How to overcome your negative thoughts
The biggest lightbulb moment for many of my clients is the realisation that just because you think something, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. In fact, it’s estimated that we have around 70-80,000 thoughts a day. Every day! Yet only 5-10% of those thoughts are new or original. That means what you’re listening to inside of your head for the most part of your life, is a broken record playing all your negative beliefs on repeat. It’s no wonder that so many people struggle with their mental health.
The good news is that we don’t have to stay in this cycle for the rest of our lives.
We can learn to change the record playing and even choose the records that we want to listen to. The ones that are going to inspire, encourage and motivate us. How? Through a process that is at the heart and soul of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) called cognitive restructuring. And really this is just a fancy way of saying challenging your negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced, compassionate and holistic thoughts.
Identify your negative thoughts
Before we can change the thoughts, we first need to become aware of how and what we are thinking. So grab yourself a notebook or some paper and call to mind a specific situation in which you struggle. Start off with just one situation and once you familiarise yourself with the process, you can go on to explore other scenarios and the associated thoughts.
This could be a social setting that you find challenging or awkward. It could be around a new hobby you want to try. It might be something to do with work or even within a relationship that you have. I like to close my eyes and imagine myself in the situation that I have chosen and notice the thoughts that come to mind. Write down all of the negative thoughts that arise for you. The thoughts that hold you back. The critical or judgemental thoughts. Thoughts about you and the others involved.
Challenge the thought
This step is all about changing your perspective, of seeing things in a new light. Be patient with yourself because this can take some time to really explore and dissect your thinking. Give yourself the permission, time and opportunity to really dive into this step.
Whilst moving through these questions, I want you to imagine that you’re talking to a friend who is feeling the way that you do, or struggling with what you’re struggling with. This helps us shift away from our critical mindset and into a more loving and compassionate space. Now, starting at the top of the list (or wherever you feel most comfortable) reflect on the following questions:
What is the overall tone of the thought like?
Sometimes we do have thoughts that are technically accurate and free of any faulty errors, but they're still being way too harsh and unsympathetic. Notice if the voice sounds like someone you know - perhaps a parent or a strict school teacher.
Am I confusing a thought with a fact?
Just because you believe something to be true does not necessarily mean that it is. Would your thought be accepted as correct by other people? Would it stand up in court? What evidence do you have to support this thought? Can I absolutely be sure that this thought is accurate? What is the real-world, concrete, factual evidence against this thought?
Am I jumping to conclusions?
This is the result of basing your predicted outcome on weak or faulty evidence. Research shows that depressed people often believe that others are thinking critically about them. But, as much as we like to believe we can, we can’t actually read other peoples’ minds. You may be right, but don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, look for alternative explanations and consider what you can do the change the unwanted outcome.
If I feel I do have evidence, is it even accurate, or does it reflect maladaptive thinking as well?
For example, someone might think, "No one likes me", and for 'evidence' recalls that last week one acquaintance didn't respond to his text right away. That's overgeneralising. If they say, "Well I just know everyone hates me. I just feel it every time I reach out to someone", that's mind reading and emotional reasoning.
Am I assuming my view of things is the only one possible?
Is there any possibility that there is another explanation for this situation? If I think about this situation five years from now, is it possible that I will think of it differently or see it from a different perspective? Will I even care or remember this situation? If I wasn’t feeling so [angry/frustrated/anxious/sad] right now, would I think differently?
Do I believe that I am incapable?
Humans have been designed to focus more on the negatives as a survival instinct - the cavepeople looking for potential threats were far more successful - and this can result in women being highly aware of their weaknesses and totally unaware of their strengths. Consider your strengths and the resources that supported you amidst similar difficulties in the past.
Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
The sooner you learn that perfection is an illusion the better. It is simply not possible to get everything right all the time. Notice if you’re setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself. Where do these standards come from? Would you hold other people to these expectations or criticise them for making mistakes?
Am I thinking in black and white terms?
It's not that you're either 100% dull or 100% interesting. There’s a grey shade in between. What percentage interesting would you say you are? Or funny? Likeable? Good enough? If you made each of those a scale from 0 to 10, where would you come out on them?
Are you basing your thought on one previous experience?
Does the way one person reacted to you truly indicate how everyone will treat you? Because you didn’t get the job you interviewed for, does that mean you’ll never get a job?
Replacing your thoughts
The final step is choosing new, balanced, realistic and compassionate thoughts to replace your old negative way of thinking. This isn’t about being blindly positive, shouting that you’re the best, most amazing person in the world - that's probably going to make you feel worse and give your inner critic more fuel to attack you with.
The key to this step is tapping into the truth, connecting with your strengths and finding new thoughts that you can get on board with - even if you only believe them a tiny amount right now. Over time, these new thoughts will become your automatic way of thinking.
This process isn’t easy. It requires reflecting honestly and openly, challenging a lifetime of thinking. But it’s absolutely possible. If you’re struggling with any of these steps then I want to hear from you. Book in for your free discovery call to see how I can support you in becoming your biggest cheerleader that knows and believes you are more than enough, just as you are.