Breaking the Cycle of Negative Thinking
“It is the mark of educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” - Aristotle
If you are someone who understands the role your thoughts play in creating your life experience, it is especially frustrating to be aware of negative or unhelpful thoughts and not be able to shake them. In fact, the more you practice directing your mind, the worse it feels.
This is because you’ve experienced firsthand how intentionally directing your mind can improve the way you feel, improve the actions you take from that better-feeling place, and improve the results you produce in your life.
So, what do you do when you’re stuck in a cycle of negative thinking and can’t shake it?
The first thing to do is to accept it. Accepting means acknowledging the thoughts without judging them (or judging yourself) for having them.
There are countless reasons why thoughts of negativity, criticism, or doubt creep into your mind and linger there, even when you “know better.” Understanding why it happens is possible, but it won’t get you unstuck.
The second thing to do is let go of trying to control the thoughts. Wrestling thoughts to the ground never works, and when you struggle against them, you are just adding to your suffering.
If you’ve ever attempted to stop thinking about something, then you know how futile that is. Whatever you focus on increases, and when you try to do anything with a negative thought, your attention on it only magnifies it.
The best thing to do after acknowledging the thought – without judgment – is to redirect your attention. The easiest way to do that is with mantras, music, and motion.
A mantra is a repeated word, formula, or phrase. Rather than trying to stop thinking the negative thought, use a mantra to think a different thought instead.
Some examples are:
- I am not afraid to be wrong.
- My current circumstances are a gift to help me grow.
- I take one step, then another, then another.
- I could see peace instead of this.
- I would rather be happy than right.
Create a list of thoughts that are true and feel good to you. Choose one and focus your attention on it by repeating it aloud or to yourself.
Music is another powerful way to shift your emotional energy. Create playlists that inspire, motivate, and uplift you, and focus on the words and music as you listen.
Last, but not least, move your body. Walking, running, riding a bike, dancing, or any type of aerobic exercise triggers your body to release endorphins, the feel-good hormones. Coupling your movement with music will give your negative thoughts a one-two punch without increasing your attention on them.
Understand that negative thoughts will come, regardless of how much you practice or want to think only thoughts that are helpful to you.
Nothing has gone wrong.
When unpleasant thoughts linger, don’t make things worse by struggling against them or heaping judgment on yourself. Acknowledge that you’re experiencing the thoughts and the feelings they produce, and then shift gears with mantras, music, and motion to simply move through them.
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