Negative thought patterns are cycles of negative thinking that can lead to negative consequences in your day-to-day life. These thought patterns can influence everything from your relationships with loved ones to your productivity at work.
While I am not a specialist in this field, I’ve included some strategies that help me with breaking negative thought patterns in my own life.
As a lay minister at my church, I frequently counsel with people about difficult aspects of their lives. Recognizing when you are struggling with negative thought patterns, and learning to overcome them, helps people change their lives.
Cognitive behavioral therapy offers some categories of negative thinking that can help you identify the kinds of negative thinking you are prone to.
Focusing on the Negatives, which is a way of thinking that centers the bad, sometimes to the point of blocking out the good entirely. This can also manifest as a tendency to judge things around you harshly, seeing only the negatives in people and things in your life.
Negative Self-Labeling, which is a way of thinking that centers on yourself in a way that breaks down how you feel about yourself. You might consider yourself a failure, or blow your flaws out of proportion, thinking that no one could really like you for who you are.
All-or-Nothing Thinking, which is considered one of the most common negative thought patterns. This way of thinking prioritizes perfection in all things. You think that If you don’t succeed perfectly, then you are a failure. This can be the root of a lot of anxiety in your day-to-day life.
Catastrophizing, which is a way of thinking that assumes that the worst-case scenario will happen if anything is allowed to go wrong.
This isn’t a complete list of negative thought patterns, but it covers some of the big ones.
Our interior monologues can be constant. When breaking negative thought patterns, it’s important to take a moment to step back from your thinking. You identified what kind of negative thinking you’re falling into, so now you need some distance to disarm the trap.
Take a step back and try to see what the source of the negative thinking is. Are you anxious about a task coming up? Has your job been more demanding lately? Is your home environment a source of stress rather than relaxation?
When you find the root of your thinking, it’s a lot easier to stop the cycle of negative thoughts that are related to this issue. You don’t want one problem in your life negatively impacting all the other good things you have going on.
A lot of the advice out there provides little asides from “just think positive.” That doesn’t work for most people—especially those who have negative thought patterns like the ones listed above.
Journalling is a constructive habit everyone should try.
When you’re caught in a cycle of negative thinking, it can be helpful to write down all of the bad things that are going through your head. Seeing your negative thoughts boiled down to words can make it much easier to process what’s going on and move forward.
If you keep a consistent journal, its also helpful to look back and recognize reoccurring negative thought patterns. Maybe you’re extra anxious when it’s time to pay bills every month, so you can make adjustments to your budget to reduce that source of stress.
Small lifestyle changes can sometimes be the key to breaking negative thought patterns.
Often, negative thinking is related to something that we want to see change in our lives.
Treat your negative thinking as a signal to yourself that you need to take action. Acknowledge what the negative thoughts are telling you, and decide what you want to take or leave from them.
After you have carved away the excess—all of the panic-inducing stuff that doesn’t serve you—shift that energy towards your actual goals.
This leads to breaking the negative thought pattern and transforming it into something positive.
When you’re caught in a cycle of negative thinking, it can be hard to see beyond your difficult thoughts.
A strategy that can help you find some sunshine is to consciously push for positivity by actively listing things you love.
This can happen verbally, by listing off things you are looking forward to this week or that you know you will enjoy that day. Or, you can make note of positive things throughout your day, acknowledging them to yourself, no matter how small.
Negative thought patterns can be approached as habits of thought.
When you regularly recognize your negative thinking, you can begin to automatically shift into the strategies that help in breaking negative thought patterns. Try to do this often enough, that it becomes a habit.
After a while, you’ll be able to deftly address your negative thinking by fighting back with strategies you know lead to positivity. Then you can deal with the root issue instead of panicking and contributing to the spiral of negativity.
There’s a lot of pressure to stay up-to-date on current events in politics, pop culture, and even sports.
This constant stream of information can be stress-inducing to say the least.
Much of the news cycle focuses on negativity in your backyard and around the world. While remaining ignorant is irresponsible, it could help you immensely to check on the news once in the morning or evening rather than keeping one eye on headlines all day.
If you’re someone who keeps the news on your television at all times, consider switching to online or print sources.
Even if you think it’s just background noise, the repetition of often-sensationalized coverage doesn’t do your headspace any favors, and can make you feel helpless and overwhelmed.
If you’re stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts directed primarily towards yourself, it could help to begin to practice affirmations.
You can start by making a list of good things about yourself. Or for added fun, make this list with a partner or loved one.
Think of compliments you’ve gotten from your friends and family in the past, particularly if they were related to your character. Use these as ammunition for your affirmations.
Some people like to begin by saying their affirmations in the mirror every morning. Others make notes in their planners or journals to find and return to throughout the day.
Breaking negative thought patterns surrounding your idea of self becomes easier when you treat yourself with more kindness.
Meditation can be hugely instrumental in breaking negative thought patterns.
Practicing meditation makes you more mindful of your headspace. It helps you take a step back to process and heal from your negative thinking habits.
If you’re not sure where to start with meditation, consider looking into some helpful apps like Calm, The Mindfulness App, Buddhify, or Headspace. Many of these are low-cost or free, so shop around and find one that suits your needs.
There are tons of articles out there supporting exercise and its positive impact on mood.
Sometimes breaking negative thought patterns with just the power of positive thinking doesn’t cut it.
In these cases, it can be a good idea to destress and take a break with some physical activity. Try doing something you genuinely enjoy so it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Be sure not to attach unnecessary expectations to your workout—you don’t want it to turn into another source of negative thinking. Something as small as going for a short walk can clear your mind and lend you perspective.
Regular exercise can improve your overall mood as well. Be sure to work physical activity into your schedule a few times a week, because taking care of your body is one of the simples ways to take care of your mind.
Social media use has been linked to depression and anxiety.
While it’s a necessary part of life for many of us—especially entrepreneurs—it’s important that you’re using it for the right reasons.
If you find yourself scrolling through instagram or facebook and feeling a flood of negative thoughts, consider taking a break.
It’s easy to feel badly about yourself when you see a stream of carefully curated images and posts from any and everyone about how wonderful things are. Even If you work with social media and know what goes into crafting these posts, you might find yourself vulnerable to a sense of inadequacy.
Consider scheduling a block of time each day dedicated to only using social media in a way that contributes to your business. Do your best to stay away from it at other points during the day.
Last on the list, but certainly not least, practice gratitude for breaking negative thought patterns.
When you’re living in a competitive society, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have. This creates lots of room for negativity in your thinking.
Practicing gratitude reminds you of what you do have.
Chances are, there are many things in your day-to-day life that you take for granted. Remind yourself of all the blessings you have—big and small—through making a list on a daily or weekly basis.
This practice will foreground the positive in your life, so that when you are caught in a negative thought pattern, you can instead take the opportunity to shift your thoughts to something for which you are grateful.
While there are many ways to change negative thought patterns into positive thought patterns, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Many times, different kinds of negative thinking need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, depending on their context.
Are there any strategies you use to curb negative thinking that didn’t make this list?
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LAWYER & ONLINE ENTREPRENEUR
After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.