Have you ever stopped to wonder why negative thoughts keep popping into your head whenever you want to be positive? Think about it. You're sitting in bed one morning, lazy and looking forward to a day at home all by yourself, chilling out with some good TV shows. Just as you're getting comfortable, up pops some negative thought about how lazy you are. Suddenly, you've devolved into a negative thinking spree and ruined your own mental health. What can we do about it?
We can't stop our brains – they'll keep spewing out thoughts whether we want them to or not. But actually voicing our negative thinking out loud can have a huge impact on what happens in your life.
Negative thinking patterns don't need to rule your life. Too much negativity can create cognitive distortions that lead to negative beliefs, negative feelings, and harm your mental health. But listen – they're just thoughts. The way you think is not set in stone. If you learn to be disciplined about what thoughts you let out into the world, you can create a mental filter that will improve the way you live your life. Let's get started.
The Wiccan Way Of Thinking, Even With Negative Thoughts
As a Wiccan, I have a unique way of looking at the world. We believe that, where attention goes, energy flows. In other words, if you spend all of your time in a sea of social anxiety, consuming news and worst case scenarios, you're going to find yourself in a bad place. In contrast, if you surround yourself with good influences, even if you experience negative thought patterns, they just become background noise. Although I am Wiccan, many other religions and philosophies take this stance as well. And, even better – it's backed up by peer reviewed studies (at least, Trevor Moawad says so).
In any case, the point remains that we feel fear more than we feel happiness. It serves an evolutionary purpose – better to be alive and afraid than dead and not. But just because we're fighting evolution doesn't mean that we have to hang onto the negative way that our brains work. We can use emotional reasoning to move past negative thoughts and into a space where we can stop thinking negatively and instead, consider our future.
Positive Thinking Is Useless
But, look. Here's the place where I'm going to diverge from a lot of big authors in the positive thinking space. Because, ultimately, I agree with Trevor Moawad. It's almost impossible for us to force positive thoughts into our heads, especially if we have anxiety, we feel danger, we worry, or we think our life is under threats. I'm even going to suggest that we can't necessarily stop negative thinking. Because we can't.
Our brains are just going to keep on braining. They're going to help us breathe, and eat, tell our hearts when to pump blood. And yes, they're going to generate automatic thoughts. And sometimes, those will be automatic negative thoughts. Or irrational thoughts. Our brains don't automatically go to our positive experiences. And it doesn't mean that you have a mental illness if you've got some negative thoughts. It means you're human.
Forcing positive thoughts into our brains can give us stress. It can make us anxious. Because if we don't have those beliefs, then basically, we're just lying to ourselves. Sounds like a recipe for depression. So, how can we control these thoughts when it all goes wrong? Simple. Let's look at the evidence and stop trying to “fix” our thought pattern.
Neutral Thinking and Radical Acceptance Over Negative Thoughts
Just because our brains generate negative thoughts doesn't mean that we need to turn that thought into a negative belief. I don't know about you, but my brain tells me all sorts of weird stuff. It doesn't really impede my everyday functioning – unless I start to believe the nonsensical.
I accept that my brain is going to think negative thoughts. I do not believe those thoughts and instead, just use them as background noise. This is called “neutral thinking.” We can't stop the brain, so we just need to enjoy the ride.
Related to neutral thinking is radical acceptance of your thoughts. All of us have negative thinking sometimes. All of us are going to continue having them. It's almost impossible for all of our brains to think happy, positive thoughts all the time. So – let it go. Embrace your brain's attempt at being helpful, but don't believe it when it tries to lead you down a twisting path. Just accept that your brain will continue to generate those thoughts, and move on.
How To Train Your Brain With Neutral Thinking
We can train our brains with these three steps:
- Listen to your thoughts without judgment.
- If you find yourself believing your brain's negative thoughts, consider why it might be wrong – but don't go down the rabbit hole. Be quick and simple.
- Just let it go. Meditation is a great tool to help us wash our thoughts away. Meditation helps us focus on our bodies, avoid cognitive distortion, and improve our mental health condition.
This type of meditation is a skill, not a gift. It might be harder if you feel sad, or if you're hyper focused on a worst case scenario. But since negative thinking patterns are going to happen regardless of how you rail against them, you may as well notice the thoughts and then just move on. It'll help make you a better person, and give you more support and resilience against mental illness.
When To See A Mental Health Professional About Your Negative Thoughts
Many people deal with mental health conditions in some part of their life. All or nothing thinking, cognitive distortions, and fortune telling are all things that our brains do to us in the real world. Just because someone experiences negative thoughts doesn't mean that they're mentally ill – but sometimes, mental health needs a hand up.
Mental health professionals can help you solve your negative thinking through cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, or anything else. Sometimes, negative thinking comes from things like anxiety about the future and what could happen. Your feelings are valid and you deserve to get help to stop negative thoughts.
If your anxiety is impacting your life, if you are kept up at night by worries about the future, and if you can't focus on work, home, or family, it might be time to seek some help. You can find positive ways through your negative thinking. You can ease your anxiety and improve your focus. Negative thinking, depression, and anxiety do NOT need to rule your life.