The primary cause of our unhappiness is never the situation we’re in; but our negative thoughts about it.
We spend so much time working on our external world, but nothing will transform your life more than working on your internal world – making positive shifts in your perception, thought patterns and attitude.
If you feel trapped by negative thinking, here are five effective ways to deal with negative thoughts:
How to deal with negative thoughts
1. Question the truth of your thoughts.
Humans are meaning making machines, so it’s useful to question your interpretation of events and see if you’re creating stories which may not necessarily be true.
Next time something happens and you start jumping to conclusions, pause and ask yourself: Is this really true? Can I know for sure? Could I be reading meaning into the situation which isn’t really there? Could I see things differently?
2. Question the permanence of the situation.
Another powerful question to ask yourself when you’re caught in a state of anger or anxiety over a situation is: How long will this last?
You may suddenly realize that in the scheme of life, what’s making you feel bad right now is something you may hardly remember in five years time, or you may even be able to look back on it and laugh.
Putting things into perspective in this way can immediately shift your thinking towards more hopeful, positive thoughts.
3. Switch your focus.
You can’t really focus on a negative thought and a positive thought or memory at the same time, so switch your focus to something more helpful or uplifting.
Go on a mental rampage of appreciation for all of the goodness in your life, like your loved ones, favorite activities, the beauty of nature, meal times, holidays or whatever it is that instantly makes you feel good.
4. Give yourself space to feel your emotions without judgment.
When you feel a strong negative emotion arise, instead of getting lost in circling negative thoughts which feed the feeling and make it more intense, try to observe the feeling as it rises in your body. Where can you feel it? What does it feel like?
By observing your feelings, you create a distance between your true self and your current emotional state. This can help you to remember that your true identity is something separate from, and greater than, any transient negative thoughts and feelings.
As you continue to <em>observe</em> the feeling rather than getting caught up over-analyzing it in your mind, it will start to fade away.
5. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the art of treating yourself with gentleness, kindness and understanding – the same way you would treat a close friend or loved one.
When you’re caught up in negative thinking, particularly about yourself, take a step back and realize that although you may not be perfect and life doesn’t always go to plan, you are still worthy of love and acceptance and everything will work out in the end.
As Eckhart Tolle put it, “Nothing you ever did or that was done to you could ever touch even in the slightest the radiant essence of who you are”.
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