By Melanie Brosnan, LCPC
Negative thinking is fairly common as all individuals will likely go through times of feeling sad, insecure, uncertain, or stressed. However, negative thinking, if not kept in check, can snowball into mental and physical health issues.
How do you put a stop to negative thinking?
In our counseling process, we help clients identify thoughts that are negative in nature and assist them in challenging and overcoming negative thinking. In this article, I will outline one exercise we use in our counseling sessions.
Identifying Negative Thoughts
What is interesting about negative thinking, is that people usually have a difficult time noticing how negative their thinking has become.
Negative thinking can come in the form of self-limiting beliefs, defeatist behavior, lack of confidence, poor self-esteem, and generalized negativity. Typical negative thoughts are:
- “I can’t do it, I’m just not good enough.”
- “This is too hard.”
- “I will never get it right.”
- “I’m not strong enough or smart enough.”
- “Nobody cares.”
- “I have too much to do.”
- “The world is a terrible place.”
- “I should be more like…”
- “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
The good news lies in the fact that improving positive thinking will help build resiliency, which will allow individuals to manage stress in a healthy way.
Journal Your Thoughts
So how do you change your negative thoughts?
The first step is to improve awareness of your thinking patterns. It will take time and practice to become aware of negative thoughts. But this step is necessary before you can challenge and replace them with positive thoughts.
One way I encourage clients to bring awareness to their thoughts is by completing a Thought Log. This involves noticing and writing down when a negative thought occurs. The log must include any preceding events to the negative thoughts and the specific negative thought.
Oftentimes, a person can become aware of their thinking if he or she examines a specific event or trigger and then recall what happened after the trigger.
One example of a triggering event could be not meeting a deadline at work. A person who has experienced this event may have negative thoughts such as:
“I’m a failure. I’m a terrible employee. I’m going to get fired.”
Restructure Your Thoughts
Once the negative thoughts are identified, it is time to restructure the thought to make it positive. Using the scenarios above, examples of positive thoughts could be:
“I missed the deadline, but mistakes happen. I’m going to give my best effort and work through this. I know I’m capable and will make a plan to avoid making this mistake again.”
This process of noticing negative thoughts and restructuring them to create positive thoughts can be repeated as many times as needed to create a more natural habit of thinking positively about whatever might be going on in your life. Over time, you will be able to easily recognize your negative thinking and quickly restructure your thoughts to maintain a positive outlook.