What is negative thinking? And how to stop negative thoughts.
In our daily life, the brain automatically interprets everything around us. In most cases, the messages it offers us are positive and useful. Still, sometimes they are not, which creates great confusion. Psychologists have studied what is known as “automatic negative thoughts,” (ANT’s) which are defined as pernicious ideas that appear in our heads without us looking for them and constitute a dangerous source of disturbing emotions. In this post you will learn how to stop negative thoughts.
Numerous psychologists and psychiatrists have studied automatic negative thoughts; it was one of the founders of Cognitive Psychology, Aaron Temkin Beck, who contributed most to its definition in the 60s. Beck believed that automatic negative thoughts were a determining factor in our well-being, or rather in our discomfort. In his opinion, these negative thoughts sabotage the best of us and, if we do not know how to control ourselves, they end up creating a situation of insecurity, anxiety, and anger, which, in turn, generates new ANTs. A vicious cycle from which it is not easy to get out, where negative thoughts are repeated continuously in an increasing spiral.
Luckily, there are techniques for escaping this dangerous brain maze, and stop negative thoughts. Neuronal plasticity shows that behavior can change the neural pathways and synapses in our brains. This means that we can all end ANTs and replace them with positive thoughts. But to learn how to stop negative thoughts, the first thing we must do is to identify them and understand that they are thoughts for which we are not consciously responsible.
Negative thinking, how do negative thoughts look like?
- They are specific.Usually, ANTs have a distinct and recurrent form, easily identifiable in our inner speech. Generally, the messages are composed of a short sentence that repeatedly appears in our head, in the way of a memory, supposition, or self-reproach. For example, the reconstruction of a past event (“if I had done x, I would not have done x”), the fictitious creation of a future event (“I always do x wrong, and in the future, the same thing will happen again”), or a guilty demand (“I should have done x, I should do x…”).
- They are credible.ANTs arise automatically, spontaneously: they suddenly come into the mind, without any previous judgment of the situation. But, despite their unsound arguments, we perceive them as absolute truths, as ideas that we have been reflecting for a long time; and this is where their danger lies: we take for granted something that is not so. If we manage to identify these thoughts to analyze them in detail, we will realize how ridiculous they are on most occasions. Although the ANT may seem silly from the outside, the person who suffers them considers them very real and credible, precisely because they do not stop to analyze them (hence the positive result of sharing them with others). We consider them valid, without questioning them, because they are experienced as spontaneous absolute truths, which can be solved if we learn to analyze them logically to prove that their conclusions are exaggerated.
- They are unreflective To know how to keep these negative thoughts at bay (to finish with them entirely is impossible), we must realize that our inner voice only offers us one perspective. Hence, ANTs respond to the brain’s automatism, which does not include a previous reflection of the judgment, but that seems the most logical thing. If we manage to identify these thoughts, analyze them coolly and cautiously, we will realize how ridiculous they are most of the time and manage to neutralize them.
How to stop negative thoughts.
1.Write down your negative thoughts.
The first step to stop having negative thoughts is to be aware of them. Then you will be able to think better about them and eventually change them.
How to do it ? Keep track of negative thoughts. Use paper and pen or a notebook app. You can only record the thought you had, but you can also add other information, such as the discomfort that the thought generated in you, what led you to think that way and what you did afterward.
2.Generate a thought opposite to the initial one
Once you have written down several of your thoughts and have realized that those thoughts you call “realistic” only make you feel bad, think of an alternative to them. Think of a contrary, overly positive choice. In time you will learn that in between the two poles is the right answer.
How to do it? If, for example, you are thinking: “This job interview is going to be a disaster, I am not going to make it, I am not qualified enough,” you can change it to “I’m the perfect candidate, I’m very prepared, there’s no one better than me, and I’m going to get the job” You can write down the alternative thoughts in your self-registration. Little by little, with practice, you will learn to reflect on your thoughts and conclude the most real alternative answer is between both extremes.
This is the technique that, in the long run, will help you reevaluate these negative thoughts and replace them with more positive and realistic ones. In the short term, try to:
Throw away your thoughts!
Yes, it looks a bit silly, but according to a study by Ohio University, in collaboration with researchers from the UAM, writing down negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then throwing it away helps us eliminate the thought. This mechanism allows us to label negative thinking as an invalid, useless object, and garbage. Hence, making it easier to eliminate.
When you find yourself trapped in a negative thought, get moving. Exercise increases serotonin levels and reduces cortisol, which increases happiness and reduces anxiety. Getting active when negative thoughts overcome us is a great idea that will undoubtedly bring us plenty of good results.
And last…but not least…
Surround yourself with positive people. Just as people can spread negativity, optimism can also spread. Avoid people who see only the negative in everything and surround yourself with people who bring you happiness and good vibrations.