How To Challenge Negative Thinking And Anxiety
Negative thinking creates negativity
"...if you realised how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought..." Peace Pilgrim Quotes, 1908-1981.
The pattern of thoughts you have on a daily basis will be mirrored in your physical life. In other words, negative thinking creates the reality of negativity.
Fear, anxiety, emotional problems, work problems, lack of success are a vicious circle that we unconsciously feed. It is a self-perpetuating cycle leading to a bleak and drab existence.
Thankfully there are ways to break this pattern and live the full and meaningful life you want.
Why do we think negative thoughts?
"...dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power..." Shirley MacLaine, Actress.
We all have negative thoughts at one time or another - but for some it's a daily event.
In many cases the environment we lived in as kids formed our thinking and these patterns continued into adulthood. If both our family and living environment were places where we were not nurtured in a positive way, then we will think negatively about ourselves and other people.
The main outcome of not being nurtured and supported properly as a child is lack of self-esteem - one of the main roots of negative thinking and attitudes.
In other cases where people have suffered some form of verbal or physical abuse either as a child or adult, negative thinking becomes the norm. In addition physical or mental health problems can, understandably, lead to destructive thought patterns.
Your thoughts, emotions and general well-being are closely connected to one another. In order for you to be healthy both in body and mind your emotions and thoughts need to be positively focused and balanced. This last word - balance - is also very important. When you are in a negative pattern of thinking you are out of balance. In addition these thought patterns tend to exaggerate your fears, make life's challenges impossible hurdles and generally making mountains out of mole hills.
But if negative thoughts can cause so much harm, the good news is, is that the opposite is also true.
Many of the negative patterns that you are going to challenge have been there for many years in some cases a life-time. You will need to work consistently to overcome them. However, even from the very first time you start to transform your thoughts you will begin to notice a difference in your attitude and outlook. Your confidence as a person will also start to increase.
The aim is then, to firstly change our negative thinking habits into positive ones. Our emotions, attitudes and behaviour will follow suit. But that is not all. When we change our thinking a new life opens up. We no longer feel or act like a victim, but as a strong person in total control of our destiny.
Where do we start?
So where do we start? How do we begin the transformation from negative to positive?
The first step is to stop and really think hard about what you are 'thinking'. You need to know exactly what kind of negative thoughts you have? When do they happen? What triggers them? How much anxiety is associated with them? Are there other negative emotions present such as anger, jealousy?
What needs to be understood is that our minds can't judge between negative and positive. Both types of thought are all the same to the brain. It will continue to programme and produce the repetitive patterns it is used to. Therefore we need to re-programme using positive thoughts in order that our minds start to set a new pattern for positive thinking.
When you have considered step one above and have identified the most common negative thoughts move onto the next phase. I have divided this into two sections. The first section helps with immediate action against negative thoughts intruding. The second phase should be practiced for long term changes. You can alter any of the following suggestions to make the plan more personal for you.
First Phase - Immediate Action
When a negative thought enters your mind carry out this exercise:
- Block the negative thought immediately by saying firmly - out loud or in your head - one of the following - "stop!"; "No!"; "Leave!". Or choose a word of your own. Remember, don't get angry, that's negative. Remain calm but be firm.
- You can also block the negative thought by using a symbol instead of a word or you can use both. For example, when I want to block a negative thought I visualise a large, red, 'X' sign being stamped on the thought to stop it. I know some people who use symbols such as a door shutting, or pulling a curtain across to block the thoughts. Again, this is personal to you so don't be afraid to use your own symbol - it may seem a bit silly at first, but if it works, who cares?
- Be aware of any tension in your body. If you are tense then take a deep breath and relax. Don't worry if negative thoughts keep coming back, this is normal and getting rid of them takes practice.
- When you have used your word/symbol then imagine the negative thought slowly diminish in size - you can visualise the thought as a huge black cloud shrinking in size - see the thought continue to diminish until it is a pin prick then it fades to nothing.
- Whatever the negative thought was, replace it with the positive opposite. For example, if your negative thought was one of failing, then now visualise you winning. Try to put as much energy as you can into the picture, try and feel what the sensation of winning feels like. Hold this for as long as you can.
- Don't be concerned if you can only manage this for a brief second or if the picture is not very clear. This will come in time with practice. It doesn't matter whether you hold the picture for a second or ten you will still be training your mind to change from negative to positive.
- A method that many people have found useful is the use of a 'thought diary/journal'. Writing down you negative thoughts brings them into perspective. Putting their positive opposite across from them focuses your mind on what you want to achieve.
*Important Point - don't ever tell yourself off - always talk to yourself in a positive manner whether things have went to plan or not.*
Phase Two - Long Term Action
The second phase is about the longer term issue of changing from harmful thinking habits to healthy ones. There are many things that you can use to help shift your point of view from negative to positive. Below are some pointers to use for the longer term change into constructive thinking and reducing anxiety:
- Watch your pattern of speech. Do you often use negative phrases such as "I can't" "I'm no good"; "It's impossible"? If so change your speech pattern by using only positive affirmations such as "I can"; "I will", "I am just as good". Don't be overly concerned if you don't believe this 100%. Remember that you are in training and it takes time.
- In the beginning try and limit yourself to the amount of information you are exposed to. The TV, Newspapers and the Internet are crammed with information that is very negative. Over exposure to this can induce negative thoughts and emotions.
- Observe the people you come into contact with. If there is someone in the workplace for example who is a moaner, troublemaker or anything else that is pessimistic in outlook then avoid them when you can. Later, when you are more in control of your thoughts, these people won't be a problem.
- Open yourself up to accepting fully that success and a positive life is possible. Not only that but open yourself up to expecting success and happiness.
- Relaxation techniques or meditation are wonderful and fun ways to change into a positive thinking person.
- Use affirmations, poems, prayers, music, visual aids or any other medium to promote positive thinking.
- Remember that it is never too late to change.
A Final Tip On Positive Thinking
If you are having negative thoughts about a future event that is important what should you do? There are three main steps - but these can also be used in conjunction with the previous advice. Firstly preparation, second - coping, third - review. And give yourself a huge pat on the back, whether you fully succeed or only partially.
Preparation for the event
When an important event is due, practice changing your thoughts from the usual negative to positve. For example:
"I can't cope with this." changed to "I can do this. It won't last long."
"I won't go. Better to miss out." changed to "I will go and know that I will do well."
"I just know something will go wrong." changed to "Nothing will go wrong and if it does, I'll cope."
Coping with the event
"I'm tense and nervous." changed to "relax, keep positive, you're coping."
"Why am I so anxious?" changed to "It is only anxiety. I've dealt with it before, it will pass."
"I can't think straight, I feel sick." changed to "concentrate, be positive, I'm going to be okay."
Allow Self Approval
"Should I have done better?" changed to "I'm getting better and it will be even easier next time."
"I don't think I coped with everything. What is wrong with me?" changed to "I am pleased that I am progressing. It is small steps and I did make some achievements"
"Will I be able to do this again?" changed to "I am getting better, I did some things well, I look forward to the next challenge so that I can enjoy coping again."
The change into positive thinking has to be worked at. But the benefits received from the first time you change a black thought into a light one opens up a new world for you as a person. Your life will become renewed and much more successful - all you have to do is challenge those negative thoughts and banish them forever.
© 2011 Helen Murphy Howell