of your language.

Do Anything That Can Relieve Your Uncertainty

When I catch myself saying I can’t do something or I don’t know something, looking up information on that action or subject, doing research, educating yourself, relieves that uncertainty.

Sometimes, we think we can’t do something because the whole idea of it seems too large. We skip the small steps in our head and only focus on the end.

Before you say you can’t do something, rewind and slow down a little bit. Focus on what the first step is, then the next. Take it a step at a time, and before you know it you will have done something you previously thought you couldn’t do.

Final Thoughts

You know what you must do. The first step is right now. Once you begin this habit, and really start noticing some change, you’ll realize the door to opportunity is everywhere.

The funny thing is: Those doors have always been there. The evil word that we no longer use put a veil over our eyes because that’s how powerful that word is.

More Tips for Strengthening Your Resilience

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

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