Negative thoughts can have a strong and sometimes devastating impact on all aspects of our lives.
With the four keys listed below, and a little practice, I believe anyone can break free of negative thoughts for good.
Getting drawn into a pattern of negative thinking can be likened to building a prison in your own mind. It holds you captive.
People try many different ways to ‘break out’ of their negative thought patterns including distractions, diversions or ‘drowning their sorrows’ only to later mentally beat themselves up for being still stuck in their negativity. It can feel like a real internal battle.
Here are the four keys that transform a tumultuous inner environment into a peaceful and joyful abode:
Key 1. Recognize Negative Thought Patterns
Negative thought patterns are repetitive, unproductive thoughts. They serve no real purpose and directly cause negative emotions (emotions are a reflection of our thoughts, felt in the body).
Once we learn to recognize and identify these thought patterns as they occur we can start to have a choice about how to react. Here are the negative thinking patterns that are most common:
Anxious Thoughts and Worry
Negative thinking can take the form of imagining or expecting that bad things will happen or that nothing good will ever happen for you. You might fret about your health deteriorating, your relationship going downhill, your car breaking down or your career being ruined— even though nothing has actually happened yet.
Criticism and Self Beating
Another pattern of negative thought is to constantly criticize. You may be very harsh on yourself, focusing in on all of your weaknesses and perceived flaws.
One way some people cope with low self esteem is to compensate for these feelings by attaining status, achievements and recognition. Others may feel completely debilitated and unworthy, isolating themselves from others or never attempting to reach their goals.
Regret and Guilt
Ruminating on mistakes made in the past creates negativity. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness may arise when you play over and over in your mind, ‘bad’ choices or ‘wrong’ actions you feel you have made.
Negative thoughts often revolve around what’s wrong with your life. Your attention becomes fixated on, and exaggerates the so called negative aspects of your life. Here your mind will often downplay what is going well.
Obsessing over all the things that you ‘need’ to make you happy is another negative thought pattern. The Buddha noticed two thousand years ago that the incessant ‘wanting’ was detrimental to happiness. It creates feelings of discontent and restlessness.
To many people, it seems normal to always be discontent and wanting more. But when you always focus on what you want instead of appreciating what you have, it reinforces over and over that you and your life aren’t good enough now— that you need something outside of yourself, and in the future, to make things better.
Key 2. Dis-Identify From Negative Thinking
People trapped in negative thinking often feel hopeless because they don’t know what to do. You can’t always NOT think of things— you have to face your problems, you have to plan for your future and you have to deal with situations.
Here are the remaining essential, tried and tested steps to walking out of the prison of negativity and into the freedom of your natural state of wellbeing.
Become the Watcher of Thoughts
In order to become free of negativity, you must become more aware of your thoughts. Start to pay more attention to what is going on inside your mind at any given time.
See if you can catch negative thoughts as they arise, before they gain too much momentum. If you are unable to catch them in the beginning then you have another opportunity to ‘wake up’ to them when a negative emotion arises as a response to the thought patterns.
When a negative emotion arises, you can take your attention to the thoughts you are thinking and the emotion being generated by these thoughts. Simply be there as the witness as they play out.
The Impartial Witness
When you observe your thoughts and emotions aim to do so as an impartial witness. You simply watch them and shine the light of your awareness on what is arising.
As the impartial witness, we also aim not to be carried away or get involved in thoughts and emotions. Aim to simply stay present as the watcher. It is actually a really interesting experience to do so. What you are doing here is creating a state of detachment from thought processes.
Key 3. Mindfulness of the Moment
Notice that many negative thoughts mostly flow from two directions. The first is dwelling on the past—maybe you ruminate over mistakes, problems, guilt and anything in your life that did not go the way you believe it should have gone. The second is worrying about the future—fear of what may or may not happen for yourself, others or the planet.
When lost in negative thinking we tend to be so engrossed in thoughts that we completely lose touch with the simple beauty and aliveness of the present moment.
To become more fully conscious and able to step out of thinking processes, redirect your attention out of thought and into the here and now. Give the present moment your absolute undivided attention.
Now that you have developed some inner awareness, you can deliberately choose to change thinking so it is constructive rather than destructive. Positive or constructive thoughts help you effectively face your day-to-day situations. From The Darkness of Negativity to The Daylight of Mindfulness
This is not a ‘quick fix’ method of turning around negativity (I don’t think there is a true one) but it is tried and tested and I can tell you from personal experience that it works. The more you practice awareness of these thought patterns and what they are doing to you, the faster you’ll begin to redirect yourself again to being mindful of the moment.
It’s not that you don’t think or feel anymore; it’s just that these destructive thoughts no longer touch the essence of your being in the same way anymore. You become like a deep lake, less affected by the ripples on the surface. In time, your whole life is transformed from the inside out.