Two techniques to break negative thought loops
Are negative thought loops holding you back?
If you’ve ever found yourself lying awake at night, your mind playing the same thoughts over and over again, then you’re familiar with thought loops. Thought loops can be so challenging and they can be triggered without warning - sinking us into anxiety that we don’t really understand and can’t seem to get out of.
Thought loops and spirals are ingrained negative thought patterns that become habits in our minds.
In the same way that we can get into a habit of biting our nails or twirling fingers through our hair, thought loops can come up at particular times for us - such as when we’re thinking about trying something new and challenging or feeling anxious.
As with a lot of stress-affected situations, making sure we get enough sleep, time to ourselves, eating healthily and exercising to reduce that stress will help to reduce these impacts. But, there are other techniques that you can try, too.
Below are two techniques to help you break the cycle of negative thinking.
Be open-minded and give each one some time to work on your subconscious mind. Positive thinking doesn’t mean burying your head in the sand or avoiding your problems, it means approaching stumbling blocks in a more productive, solution-focused mindset.
When a negative thought loop or spiral comes along, tell yourself the opposite is true. Make the opposite really ridiculous. And literally say it out loud.
So if you think:
“I am never going to be able to speak to anyone at that conference, I’m too scared and everyone will think I’m boring!”
You say to yourself:
“I am going to speak to every single person at that conference. I’m going to be so confident everyone is going to think I’m the most amazing person they’ve ever met!!”
How does it work?
If we frame the opposite with enough embellishment it becomes almost funny. And that can help to snap us out of the first thought enough so we realise that original thought wasn’t the truth either. It can more easily bring us to a mid-point where we realise that original thought was just a thought and we can choose to think differently.
Often, when we’re in the middle of a thought loop or at the bottom of a thought spiral, it can be really hard to get out of it. Everything feels relevant, true and important.
But it’s key to remember that, those feelings, even though they can be very powerful and painful, are being caused by thoughts. Just thoughts. Not circumstances, not reality, just our thoughts and perceptions.
So it’s really helpful to just become aware of those thoughts and, if you can, sit with them quietly for a little while and just let them come and go until they finish their loop or spiral.
Then, get curious:
- Where did the loop or spiral start?
- What was the first thought you were thinking?
- What triggered that thought?
- What was going on when the thought happened?
Try to go back to that place and time in your mind and see the thought starting to form in your mind and, instead of engaging with it, imagine an elevator appearing right next to you. Press the ‘up’ button and get in.
The elevator travels safely and securely up above you to the clouds and you can see yourself below standing on a timeline of your life - from the day you were born to the day you’ll finally die.
There are no dates or times, just a very, very long line. And on that line are a trillion little tiny dots. Each one of those dots is a thought. And one of them is the thought that started your loop or spiral. It’s so small you can hardly see it. There are lots of other thoughts too; happy ones, proud ones, confident ones, amazing thoughts that make you smile. Thoughts that have come and gone throughout your life.
From where you are, look at that one negative thought again. In the full length of your life, amongst all those other thoughts, does it seem so important? In six months, a year, five years, 10 years will it matter to you?
Something to remember:
With both of these exercises, come from a place of kindness and be patient and forgiving with yourself. It can take time to become aware that you’re in a thought loop or spiral but, the more you practise that awareness, the easier it becomes. And the easier it becomes to interrupt negative thought loops with positive thoughts.
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